Commissioned by the Province of Utrecht ('Ringpark Utrecht' and the guidance group 'recreation around the city') we (Track-Landscapes, Mart Reiling & Thijs Dolders) created a vision for the future for movement friendly routes in the Utrecht region. As a basis, we mapped the exercise behaviour of 500,000 exercise activities from the exercise app Endomondo. This is mainly data from recreationists such as pedestrians, runners, sports-recreational cyclists, mountain bikers and skaters, but also, for example, (100,000) utilitarian cycling activities.
From data to design
We were asked to draw up a regional vision with broader future ambitions as well as very concrete, feasible proposals for new or improved paths, bridges, entrances, signage, facilities or views. And then having insight into the use of all paths and roads in an entire region is very useful. It offers a look at regional distributions in use, and at the same time an indication of the functioning of each small footpath or cycle path in it. We drew up six "movements" in which more than 60 concrete interventions were proposed. This has been documented (in Dutch) and can be downloaded from: https://we.tl/t-QfFh3GSH2k
1. Landscape within reach by foot
With 440 million activities annually, walking remains by far the most frequently undertaken leisure activity in the Netherlands (trend report tourism and leisure 2016). Running (again from the front door) is also increasing strongly with approximately 100 million activities per year. "Accessibility" is already in the activity itself, in theory it takes no more than time and shoes. About 70% of the walks start from home; this requires a strong connection between inner-city and outer-city green spaces and a dense network of attractive paths. From the way in which people move on foot from different urban centres, it appears that in practice this is not yet so obvious. Various peripheral green areas are not yet reached on foot because the density of paths is too low, barriers block the way, or accessibility is not clearly indicated. The flood plains above Vianen for example, appear to have limited activities. The area is accessible, but this is invisible from the various dyke entrances. Some signposts or area maps can already change this substantially.
2. Go with the flow
Rivers and canals are ideal radial movement lines for cyclists and pedestrians, from deep in the city centre to far in the countryside. Think of them as elongated or linear parks towards more distant landscape. But we are not yet taking their potential as a movement line seriously enough. Numerous cycle routes along water lines are in bad condition, inconvenient in shape and incomplete. The consequences for the extent to which they are used are clearly visible in the route choices of speed cyclists. They are literally and figuratively ignored on various routes. Certainly along the Amsterdam-Rhine Canal towards the Lek, and on the west side of the Vecht there are opportunities to improve routes "with the flow".
3. Beautiful (and) fast (cycling routes)
The (electric) range of the utilitarian cyclist is constantly increasing; movement from one residential centre to another automatically requires more fast cycling routes through the landscapes in between. How convenient; the intended "undisturbedness" of fast cycle routes is just as much an attractive feature for the recreational cyclist. Moreover, fast cycle routes along the railway track at Utrecht-Woerden, Utrecht-Bilthoven and Utrecht-Driebergen Zeist, would provide more route density in areas where this is desirable. Make the routes beautiful as well as fast, with beautiful wild flowers, tree rows and views along them. Also make sure that they are pleasant to walk on and even skate. Think of them as wide, continuous "parkways" and not just as a (bicycle) highway. Conversely, there are numerous natural routes (often along waterfronts) which, in terms of environment, can form an attractive alternative to already intended fast cycle routes. Commuters also want more options of fast and green routes. Take the "Dokter Welfferpad" to the north of the Noorderpark, for example; By transforming this path into a bicycle path, a much greener (and almost as fast) alternative to the route along the railway and highway (Kon. Wilhelminalaan) will be created between Utrecht and Hilversum. Together with the routes along the water, a network of routes that are both beautiful and fast can be created.
4. A scenic 'Greenbelt' park
Take the geomorphology and characteristic landscapes around Utrecht as the starting point for green developments and collaborations. Although this sounds obvious; administrative, municipal, planning, infrastructural or property boundaries are now often decisive. The user of the landscape however, does not care about those borders; he recognizes and uses areas for the unique characteristics and qualities of the different types of landscapes in the region.
We distinguish five landscapes (other divisions can also be defended): the 'the Ridge flank' ('Heuvelrug'), 'Low lines', the floodplains, a wider meadow area in the west and the Vecht region that turns into peat meadows. For example, many estates at the Heuvelrug are not yet well-known by pedestrians, runners or cyclists. Although these estates are accessible separately, many routes are not yet continuous, recognizable or attractive. Also connect the destinations in the Heuvelrugflank to each other, routes become connections and the recognisability of an area becomes greater.
5. A ring of exercise tracks
Sport is becoming an increasingly important part of recreation. Cyclists, runners and pedestrians use almost all the trails and roads that the region has to offer. Inline skating, on the other hand, is less distributed. In the Endomondo GPS data of skaters, the track 'Lint Leidsche Rijn' was passed about ten times more often than the "most used" skating routes in other parts of the region. The Lint track is also one of the most used routes in the region by runners, hikers and recreational cyclists. This will (partly) be the result of the demography of the neighbourhood Leidsche Rijn, but the moving effect of this explicitly designed exercise track feels evident on the spot. In various other places you could make specially designed exercise tracks, with similar properties to the track 'Lint Leidsche Rijn': a wide, recognizable path of smooth asphalt, without sharp bends, with distance markings, with space for pedestrians, no car traffic and always safe right of way over crossings with motorways. These are the ingredients of a strong exercise round for inline skaters, runners, cyclists and pedestrians. The width of the path ignores what "necessity" is. Sports and recreation are fun, and such an abundance of space gives it. In the Noorderpark, for example, the narrow paths deserve an upgrade anyway. An exercise track could give unity to fragmented green areas such as these as well as well-paved connections to surrounding cities are also important here.
6. Railway stations as gateways to the landscape
The Utrecht region has an intricate network of NS railway stations. The railway lines are direct routes to the countryside outside the cities. Using railway stations as a starting point for walking routes works. This is evident from the Endomondo data in which it becomes clear that railway station 'Driebergen-Zeist' (in the past set up as a starting point for nature experiences) is often used as a starting point for walking routes. This is also evident from the popularity of the NS (national railway) walking routes, the most popular of which are invariably located in the province of Utrecht. The Utrecht stations, which are conveniently located in relation to the landscape, must also radiate this and offer the facilities and information. At the best-located stations, the landscape can even become visible through a natural appearance and logical orientation on attractive paths and squares towards the green. This is missing at Vleuten station, near the estate and nature area of Haarzuilens, for example. Via online route planners, routes from the station through the landscape to the next station can be explained, a complete network of NS national railway routes can be created around Utrecht!
Curious about the plans and proposals we have made for Ringpark Utrecht? The full report (in Dutch) can be downloaded via this link:
xhttps://we.tl/t-QfFh3GSH2k . It deals with 70 improvements of activating routes in the Utrecht region. All analyzes of the Endomondo activity data have also been documented and can be downloaded via: https://we.tl/t-uDsKocP2Mn
Regional vision activating routes Ringpark Utrecht
Downloadlink complete report Track-Landscapes
Client: Province of Utrecht
Date: 2020-01 <-> 2020-10
Project status: The Province of Utrecht has published TRACK's research as part of the 'recreation around the city' program. An exploration is now underway into the possibilities of a joint implementation program Utrecht buiten.