“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.