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.
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Note, though, that Houten itself now find itself in some respects a little outdated.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.
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The less positive stuff What not to do if you want a cycling "revolution" - Long list of interventions and policies which are not helpful. Copy the best examples from the Netherlands - a short list summarising the above. Important to copy the best examples, not just anything "Dutch". Bear in mind that the Netherlands is not perfect. Shared Space - this much hyped idea simply does not work well. It disenfranchises the vulnerable and claims of safety are exaggerated. Don't confuse the concept with far more successful nearly car free streets. Shared Use Paths designed to be used by pedestrians and cyclists together. These rarely work well because the two user groups are too different and it leads to conflicts. They are not built in the Netherlands (but cycle access to pedestrianized zones is good). Strict (or presumed) liability - If you think this is an important part of why people cycle in the Netherlands then it is probably not what you think it is. Helmets - one of several ways of scaremongering about the supposed dangers of what is actually a very safe means of transport
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A cyclist in a cycling family living in the capital of the cycling province of the world's greatest cycling country.
I was born in the UK, lived for over 8 years in New Zealand and have lived in the Netherlands since 2007.
I organise cycling infrastructure study tours, run an online bicycle shop, arrange cycling holidays and write a popular blog about cycling.
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