Monday 6 June 2011

Huge infrastructure projects finished quickly: Moving a canal sideways

Before we moved over here, something that impressed me on visiting was that so much infrastructure was new, and that each time we visited we would see a change since the last visit. Huge projects seem to manage to get completed on time and to a reasonable budget here, very much in contrast to where we lived in Britain.

Cycling from the outskirts by the ring-road to the centre of Assen on a nice sunny Saturday along the Vaart NZ bicycle road in Assen. On the bicycle road, the first 4:10 of the video, there were 59 bikes, three cars, two mopeds. On the other side of the canal, the main route for cars and a secondary route for bikes, there were 15 cars and an unknown number of bikes. I'm not going to even try to count the bikes in the city centre.

One particularly impressive piece of work which we've seen in Assen since we moved here is the renovation of the Vaart, a canal from the western edge of the city to the city centre. This stretch of canal is 2.5 km long, and 1.5 km of it was moved sideways by two metres in order to make the Northern side narrower and the Southern side wider. This had to be done because more space was needed on the Southern side in order to provide both a good quality segregated cycle path as well as pedestrian space, residential car parking and a route for drivers. The Northern side could afford to be a little narrower as it was to become a bicycle road and would no longer function as a through route for drivers.

The red line shows the extent of the works.
As well as the work to move the canal itself, the road was completely reconstructed on the South side of the canal and some of the North side of the canal and extensively reworked on the rest of the North side. The work also required a large bridge to be constructed to carry cars on the dual-carriageway ring-road over the cycle path in order to keep the cyclist route uninterrupted, as well as two new lifting bridges for cars and bikes, one new bridge for bikes only and moving an historical bridge into a position where it could be used by cyclists and pedestrians, but block motor vehicles.

The public face of the works was this humorous map. Zoom in to see individual cartoons of different aspects of the work.
While work was carried out, two temporary bridges were constructed to maintain routes for cyclists.

We moved to Assen in August 2007. The work shown in this post dates from 2007 and 2008, just before I started writing the blog. However, I took some photos, and a very interesting book provides some others:
15th October 2007 - View from the Southern side of the canal. Soil is being dug from the other side of the canal to fill this side, thereby moving the banks of the canal on both sides North by two metres. (The same location can be seen on Google Streetview)

15th October 2007 - The sidewalk and cycle path on the Southern side of the canal are now usable though the road has not yet been started. At this time, I spoke to someone in the council office about how impressed I was with this new cycle path. He told me it was just the secondary route, and that the bicycle road on the Northern side of the canal would be the primary route for cycling. At the time the photo was taken, only the first layer of asphalt, black, is on the cycle path.

While the road was taken up, gas, electricity, water, telephone and other services renewed their infrastructure to avoid the road being damaged prematurely in the future. (Google Streetview)

8th April 2008 - At the far western end of the canal. In the 1960s, this part of the canal was filled in and a large flat road junction built at this location (you can see how it looked here). When we moved into our home, at the end of August 2007, the earth had just been broken for the start of construction of this bridge. Now it's in use. The result is that cyclists can now ride to the centre of the city without having to stop to cross the road. Drivers who used to go in this direction have been redirected onto another bridge further North. The canal has not yet been dug out, but it will be done - providing a way for boats also to get to the city centre. The red colour comes from red tarmac, not paint. Additional white lines have not yet been painted on. (Google Streetview)

8th April 2008 - After the existing crossings of the canal were removed, two temporary cycle bridges were put in place to maintain cycle routes across the canal. This is important as if people stop cycling it may be difficult to get them to start again. There are many examples of cyclists being helped around roadworks on this blog.
13th April 2008 - This is the second temporary bridge which maintained cycle access during the works.
22nd April 2008 - On the Northern side of the canal, the existing road surface has been dug up to allow the centre to be changed to make this visually a bicycle road. New trees have been planted to replace those taken out when the canal was moved this way. (Google Streetview)
5th May 2008 - the centre is now partially in place on the bicycle road. One of the temporary cycle bridges is visible on the right of this photo. Much sand is left over from constructing the centre of the road. (Google Streetview)
30th June 2008 - the bicycle road is nearly finished. New trees have been planted to replace the old trees, the sand is dispersing. (Google Streetview)

30th June 2008 - the Southern side of the canal now has a road as well as cycle path, and the cycle path now has its final layer of smooth red tarmac as well as white painted markings, for the secondary route, and sidewalk. Note the small dark green bridge on the left of the photo which had historical significance. This was moved into a position where it could be used by cyclists on the bicycle road (primary route) on the other side of this canal. The cycle path has for some time now has its secondary layer of asphalt in red. (Google Streetview)

This bridge existed on the North side of the Vaart until the late 1970s, when motor traffic levels became too much for it.

