All about cycling in the Netherlands
Cycling in the newest parts of cities and towns in The Netherlands is almost always very convenient. That is because these areas were designed with cycling in mind from the beginning. This goes further than just designing good streets, distances to amenities are also kept short. From a blank canvas everything in these expansions is built according to the latest views and standards about traffic and communities. These developments are designed as a total concept where every detail is part of a bigger plan. The latest expansion in ʼs-Hertogenbosch is no exception.
Since 2005 the suburb “Groote Wielen” has been under development in an area just north of the town Rosmalen that belongs to the municipality of ʼs-Hertogenbosch since 1996. The name would translate as Large Kolks, which are the large bodies of water that stay behind after floods. The suburb is advertised as a new town in nature and naturally with a lot of water (even more water than usual in this country). The entire development was designed by landscape architect and artist Hubert de Boer.
Groote Wielen will eventually get about 6,500 dwellings. In the first step of the first phase that is under construction now, 3,200 homes will be built south of a large body of water in 4 different neighbourhoods. North of the water there will be two more parts (one of which will be the “centre”), with another 1,100 residences. This is the second step of the first phase. A later expansion is foreseen in the north-east corner with another 2,200 homes, but that phase 2 area has not even been designed yet. The types of dwellings will be 20% social housing, 30% in the middle segment (up to €265,000) and 50% of the homes will be over €265,000. The number of residences per hectare varies (and is of course linked to the price range). There will be 20 homes per hectare in Watertuinen, but 40 per hectare in Vlietdijk. Most of the homes are terraced houses with a small garden, with a living space varying in size from 110sqm to 450sqm. Vlietdijk also has apartment buildings (hence the higher density). The centre will also get apartment buildings which will be situated over the shops. The entire development will house about 10,000 people after the first phase is completed. When phase 2 is also finished that can increase to about 15,000.
Everything will have to be easily accessible. So that means a good road-network had to be designed. But traffic was not to affect the quiet atmosphere and safety in the new residential area. That is why motorised traffic has only limited access. Traffic is led around the different residential parts, so in those areas you only have traffic that really needs to be in that particular neighbourhood. From the through roads there are only one or two access points for every neighbourhood. This has become the standard in The Netherlands, that was set in Houten and that you can also see in re-designed older areas such as the example I showed before in Utrecht-Overvecht. Because of this design none of the junctions in the entire suburb needs to be signalised.
Without through traffic it is possible to give walking and cycling priority in the residential areas. Drivers will have to adapt their behaviour to people. The speed limit is 30km/h (18mph) in all residential streets. Only on a few main routes away from homes that limit is 50km/h (31mph). Motor traffic is not restricted; every home can be easily reached and the motorway is only minutes from every home. But because of how not only the streets, but rather the entire area has been designed, that traffic is not dominating at all. Every dwelling has 2 parking places if they are planned on land owned by the resident. If parking has to take place on the public road the norm is 1.6 car per residence. Parking for visitors is always on the public road and set to 1 parking spot for 3 homes. Parking is done in special parking streets and areas. That means that for instance in the neighbourhood Broekland more than half the public space is not accessible to motor traffic. It is primarily designed as space for humans who walk, cycle, live and play there. It is also where you find green space and water.
In and around Groote Wielen a network of good cycle routes was planned and built. The traffic flows are unravelled. That means that the cycle routes are different from the motor traffic routes. Because the cycleways are away from motor traffic (what the Dutch call ‘solitary’) they can be bi-directional in a safe way. These solitary cycle routes run in front of the homes, to increase the social safety. People look out of their windows onto the cycle route. Crossings of cycle routes with main motor traffic routes are grade-separated. Cars drive a bit below ground-level and you cycle over these roads without having to go up too far. At the entrance to the area (in the south-east corner) we find the big new cycle viaduct that I have shown you earlier. Where the cycle routes cross minor streets for motor traffic in the residential areas, people cycling have priority.
The residents were not always happy with these level crossings. There was one of the cycle route with a 30km/h road that became notorious very quickly. Residents claimed motorists drove up to 80km/h and there were crashes with cyclists, of which some were injured (but luckily none killed). Poor sight lines and speeding made the crossing scary, it was said. The city of ʼs-Hertogenbosch has made several changes to the crossing to improve the situation, but speed bumps and signs were unsuccessful. In the final version from July 2014, a centre refuge island was constructed. This gives people cycling a safe haven and makes more clear to motor traffic that there is a special crossing ahead. In February 2015 the municipality promised the residents to let Dutch Road Safety Institute SWOV investigate the crossing according to the DOCTOR method. People who experienced or witnessed an incident were asked to share their story for this investigation, in April 2015. Possible findings were not (yet) published, as far as I can tell. The latest incident I found reported at this location dates from June 2014. So it would seem there were no crashes after the July 2014 reconstruction.
From about every location in Groote Wielen you can cycle to the centre of the former village of Rosmalen in about 10 minutes (on very good cycle routes). Cycling the circa 8 kilometres to the centre of ʼs-Hertogenbosch can be done in about 30 minutes, at – what the Dutch consider – a common average cycle speed of about 16 km/h (10mph).
The new suburb will get a lot of amenities. A business park is under construction, but only ‘clean’ businesses will be accepted, no industry. So there is room for big box shops, show rooms, wholesale traders and business services. In future there will also be room for offices. There is a temporary shopping area, built to function a few years, where you can get your daily groceries and other first needs such as toiletries. A permanent shopping area is planned in the future ‘centre’. This will house a range of shops that will sell anything you could need for daily life. There are lots of play areas for children. There are two types for different age groups. For the up to 6 year olds there is a high number of smaller play areas. In Hoven they are no further than 100 metres from every home. The 6-12 year olds have fewer play locations, in Hoven there are 2, but still they are no further than 400 metres from any residence. This means children can go there on their own, also because they’re kept away from motor traffic routes.
Children can also go to day care and school in their own neighbourhood. Five primary schools are planned and most were already built and functioning. In the long-term (when the children reach the age for secondary schools) a secondary school may be built, depending on the demand. Until then, children from the age of 12 will have to cycle to either ʼs-Hertogenbosch or Rosmalen (which is very common in The Netherlands.) There are several medical centres in which you can find family doctors, dentists, obstetricians, a pharmacy, and so on. Dwellings for seniors were already built and in the long-term there will be a care home as well. Groote Wielen also has a Green Zone, where the sports facilities are grouped together. There are fields and clubs for football (soccer), baseball, korfball and pétanque. There is also a horse riding school and the tennis courts that were originally in a different location will also be relocated to the Green Zone.
From all these amenities it becomes clear that this suburb was designed to function as if it is a separate and independent town. A lot of people will not have to leave the area often. Especially children and the elderly will find everything they need only a short distance away. This makes cycling a perfect and viable transport option. That cannot only be achieved by how you design an individual street or cycle route; the whole concept of the suburb has to accommodate cycling. The design of this development Groote Wielen does just that.
My video for this week shows some background info and a main cycle route from beginning to end.