It may seem surprising to some, but these photos and video show a pedestrianized area in the Netherlands. It's in the shopping and social centre of a brand-new housing development on the outskirts of Assen. Cyclists are allowed. The signs say so.
These are not old buildings in an old city centre. Everything you see here was built in 2009 and 2010. The official opening was in December of 2010. Shortly before, this was farm land.
It's a very child friendly place. Children can be seen in the video running amok in front of a delivery van, which has to move at a very slow speed as a result. They also ride on various small-scale human powered vehicles in the shopping streets. This suburb was designed to enable 2/3rds of primary school children to cycle to school.
Everyone knows that pedestrians come first here, and behaviour is according to this principle.
Cyclists are allowed to cycle all the way through the pedestrianized zone, and ample cycle parking is provided outside all the shops to encourage cyclists.
However, this is not a through route for cyclists. Cyclists whose destination is elsewhere, and who wish to get wherever they are going faster, will take other more convenient, faster routes rather than riding through here. This is important as it makes no sense at all to have a pedestrianized area which is also a major through route for cyclists.
You can see the main route from the centre of this city to the centre of this housing development in a previous blog post. Another post shows part of the route in the opposite direction.
You may be wondering what happens should you want to drive here ? Well, actually you can do that too. This whole place is in fact built on top of an underground car park. Residents living in apartments here not only have the legally required secure bicycle parking, but also have have allocated secure car parking under the development. Visitors to the shops can also drive.
|Aerial photograph from 2007.|
No permanent buildings yet in the
centre, but many facilities were
provided as temporary buildings.
The only driving route from our home to this place (in blue) has two sets of traffic lights on it and three roundabouts. It starts off by heading in the wrong direction, and the distance is significantly further than any of the many plausible routes by bike (some shown in red). Additionally, if we cycle then we can park our bikes directly outside the shops. A car would be buried somewhere underneath and involve a few minutes walk to the shops:
If it were not possible to park your bike immediately outside the shops, and if bikes had to be placed in the same underground car-park as cars, then this would make the car much more competitive in terms of time. Perhaps it could even be quicker than cycling if you were lucky at the traffic lights.
This is why in order for pedestrianization not to favour the car over the bike, it has to accommodate cyclists very well. That's exactly what we see here. The sign shows that it's a pedestrian area, but underneath it says "cycling allowed". A nice simple message, and an essential one. Take away easy access by cyclists and you actually create a car-oriented pedestrianized area which promotes driving over cycling. I've seen that before, more than once.
This new centre provides not only a range of shops (supermarkets, baker, toy shop, stationery, flower shop, chemist, hair-dresser, opticians etc.), but also primary schools, adult education facilities, a sport hall, cafes and restaurants, a public library, a town hall, health and fitness centre, medical centre. It's a proper centre for the community. And of course all these things are convenient to cycle to.
As the whole area is not yet complete, this temporary cycle path (3.5 metres wide, smooth asphalt) provides access for people who live north of the centre:
If I show something old, someone always says "but you couldn't do if it were new". If on the other hand, I show something new like this, someone always says "but you couldn't do it if it were old". However, the city centre of Assen also provides an excellent example of somewhere which is both pedestrian and cycle friendly, and Assen is 750 years old. Where there is a will to do so, cyclists can be accommodated well anywhere. Policy in Assen prefers cycling, so we get cycling. If you do what works then mass cycling is possible anywhere.
I published this a bit earlier than originally planned after hearing about troubles with pedestrianization in Canada.
The centre which is the subject of this post has its own website.