Monday, 6 September 2010

Transformation in the centre of Hoogeveen

After the second world war, Hoogeveen (current population 54000), a town which was growing rapidly due to being the centre for many industries, became more and more car oriented. Space was made for wide roads on "American" lines. This happened in several places in the Netherlands.

These old photos show how Hoogeveen's main street, Hoofdstraat, changed over the years, and demonstrate the progression towards car orientation:
1945: Canal is still in use as a canal
1951: Canal filled in to provide for a future with more motor traffic.
1960: More cars have appeared, but there are still trees in the centre of the road.
1965: The centre has been converted into car parking.
2010: It's no longer all about cars. The water is back. A second revolution has taken place on the streets of the Netherlands.
Here's a video showing how the centre of Hoogeveen looked in 2010:
Note: This video has explanatory captions which are not visible on mobile devices. Please view on a computer for the explanation.

Not only are people and bikes back, but water has come back to the centre of the road as well in an echo of the situation 60 years ago - though of course it is not navigable as it was back then.

This space, like in the centre of Assen, is primarily for pedestrians and cyclists. Motorists are not central as they would be in shared space. The area allows cars for access, but doesn't encourage through journeys.

The best thing about wide roads like this is that they offer lots of opportunities to change them. Hoogeveen's centre no longer looks at all like it used to. You can also look at it yourself by using Google's Streetview:

Bigger picture

2016 update
The centre of Hoogeveen on a sunny Saturday in spring. All kinds of people cycle to the town centre

Infrastructure which is as accessible as this gives freedom to everyone, including people with disabilities. This recumbent tricycle has electric assist and gives its rider far greater freedom than would be possible if she lived outside of an accessible city.

Hoogeveen isn't the only place which changed to be more car oriented and then had to fight back to recreate decent living conditions. Nijmegen, Den Bosch, Groningen and Assen show similar transformations.

There are other before and after posts on this blog.


James D. Schwartz said...

Great comparison David. One thing that people seem to misunderstand here in North America is that they seem to think that the Netherlands has *always* been bicycle friendly. They say that North American cities "could never" be like the Netherlands.

But this is absurd. We can do it just as well as the Netherlands - we just need the political willpower, and spend a little bit of money, and motorists will need to sacrifice a little bit of space (as they did in Hoogeveen when they lost some parking spaces).

Severin said...

Yeah, definitely agree with James S. This is the kind of stuff that keeps me inspired and motivated in LA, these transformations. However, one thing that may be a problem is bus routes.... Bus routes can be changed of course, especially if it means getting something like you shared with us. This post also reminds me we shouldn't battle for just bike lanes, stuff like this is far more effective in getting folks out of cars. Thanks for the excellent post!

David Hembrow said...

James: Motorists lost more than just "a few parking spaces." They lost the whole road.

However, it's not really a loss. Like everywhere else in the Netherlands, everyone cycles. What actually happened is that everyone gained a more pleasant cycling and walking environment in the centre of the city.

I don't know for certain if bus routes were diverted, though they probably were. However, there are bus stops within a short walk. Older people who have trouble with walking very often find it easier to cycle than to walk, and are quite likely to cycle to the centre in preference to taking a bus.

christhebull said...

This makes Oxford Street look like the congested, smelly gauntlet that it is. They don't even have ASLs for taxis to use. Can we have something like this?

Joe Dunckley said...

Looks awfully like the centre of Bristol, where a whole branch of the harbour was paved over to widen the inner ring road. So far the city has taken baby steps towards reclaiming its centre, but even these continue to be held up by the Motorists...

Bristol has even managed to install similar crappy water features that are no substitute for the original ;)

kfg said...

Not a huge fan of unnavigable artificial algae and mosquito breeder strips. Plant some grass and let people sit on it.