All about cycling in the Netherlands
Arnhem is one of the two host cities of Velo-City 2017. I have written quite a lot about Nijmegen, the other host city, on my blog in the past, but I only really wrote about Arnhem once before. Today I would like you to get to know Arnhem a little bit better. Therefore, a city portrait in this week’s post and video.
Arnhem is the capital of the province of Gelderland. It is a very old city, which developed from a settlement established 3,500 years ago. Arnhem now lies on the Rhine river. Interestingly that was not the case for the early settlement. The city wasn’t founded on the banks of the river, the river meandered towards it. Arnhem was heavily damaged in World War II. I wrote about that part of Arnhem’s history in my earlier post. About 152,000 people currently live in the municipality of Arnhem. That may sound small to some, but it makes it the 16th largest municipality in the Netherlands. When it comes to transportation there are two remarkable facts about Arnhem. Since 1949, Arnhem has had a Trolleybus system. It is the only city in the Netherlands that kept its Trolleybuses. In November 2015, when the completely transformed train station was reopened, the station got renamed Central Station. That makes Arnhem the only Dutch city outside the Randstad conurbation and one of the just 6 Dutch cities in total, to have a central station.
This year’s motto of Velo-City is “the Freedom of Cycling”. So how much freedom is there to cycle in Arnhem? When you cycle around in Arnhem you’ll notice there is a lot of dedicated cycling infrastructure. The network of cycle ways next to major roads is connected. The main paths are wide enough and paved with red asphalt or sometimes tiles. There are bi-directional cycleways, protected intersections, waiting time indicators for traffic signals, bicycle parking racks, a large integrated bicycle parking facility in the central station, car free streets in the city centre and 30km/h residential zones. All the things that you can expect in any major Dutch city.
When visitors of the Arnhem inner-city were recently asked to rate the ways to reach that centre they gave cycling the highest marks: 8.3 out of ten, closely followed by public transport (8.1). Getting there by car was far less appreciated with only 6.2 points. Finally, parking a car was considered less than satisfactory with only 5.8 out of 10. (From: ‘de Arnhemse binnenstad binnen bereik; Arnhem: bereikbaar, leefbaar en gastvrij’, March 2017)
That means Arnhem’s visitors are quite positive about cycling, but the city didn’t reach the finals in the 2016 “Cycling City of the Netherlands” competition. The jury of the competition didn’t feel cycling in Arnhem was special enough to make the city eligible for that title.
The modal split of cycling had long been relatively low in Arnhem. In 1999, the Technical University in Delft concluded in an investigation that that had to do with the hills in the north part of Arnhem. The height differences make cycling harder. The investigators were quite blunt when they stated: The Municipality of Arnhem has identified a cycle route network that contains many unnecessary differences in height. As such, these routes are highly unattractive for cycling, the construction of this network is largely a waste of community money. To actually promote cycling in Arnhem, it is necessary to make sure height differences in the chosen routes can be overcome by cyclists. Fortunately, the report also stated that with clever routes the biggest problems could indeed be avoided. Cycling levels have increased in Arnhem since 1999 and especially in the more hillier areas you can see a lot of people with e-bikes nowadays, that further remove that hurdle.
What are the council’s policies for cycling? In the 2013 “Structure Vision” for 2020 to 2040, the municipality states:
“Arnhem is fully committed to cycling as a means to keep the city accessible. The cycling policies have two goals:
This can be achieved by creating a comprehensive cycle network, considering comfort, speed, safety, parking facilities, possibilities to change to other modes of transport, opportunities to charge the e-bike, et cetera”.
That doesn’t come across as very ambitious, but it does cover all the basic requirements. When the earlier mentioned new vision for the city centre was made public last March, the alderman for urban development and mobility stated: “To keep the city centre accessible, liveable and inviting for entrepreneurs, residents and visitors, the council chooses for sustainable transportation. We will make way for the visitor who arrives on foot, by public transport or by bicycle.”
It may be a coincidence that the alderman mentions entrepreneurs first and bicycle last, but it is in line with the image I get from Arnhem. Cycling gets enough attention, but there are no special favours for people who cycle. The latest news seems to confirm that. Arnhem is going to strictly enforce the parking ban for bicycles around its new central station. From Monday 24 April 2017, the council actively removes parked bicycles from a designated no-parking zone, after signs alone did not keep people from leaving their bicycles there. The bicycles will be taken to the largely unused lower levels of the station’s parking facility, from where you can get them back for a fine of €35.
All this doesn’t mean cycling is bad or even difficult in Arnhem, not at all, but it does mean that in the Netherlands, where the quality of the cycling network is very high on average, cycling Arnhem is just not outstanding.
This week’s video: a city portrait of Arnhem.