Survival of the fietsers

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Bert Brunekreef, Professor of Environmental Epidemiology, thinks cycling in the Uithof is a horror-experience, especially for his international colleagues.  If Utrecht University wants to play with the big boys, it needs to get itself a campus for grown-ups.

Bert Brunekreef, Professor of Environmental Epidemiology, thinks cycling in the Uithof is a horror-experience, especially for his international colleagues.  If Utrecht University wants to play with the big boys, it needs to get itself a campus for grown-ups.

I grew up a city kid, and from the day my parents gave me a brand new second hand bike, this was my war horse. I quickly picked up some essential skills to survive on the lawless streets of Utrecht, such as staring down car drivers and dodging pedestrians. In the 50 years which have passed, society has become obsessed with health and safety, and I never expected to need these skills again. Until I started cycling the Uithof.

My commute takes me past Olympus to the Jenalaan. A brief catalogue of hurdles one is likely to encounter along the way: From Olympos, the cycle path is often thick with pedestrians with tennis rackets and hockey sticks protruding at unpredictable angles; they can’t help it: their footpath disappeared like a Harry Potter platform 9 ¾ somewhere beyond the new beta building.

A little further, there’s the infamous cycle crossing of the Universiteitsweg towards the Stratenum building. My poor wife has to risk her life here every day, and each morning we kiss goodbye at that spot as if there is no tomorrow (or today, for that matter).

A rather more serious challenge waits at the Leuvenlaan crossing. Propelled by our westerly gales, cyclists come racing from the right, and cars approach from left and right threatening to cut into your path. I do not have enough eyes to watch my fellow cyclists and stare down two car drivers coming from different directions at the same time, so I ride very defensively. And still find myself repeatedly shouting at the top of my voice at some motorist not paying attention.Crossing the bus lane at the Heidelberglaan is a breeze, now that it has been secured by traffic lights.

But the worst is still to come, the Bolognalaan – Cambridgelaan crossing. You’ve got cars coming from behind on your left, you’ve got cars coming from the Yalelaan on your far left, you’ve got cars coming from the right….. After countless generations, we will probably have evolved bird’s eyes with 3600 vision to deal with situations like this but until that happens we have to take our chances.

The problem of course is that the Uithof campus was conceived 50 years ago when building 4-lane dagger highways right into the heart of any place was still fashionable. If Utrecht University wants to play with the big boys, it needs to get itself a campus for grown-ups. It’s not difficult. The new car park at the freeway exit is a good start; complement it with shared campus bikes for the remainder of the journey; a ring road which is there  70 per cent already (including the now partly abandoned Cambridgelaan); electrified mass transit; and permits for amputees, retired professors and delivery vans to use the ring road. The Universiteitsweg can then be replaced by a Campus Green where we can all become true Aristotelian peripatetics again.

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