Monday 14 November 2011

Retrofitting sanity to residential streets - Woonerven

Explanatory captions on this video are visible only if you view it on a computer and not on a mobile device.

The Woonerf or "Living Street" is a design for residential streets which puts people first. I've written about streets designed and built specifically as woonerven before, but the streets in this video are different. This time you see some of the many streets in the Netherlands which originate from long before the advent of the woonerf, but into which these principles have been incorporated.

The speed limit is "walking pace", but the main reason that such streets are pleasant to live in is that they simply don't work as through roads so the only vehicles you'll see here are those which belong to people who live in the street. You're not going to make any journey quicker by driving through here instead of on the main road. Note that they're also not through routes by bicycle. A woonerf is for living in. It's not a main route for anyone.

Often, people complain that Dutch solutions to creating a cycling and people friendly street-scape might take too much room. This is a myth. In these examples, much has been achieved in very narrow streets and without re-arranging existing buildings. The important thing is to distinguish between where people live and where suitable places are for through journeys to be made.

A correspondent in the comments wondered about how nice it might be if cars that people owned were parked at the edge of the development and therefore not in the streets where people live. This is difficult to achieve with housing which already exists, but there is an example of a newer (1980s) development in Assen where this was done:

Grotere kaart weergeven
The problem with this is that people like to be able to see their car from their home. Newer developments have not copied this style.


Klaus Mohn said...

It's impresive how many cars are parked in these streets. Really makes it obvious that the Dutch don't hate cars; sometimes, they drive. It's just not always the most convenient thing to do, and they prioritize comfort and safety better than other people.

Then again, imagine how beautiful this neighbourhood would look without all the parked cars! If there was a car park at the entrance of the neighbourhood and car parking was prohibited, maybe? No parking = little to no traffic.

David Hembrow said...

Hi Klaus: You're right, there are quite a lot of cars. I agree it would like nicer without them.

However, The Netherlands is quite a rich country. With that comes a high rate of car ownership and a need for them to be parked.

However, car ownership is a little lower than you'd expect for a country like this, and usage of cars is quite dramatically lower than similar countries.

There are places where cars are parked at the edge of the neighbourhood. I've updated the blog post to show one.

Isla... said...

The problem with this is that people like to be able to see their car from their home.

Each to there own. I'd be quite happy to park mine elsewhere. It's no Roller!

Cottenham Cyclist said...

Some of you may have seen Playing Out. Closing off residential roads to let children play in them after school.

Some of the discussions I saw around this thought it was a terrible idea teaching children to play in roads. Others thought it was a bad idea because they (as a driver) didn't want to run over a child (err slow down then!)

Jack Thurston said...

In the UK, Sustrans has a programme for doing this kind of thing, often with a lot of local involvement with the people who live in the street. It's called DIY Streets:

A very low cost version of this is the idea of filtered permeability that is being applied in some parts of Hackney. For the cost of a few bollards and a bit of paving, a former rat-run is transformed into a residential haven.

Hackney's Public Realm planning document is one of the best you'll find on these shores. Worth a read, with some good examples:

I hope to cover Hackney and the City of London's embrace of filtered permeability in a future edition of the radio programme.

Clark in Vancouver said...

Some people here in North America (who I guess feel threatened by the new cycling infrastructure that's appearing) have said that the Netherlands is anti-car and there is a high tax on gasoline, etc. and that's why people cycle there. This shows that people do have cars and they're one way of getting around.
Are the policies in the NL anti-car or are they just pro-cycling?

David Hembrow said...

Cottenham Cyclist: Playing Out is a great initiative. I covered it in May.

Jack: This is more than just filtered permeability. I hope to see Hackney and other places in the UK begin to make good progress.

However, talk is cheap, and the UK has been talking more than acting for years.

Clark: The Netherlands has never been anti-car, nor anti-bike. A few fringe elements may be either of those, but the mainstream is not.

What's more, the cost of motoring has never had any correlation with cycling modal share.

The extraordinary use of bikes in the Netherlands is simply the power of offering cycling as a positive choice, rather than as something which only enthusiasts will take part in.

Alexa said...

We stayed on a street in Haarlem that looked a lot like that. Barely wide enough for a small delivery truck to make it past the parked cars. Ice cream man just parked in the middle of the street. Great block party. Kids playing outside all day long.

Part of the problem here in the USA is that we've gotten so used to having lots of space for vehicles on the roads. I live in a small, old city with small, old streets. When we got snowed under last winter, delivery trucks and school busses were getting stuck in the snow banks and drivers were complaining that they had no room to park their over-size (compared to NL) cars on the street. If everything were scaled to Euro-size, we'd probably have been fine. And people could have gotten around with public transit and not even needed their cars.

Branko Collin said...

I blogged about Dutch play streets a while back. Instead of being closed off for the occassion, they are closed off permanently:

The difference with woonerven is that cars are allowed on woonerven.