“Cycling is one of the keys to cultivating a healthy urban living environment.” This is a line from the British magazine “The New Economy” in their article about Utrecht. The interesting article looks into the reasons behind the success of Utrecht, the current most competitive region in Europe, and finds that a thriving economy can be combined with a very healthy living environment. The New Economy notes that the city is very compact, but that many functions in a small area has the downside of a lot of pressure on existing infrastructure. They also note, however, that the Dutch do not focus on trying to make it possible to move traffic from one part of the city to the other as fast as possible. On the contrary: “For city officials, mobility is not the goal in and of itself, but a tool for creating a city where people are proud to live, work, start businesses and meet new people.”
A perfect example of what that view actually leads to is a square in the city centre, called ‘Neude’. I just happened to ride past there the other day and I was suddenly struck by what I saw. So many people in a small space in perfect harmony. I didn’t have the camera on me, but modern smart phones are capable of filming high quality images as well. So I got my phone out and I just filmed what I saw. Five minutes on Neude in Utrecht.
A look at Neude in Utrecht
If you follow my blog you will almost be able to predict my next line. It hasn’t always been this way at this location! And yes that is true again, here too. As a young teenager I went to school near this location from 1977 to 1981. My parents forbade me to take a route that went along here. It was a dangerous place with a lot of cars. So I went to the website of the Utrecht city archives to find some pictures to illustrate that.
Neude is a square alongside of the main East-West corridor through the historic city centre of Utrecht. I have written about its transformation before. The entire corridor has been transformed from a main motor traffic area to a place for people. Motor traffic can still get to the city centre from the ring roads around the city, but it always needs to go back out the same way it came in. This means you can still get to the centre from all directions, but you can no longer go through that centre.
The historic streets in the East-West corridor were far too narrow to be able to handle a main traffic flow. That is why they were subsequently widened. Lange Viestraat was already reconstructed in the 1920s, but Lange Jansstraat only in the late 1960s, early 1970s. Before that widening, Lange Jansstraat was even considered to be too narrow to allow cycling! One of the pictures from the city archives shows a no-entry sign for cycling. Cycling had to take place in a parallel back street. This is incomprehensible when you see what the street is like today. By the time the street was finally widened, the views on traffic in the city centres had changed dramatically. So that widened street – part of a now dissolved massive gyratory – was never used as previously intended. The planned main road for motor traffic was never built. In the widened space there is now a bus road with separate cycle tracks alongside of it.
Neude today is dominated by people walking and cycling, and by a lot of buses. That is a combination that works really well, especially because there are virtually no private cars.
6 thoughts on “Cycling as a key to better cities”
My urban living by best city bikes. I feel air, fit and healthy from riding for a trip every day. The commuter bike every day with the commuter or city bikes. This is sober and gentle al time all day.
Nice development in Nuede. What a change from 1915 to the present. So for cycling, I think one of the best city bikes pale there. Pictures I see so wonderful in this article.
This is very educative and professional article, many nations especially the third should borrow a leaf. Well done.
This is very encouraging to see. It is a display of social and personal expertise. Environmental awareness of surroundings. Predictability of behavior. People have expectations about how each other will behave and are able to conduct themselves safely based upon those expectations. They can also easily adapt their behavior based upon unexpected events.
Another example of this social expertise is evidenced by the Koningsplein webcam in Amsterdam.
Other places I seen this behavior is the large square in Bruges Belgium and Grafton Street in Dublin Ireland.
I’m very discouraged by what I see around where I live in the US. People are more self-absorbed and unaware of their surroundings. Their behavior is not predictable. You are not able to conduct yourself based upon expectations, but always have to be cautious and look out for others. When unanticipated events occur, negative results are often produced. People run their shopping carts together in the grocery stores. As many as 50,000 people are killed on our highways every year and over one million people are injured.
The city of Los Angeles only started installing wide zebra crosswalks less than four years ago. These intersection crosswalk treatments look similar to the 1960’s pictures of the city center in Utrecht shown above. I don’t see any zebra crosswalks in the recent pictures of the same location in Utrecht. Is this due to devoting more space to bicyclists or just a change in the way crosswalks are designed?
Looking for similarities between Utrecht and Los Angeles, I can only think of two. There was a law passed this week in California that will allow dual articulated 25-meter long buses on the Orange Line dedicated busway–probably the first city in the U.S. that will extensively use this length of bus. Those buses can be expected to appear in 2-3 years when the current 60-foot buses reach the end of their 12-year lifespan. Utrecht already uses dual articulated buses. The other similarity I can see in the video above is that there is a Subway sandwich shop in Utrecht. Los Angeles has lots of those.
One thing I notice about the center of Utrecht is that the buildings lining the streets are 3-5 stories tall. My guess would be that most major streets in Los Angeles are lined with buildings that are 1-2 stories tall, which makes the destinations on major streets further apart. It would also help the housing shortage in Los Angeles if there were more mixed use buildings 3-5 stories tall along major streets.
The volume of bicycle commuters in the city of Los Angeles has increased by 143% from 2005 to 2014 (now at 1.3% of all journeys to work), yet the share of commuting by bicycle, walking or transit has remained about 15.5% from 2007 through 2014 and the percent of commuters who primarily drive to work has remained about the same in that time period. That might change somewhat in the next few years as there are five transit rail projects currently being built in the county. Two of these will open next year.
It could take forty years, or more, for Los Angeles to have the rate of bicycling that Utrecht had in the 1970’s.
Small incremental changes are being made for bicycling in the city of Los Angeles. Twelve and a half percent of the 3,000 miles of arterial/collector streets now have bike lanes after more than 200 miles were added in the last four years. Bike lanes are essentially marking out territory for bicycling, some of that can later be upgraded to a protected cycle track when additional money is found to do that. Metro, the countywide transit agency, within three years will be ordering new subway cars which will have storage space for bicycles at both ends of the cars. This will double the storage space for bicycles at peak or off-peak hours. They are also adding small bicycle hubs at four rail stations where people can store their bikes (largest wil have space for 200 bikes), get parts or repairs.
I asked a Metro representative at a recent meeting what happened to the idea of installing a gutter for rolling bicycles up and down stairs at rail stations. He told me that they had tried it at one station and found that the federally required steepness of the stairs made it more difficult to roll the bicycles than to carry them. There are elevators and escalators at several Metro rail stations that cyclists use to haul their bikes to and from the rail platform.
There was also a recent state of California law passed which will allow bike racks that have space for three bicycles on the front of buses. Previously the bus racks were limited to two bicycles.
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