Monday 11 October 2010

Utrecht's pedestrianized shopping centre

It is not only cyclists, but also pedestrians who have benefited from the work which has been done in the Netherlands. The world's first deliberately car free street was the Lijnbaan in Rotterdam which opened in 1953.

This video from Mark Wagenbuur shows the way that the shopping streets in the centre of Utrecht have been transformed.

Mark says: The Utrecht pedestrian zone is a large area of car free streets in the historic city center. First in 1965 and from November 1968 on a larger scale, the narrow streets were closed to car traffic on the busiest shopping days. This experiment made the streets car free on Wednesdays and Saturdays which were -and still are- important market days. There was a lot of opposition from shop owners but the city went through with the plans for a permanent car ban. From 1971 the streets were permanently car free and they were redesigned. Side walks were removed and the streets were transformed to streets for pedestrians only. All opposition has since vanished. The area has been car free for 40 years now. The area is livable and a commercial success. It is one of the most attractive inner city shopping areas of the country. Best reached by public transport and bicycle. Deliveries to shops take place in the early hours of the day.

When private car ownership increased dramatically from the 1950s in the Netherlands, it was soon clear that the historic city centers could not handle that much traffic. Streets could not be widened without demolishing many historic buildings. It took about 20 years before the public and the cities knew that it could not go on like this. From the early 1970s many cities in the Netherlands created car free zones in the city centers. From that same time the use of the bicycle was on the increase again too.

On these streets, cycling is banned between 6:00 and 18:00. However, there are perfectly good, virtually car free, routes for cyclists which avoid these streets. Some can be seen in the other posts about Utrecht. Pedestrianization in the Netherlands works with cyclists, not against them.

Utrecht is not unique in having done this. In fact, virtually all towns in the Netherlands have made similar transformations.


Freedom Cyclist said...

Here in Groningen, didn't realise the proximity to Assen (then again it is the Netherlands). If you are in the neighbourhood, give let us know.

Robert Guico said...

I'm a fan of these, but I don't think we'll be seeing them in the U.S. in our lifetimes, for reasons expressed pretty well in this article.

The obvious answer, then, seems to be to encourage people to live in the same areas where shopping takes place. But with the failure of the State Street mall, the peds will just have to dodge the cars for quite a while.

Anonymous said...

I would like to get your feedback about Milton Keynes Redway system. From what I have read about it, the area has an extensive network of segregated cycle facilities which your blog thoughtfully advocates as a means of creating a strong bike culture. But cycling hasn't seemed to take off in Milton Keynes as a form of transportation the way it has in the various cities of the Netherlands.

Thank you for your thoughtful and informative blog.


David Hembrow said...

Hi Ed. I have never lived in Milton Keynes and I can't say I know it very well, but I have cycled there a few times, and I've also driven there, so I can give you my impressions.

First of all, it's worth remembering what the priorities in the planning of Milton Keynes actually were. Melvin M Webber, the father of the city of Milton Keynes, was a Californian urban designer known as a pioneer of "mass automotive mobility". His plans truly came to reality in Milton Keynes.

The experience of cycling in MK is really not at all like NL. For a start, MK has a fantastic network of what are in effect urban motorways. These are very well designed to provide for rapid driving around the city, and a high rate of driving was the inevitable result. The roads are designed, built and maintained to a far higher standard than are the Redways.

What's more, the Redways which I used were notable for the relatively indirect routes which they took compared with roads. They also had other problems such as giving way at side roads, having badly designed crossings with roads, have quite extreme inclines on the way in and out of underpasses, had relatively bad signage, took routes down dark corridors away leading to low social safety...

Some thought was put into providing infrastructure for walking and cycling, but it was not really the intention of the planners at the birth of Milton Keynes, and they've not done much more since. It has the appearance of something that they gave up on it before finishing it. Certainly there seems to have been little effort put into noticing the faults with and improving upon what was originally built.

On an often subconscious level, infrastructure tells you how to get about. In the case of Milton Keynes, it tells you to drive a car, and that's exactly as the city planners intended it to be.

It could also be seen as another instance of the UK looking across the Atlantic for inspiration, when often the country would be better off looking across the North Sea.

Anonymous said...

I concur 100% on your analysis of MK, David. It's bikeable (though with lots of room for improvement), yet you're always playing second bat to wide, direct car roads.

Anonymous said...

I have never been to Milton Keynes myself. I live in California. But I have read about people in the UK describing MK as something similar to what one would find in California.

Locally, in California, there are some efforts to build expansive networks of bike paths, especially in the newer developments, but I have a hunch they are going to function roughly as well as the Redway system in Milton Keynes. Its not my ideal, but its better than nothing.

What I would be very interested in seeing in future postings is how the Dutch bike planners address what in the US would be described as big box retail, stores about the size of an Ikea or Asda or just any grocery store. I suspect that scale of retail is less common in the Netherlands than in the US, but here its ubiquitous, so figuring out how to address the big box problem is much more of a pressing concern locally. Thus understanding how the Dutch address that issue gives me some ideas of what to complain/organize about at city council planning meetings in California.

Thanks again for your wonderful blog and videos!


David Hembrow said...

Ed: Actually, except for the absense of out of town supermarkets, retail here isn't all that different. The local Ikea (a 30 km cycle away in Groningen) has bicycle parking in the ground floor of the building, which you reach by a cycle path through the car park. Our local "big box" DIY shops also have bike parking which is accessible by cycle paths which lead to the shop.

It's the ubiquity of the cycle path network which makes it all work.

Anonymous said...

Thanks again for your feedback!


Neil said...

The Ikeas in UK have bike parking and foot access, but I often feel it is a bit toke. Like at Southampton where the lack of easy stairs/elevator to get you to the main car parking floors - which is where the escalator system starts to get you to the entrance on the top floor. Yes there are lifts but there are a pain to wait for as all lifts (elevators) are.

Daniel Sparing said...

An interesting transformation happening at the moment in Utrecht is the tear-up of an urban motorway to rebuild the canal (gracht) it originally was. One block from this shopping street.

Regarding IKEA, the box in Delft even has cargo bikes available. Still many people come by car and the IKEA itself is a cause of traffic jams on the Rotterdam-Hague motorway on Sundays.

I am not saying Dutch go by bike to the IKEA - but they certainly have the freedom to do so.