Monday, 22 September 2008

Eco town


Back in the UK, much is being made of the proposed eco-towns. These are supposed to be developments which encourage living in a more sustainable manner. However, none of them seem to be seriously tackling the problems of transport by making a serious effort to get people out of motor vehicles. The Dutch have tackled this by encouraging people to cycle.

Houten is a few kilometres South East of Utrecht. It dates back hundreds of years, however it was always a small town until the 1960s when it was targeted for growth. In the 1970s, the city's planners decided to discourage car use and encourage the use of bicycles. The city has grown rapidly since then, allowing a lot of new ideas to be built in at the point of design. It now has 47000 residents living with a very low road casualty rate and a very high cycling rate.

To quote from the Houten local government website: "There are 16 districts, each is only accessible to cars via a peripheral road encircling the town. A network of different types of paths for cyclists and pedestrians has been created throughout the area, with a direct backbone thoroughfare to the town centre. Only in residential streets cars are mixed with cyclists. Mostly all schools and important buildings are located along the cyclist's backbone."

We visited Houten on the 2006 Study Tour and found it a pleasure to cycle there.

The local government web page has English language information about Houten, including links to other articles about the city.

While other countries have been slow to pick up on what has been achieved, many of the principles established in the design of Houten have since been used in other new developments and existing cities around the Netherlands. This includes Assen where we base our Study Tours, where the new suburb of Kloosterveen has a strong resemblance to other modern Dutch developments (VINEX wijken) which are influenced by Houten.

Note, though, that Houten itself now find itself in some respects a little outdated. Many things were done first in the city, and these ideas have been adapted as they were adopted elsewhere. For instance, bicycle roads in Houten can be used by motorists as through routes. This is not the case of examples elsewhere. Cycling is far more pleasant without cars and the incidence of bullying by motorists is reduced as a result of keeping motor vehicles away from cycling routes.

12 comments:

Shek said...

Reading your posts gives me so many new insights on bicycle friendly communities. It also makes me frustrated about the place I live in. I don't know which one is greater in power, the insights gained or the frustration felt!

David Hembrow said...

Well, I do hope you're enjoying it regardless.

We certainly think it's good here, and certainly a lot less frustrating than where we used to live. That's why we moved here !

amsterdamize said...

funny thing: I was born in Houten (1971), saw it expand from 3000 to more than a tenfold and yes, bumped into many foreign tv crews that were filming the 'green zones', aka bicycle infrastructure and zoning buffers.

Another fine example of carrot-and-stick policies.

acline said...

I agree with Shek--hope and frustration. We just won't get there without some kind of energy crisis. Seems like Americans never get around to the things that matter until it's crashing around our ankles.

DrMekon said...

This looks so different to the Monderman approach. I'd love to see you contrast them. I was reading Simon Jenkin's article (http://tinyurl.com/4wyafb), and I got the sense that it's better than what's normal in the UK, but far behind the cyclist-prioritised designed you've shown.

David Hembrow said...

Thanks for all the comments. Comparing segregation with shared space is a good idea. We have quite a bit of shared space around here, but to be honest I think it's over-rated.

In the English language press you tend to see only the somewhat idyllic representation that the enthusiasts have that somehow this has resolved all problems between motorists and cyclists. On the other hand, over here (and in some of the Dutch language comments on youtube) you also read the concerns of those who live with it. These often come from cyclists, including the national campaigning organisation Fietsersbond.

I took a couple of photos and a bit of video of the shared space in Oosterwolde a few months back which you can see here and here.

workbike said...

I'm beginning to see the potential in our village for more cycleways and less traffic. Just one question about implementation- how do the fire service get around? I'm asking because if I get involved in bike advocacy and we suggest blocking through streets, this will be the first question because we have eurpoe's largest print works on the edge of the village...

workbike said...

Added to the previous comment: I'm glad you have reservations about 'shared space': I'm not entirely convinced either: drivers seem to treat it as their space with pedestrian interlopers.

David Hembrow said...

There are no roads which are completely blocked off and of course the cycle paths are wide enough that you could drive a fire engine along them in an emergency.

The bicycle roads are proper roads. They're the same width as they'd be if they weren't bicycle roads, it's just that they are legally prioritized for cyclists, and don't offer much of a through route for drivers.

Cyclemaniac said...

Great insight David. Now if we could only get all that infrastructure over here!

Anonymous said...

I think having essentially flat ground helps to encourage cycling.
The 'ECO?' town planned near me is all based on car travel - it would be better built somewhere closer to jobs and major centres of population.
No-one in the UK will cycle 20+ miles a day - 2-4 miles maybe if fuel keeps going up. We need these examples to be real and a success not just property tycoons filling political donations.

David Hembrow said...

Most cycle journeys all around the world are quite short, but designing a development around cars is the best thing you can do to encourage people to drive instead of cycle.

An article by Steve Melia discussed the way that Britain is not providing better permeability for cycles than cars. This is in large part the tragedy of the design of the Eco Towns.

BTW, referring to the Nethelands as being flat in this context is misleading. The country is (mostly) flat, but so are many highly populated areas of the UK which have much lower cycling. Switzerland has a higher cycling rate than the UK, and it's anything but flat. So, it's all about social issues surrounding cycling, and sadly the UK lost its cycling culture. That's what needs to be regained in order that cycling will increase. First of course you need to increase subjective safety to the extent that people will find cycling to be pleasant.