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The eagerly anticipated Rijks Museum renovation project is expected to complete next year, when the world famous Dutch art museum can at last, fully re-open to the public. This is great news for culture vultures, who have had to make do with a small, temporary exhibition, accessed via a less than glamorous side entrance, for several years now. And it’s also a huge relief for Amsterdam’s army of cyclists, forced to make lengthy detours to get from the bustling city centre to the south of the capital, for what seems like an eternity.
That the handy underpass, regularly used by Amsterdam’s two-wheeled commuters, was also put out of action by the renovation project, has been a continual source of irritation for city commuters. Since the improvement work began in 2009, cyclists have had to navigate a complex myriad of temporary cycle paths in order to reach Amsterdam Zuid, an important business centre and place of work for many. Not only has this added extra time to their daily commute, cyclists have also sorely missed the familiar curves of their iconic underpass and the celebrated street musicians who exploited its amazing acoustics, frequently transforming it into an impromptu concert hall for their fleeting audience. Cyclists particularly pine for the exquisite music and dazzling costumes of the traditional Mongolian singers. Before work started, these talented musicians whose powerful voices mesmerised both pedestrians and cyclists alike, were an incredibly popular attraction in the underpass.
Up until now, there had been much speculation that the museum underpass would only reopen for pedestrians and that Amsterdam’s cyclists would have to continue with their alternative arrangements. Indeed, the director of the Rijks Museum actively endeavoured to keep the underpass cyclist-free, arguing that cyclists pose a hazard for the countless visitors who mill about the immediate environment to enjoy a break from the museum and perhaps a typical Dutch snack. And the district council in Amsterdam Zuid supported this vision of a pedestrian only underpass, despite significant protest from the city’s cyclists.
In the end though, Amsterdam council succumbed to might of Dutch pedal power, opting to provide both separate foot and cycle paths, with CCTV keeping a close eye on public safety. However, it is only a temporary victory for the cycling community – for six months after the Rijks Museum and its underpass re–opens, this arrangement will be re-examined and a definitive decision taken on whether Amsterdam’s cyclists will be permitted to continue using the shortcut indefinitely, or else told quite literally, to get on their bikes.