This photo, taken in 2007, shows the same location from the 1970s until 2007. At this time it was was prioritized for motor vehicles.

In 2008, the historically significant Witterbrug was moved to this location in order to provide a route only for cyclists and pedestrians. Bollards are now used to prevent this also being a through route for cars. (Google Streetview)

Another blog post shows a different view of this bridge.

View from the city centre of the end of the canal in 1960 and 2007. This had originally been the "Kolk" - a wide part at the end of the canal large enough for boats to be turned around. However, it was filled in and used as a car park.
The end of the canal now. The car park has gone. It is now possible to travel by boat to the city centre once again, and to turn a boat around once you get there. The road on the left of the canal is the southern side of the canal, with the road and secondary cycle route. The road on the right of the canal is the Northern side, which is the bicycle road. The canal remains the same width as before, but both canal banks have been moved about two metres North. (Google Streetview)

A previous blog post shows what it is like to cycle from here to the centre of the city.

Works to the right of this photo are ongoing to build "De Nieuwe Kolk", which will combine library, theatre, cinema and arts facilities in an easy to reach place. This will include some underground car-parking facilities, in part to replace what has been lost here.
Google Earth images from 2007 and 2009
This is just one of the larger projects which have been completed in Assen since we moved here. The city is now in the planning stage for completely renovating another canal.

The photos from 2007 and earlier come from "Assen Verandert" - a book showing a lot of "before and after" photos which we reviewed three years ago. The title of the book means "Assen Changes", and it continues to change, meaning that a surprising number of 2007 images are now also representations of the past.


Frits B said...

Ha, it takes an outsider to notice these changes. I have lived in Assen since 1980 and never really was aware of all the work in progress. It all went its natural course as tinkering with the "townscape" is a very popular Dutch activity. In twenty years, Assen's town centre will again have changed entirely.

Nico said...

An infrastructure project finished on time, on budget and with coordination of all utilities? Where do you live, Utopia?

Round my way Thames Water is opening the same street several times a year to fix leaks, BT are doing some stuff too but at different times, and there are potholes the length of the road. But hey, we have Trident! Take that, Gouda-munching Dutch!

Robert Guico said...

I'm rather jealous. "Big infrastructure projects" in the U.S. all have to measure up to the Big Dig, where a $3 billion dollar project ended up costing state and federal governments just under $15 billion dollars. That would buy a lot of bicycle paths, but it got Boston 3.5 miles of freeway tunnel.

The ridiculously inflated cost of building infrastructure in the U.S. only adds to my anti-union fervor.

Ewout said...

Of course enormous budget overruns happen with the really big infrastructure projects in the Netherlands as well, such as the Amsterdam North-south metroline (cost 3.1 billion euro's instead of 1.4 billion) and the Betuweroute freight line (4.7 billion euro's instead of 2.3 billion).
What's different with the project featured in this post is that there are no new technologies used and builders have a lot of expertise with such projects. Only minor budget and deadline overruns might occur.

Mark W. said...

Oh don't think ALL the huge projects finish within budget and on time... There are quite a number of examples to the contrary. The North-South metro line in Amsterdam is one such example. But yes a lot do. I know some freeways that were finished months before they were due. And 'Houten' also finished within budget and sooner than expected. Not only the bicycle parking facilities but the whole 5 km railway extension.
I've seen this canal when I was last in Assen and it is beautifully done, a project to be proud of!

David Hembrow said...

Of course, not everything is on time and within budget. But as I pointed out before, compared to what I was used to, it does sometimes seem just a bit miraculous.

timooohz said...

At first I thought 'god, those people have too much free time to do stuff like this. Move a canal?'

But then I remembered who we are talking about: the same people who built dams and claimed land from the sea. So on second thought it's not so weird at all.

Anonymous said...

I love this story! Good photos and text, and a story about finishing infrastructure on time and within budget!!
-Jealous Aussie