Enschede is one of the five nominees to become best Cycling City of the Netherlands in 2014. Chosen from a long-list of 19 municipalities, these five municipalities compete to take over the title of current best cycling city ʼs-Hertogenbosch, which was elected in 2011. I will make a small portrait of all five nominees and in reversed alphabetical order Enschede is the third after Velsen and Zwolle.
Enschede is a larger university city in the East of the Netherlands, close to the German border. With its population of about 160,000 it is the largest city of the province of Overijssel. The city’s main industry had long been textile production, but that collapsed in the 1970s and 80s. The former industrial city has re-invented itself and now focuses on research, innovation, education, culture and sport, but the city hasn’t lost its down to earth worker’s mentality.
Many cities in the Netherlands are compact and Enschede is no exception. Coupled with good policies for cycling this makes that cycling is an important means of transport in this city. In the Bicycle Vision of the city for the period 2012-2020 we find that Enschede choses consciously for sustainable mobility and tries to get people to make the shift to cycling to improve traffic safety and the liveability of especially the city centre.
This shift is needed. The same document reveals that for even very short journeys under 2km 35% of the people in Enschede take the car. Tucked away in a diagram is the finding that cycling in Enschede decreased when you compare 2007 with 2000. It fell from a little above average to below average for larger cities. That may sound worse than it is: about 34% of all journeys up to 7.5km are still made by bicycle.
Enschede wants to increase that number to 40%. To reach that figure the city wants to improve the cycling climate, by improving infrastructure, increasing bicycle parking places and by reducing theft. There is an array of measures with regard to the improvement of infrastructure. For instance by unbundling new cycle routes from the main routes from motor traffic and by improving existing infrastructure to meet modern standards. (See picture above, that shows what that means.)
For the entire Cycle Vision Enschede sets aside 9 million Euro and that doesn’t include larger projects that would eat the budget too much, but only the “ordinary” updating measures.
One of those larger projects that was already finished is the cycle bridge over Auke Vleerstraat that featured in one of my earlier blog posts.
Enschede had been a pioneer with new cycling measures in the past, but cycling got a little bit less attention in more recent years, which may explain the decrease of the modal share. In the early 1990s Enschede was the first city that gave cyclists priority on roundabouts. This concept that I wrote about a lot already has since been adopted in the entire country and is now standard policy in most of the Netherlands.
Enschede is also the birth place of cycle traffic lights that are green for all directions at the same time while motor traffic is stopped entirely. On my visit to Enschede it was the first time I really experienced what it is like to be cycling left through an all directions green junction. This ten year old concept is not something that has widely spread so far. I know Groningen and Assen have it and I saw it in Beverwijk, but in the larger cities in the west I have not yet seen it. That may have to do with the recommendations of the Dutch Cyclists’ Union for “simultaneous green” junctions. It really only works on compact junctions where not all directions have separate green cycles already. There shouldn’t be a higher volume than 25,000 vehicles per day and from all directions at least 10% of cyclists have to make a left turn. The all directions green has to take place twice per full cycle to make it preferable over a ‘normal’ Dutch junction with cycle tracks all around the junction. The main advantage is then that you can quickly make a left turn. It seems to be popular where people are used to it. I am not, and I did not like it, it felt “messy”.
What I also disliked very much was the fondness for cycle lanes in Enschede. I was surprised to see newly reconstructed arterial roads with cycle lanes. Even when they are 2 metres wide, car traffic passes you much closer than when you cycle on a separated cycle track. It was good to see the lanes changed to tracks right before most junctions, but I do not understand cycle lanes. For lanes to be good and safe they need just as much space as separated cycle tracks and those have a far greater feeling of subjective safety, so why not opt for those?
Cycle lanes have many disadvantages. They can be invaded by motor traffic either legally when they have to cross them to park, or illegally when they park inside the lanes. With cycle lanes junction design becomes needlessly complicated to a point where people choose to ignore the design altogether. A left turning track I saw was ignored by all cyclists I saw turning left. And I understand them completely.
With its Cycle Vision Enschede commits fully to cycling again, and the best example of new infrastructure in Enschede must be the high-speed regional cycle track that starts in Enschede and that will be 60 kilometres long. I have shown you this amazing route before as well.
So will this bring Enschede the title of Best Cycling City in the Netherlands? To be honest, I have my doubts. But who knows?
My video portrait of Enschede.