Arnhem, the co-host of Velo-city 2017

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.

The logo for Velo-city 2017 on an aerial picture of the Arnhem city centre.

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.

Cycling to the city centre is considered the most convenient means of transport by Arnhem city centre visitors.

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.

A school run in the Arnhem city centre.

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)

Some of the parcels in the Arnhem city centre are delivered by cargo bike.

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.

Part of Arnhem and its surroundings is quite hilly. The e-bike helps people to make cycling more convenient.

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.

The cycling network in Arnhem is a fine grid. The green lines represent high speed regional cycle routes. The red lines are main city routes. The blue lines are local connectors. The dotted red/blue lines are missing links. The yellow dots are bicycle parking facilities.

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:

  • facilitating people who already cycle, and
  • enticing the new cyclist (the person who still uses the car).

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.”

The parking ban around the Central Station was largely disregarded. All these bicycles are parked where it is not allowed.

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.

The no-parking area for bicycles around Arnhem’s central station.

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.

5 thoughts on “Arnhem, the co-host of Velo-city 2017

  1. Great video, Mark. Arnhem was already on my wishlist of places in NL to visit one day, even more so now. A Dutch city with some hills would be a nice change of scenery from the flatness of most of the country. BTW is it “Arnie” the Aardvark or has it yet to be named; most icons of this nature usually get an unofficial name given to them by the locals. And I see the local football team – Vitesse – has just one their first ever trophy in 125 years – it’s all happening this year in Arnhem.

  2. Dear Mark,
    Very good to inform us about Arnhem cycling highlights, a very pleasant city indeed. And co-organisor of VeloCity 2017. Arnhem is famous for its good museums, nice river areas, all in a green setting. Their local cycling policy already dates from the seventies! And brave local politicians decided to keep the trolley system of which the people of Arnhem are very proud. The bus company was owned and directed by the local government. The trolley system has led to a relative high awareness of local environmental issues. As a consultant I personally had the honor to develop a complete new local cycling policy plan in 1992, including a citywide cycling network and a cycling infrastructure priority decision making system; both presented at VeloMondial in Montréal. In terms of cycling policy Arnhem has a long and consistent approach which is key condition for an excellent cycling climate.

  3. If the Dutch government and NS (Dutch Rail) didn’t mess up the purchase of high speed trains. (Choosing Ansaldo Breda with a new and unproven design. And a history of not delivering as promissed). Then Breda would likely be a Central Station today.

  4. No Mark, a bicycle nor an electric trolleybus will not give you additional funds in a moral bank in relation to that zoo. Not a fan of them anymore, although this is an argument that you’d probably hear more from David.

    I really need to get cycling again, it’s supposed to be spring after all. I was cycling much more last year, I’m afraid my muscles have been suffering from dystrophy for a while now. I miss the Netherlands more than I ever have before. I miss the time when my dad invented a new term, arsehurting, for the amount of time I wanted to spend on the bicycle in Amsterdam, Utrecht and other cities. You make me and a lot of non Dutch people very jealous Mark, you know you do that right?

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