How this Dutch City Became so Bicycle Friendly

A new short film by Streetfilms show how this city made the transition from automobiles to bicycles.

Jul 20, 2019

Some of the most well-known bicycle friendly cities in the world are the ones going car-free like Copenhagen and Amsterdam but a lesser known city, Utrecht, the fourth largest city in the Netherlands, seems to be winning the competition hands down.

Today, with an average daily number of bike trips standing at 125,000 , the city is doing something very right. A new short film by Streetfilms shows how this city of 360,000 – and growing – transformed itself into a cyclist's paradise.

Utrecht is made up of a historic city center, scenic canals are lined with shops and restaurants and bike paths and roads weave through the downtown making it really easy to ship, commute to work or school, and to visit museums or parks without ever using a car.

That's because the city built specialized roads and bike parking facilities to give bicycle riders the upper hand over cars. According to CityLab, cars make up only 15 percent of the trips into the downtown area. Sixty percent are done by cyclists.

There is a new state-of-the-art bicycle 6,000 space parking garage that is located underneath the Utrecht central train station. The spaces will double in the next two years because of demand. Commuters can ride from home directly into the parking facility and then walk just a few minutes to catch a train.

Roads that were built for cars have been redesigned to give cyclists priority and parks and public spaces are being built around the bicycle routes. The Dafne Schippersburg is a multi-use bridge/path that uses the roof of an elementary school as its foundation. The bridge connects the Leidsche Rijn area with the city center.

“You really have the idea that people are the boss of the city, not the machines,” Lott van Hooijdonk, the city’s vice mayor, said in the film.

But the city wasn't always this bicycle friendly. In the 1950s and 60s, cities in the Netherlands were as automotive friendly as cities in the rest of Europe and the US. In the 1970s, in response to a rise in the number of children getting killed in traffic accidents people started protesting against the use of the streets being prioritized for cars according to CityLab. Add the high cost of gasoline and the environmental movement and you have perfect storm conditions for change.

The Netherlands changed directions and started to change city centers into places for bicycle riding, walking and mass transit instead of private automobiles. Today, 98 percent of all households in Utrecht own at least one bicycle. The film states that half own three or more bicycles. Altogether, there are 22.5 billion bicycles in the Netherlands or 1.3 bicycles per household beating out even Denmark.

The transition didn't come cheap. According to the New York Times, the city spends over 49 million or $55 million annually to build, improve and maintain the bike-based transportation network which the city plans on doubling by 2030. There are complaints by car owners that they are being discriminated against and by cyclists that say there aren't enough parking spaces, but these are just growing pains.

The advantages of the changes far outnumber the disadvantages and include reduced air pollution, lower healthcare costs and a host of other social benefits. Plus, the number of deaths of cyclists and pedestrians in traffic accidents has plummeted according to CityLab. In Utrecht, two wheels are so much better than four.

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BONNIE RIVA RAS, EDITOR & WRITER
Bonnie Riva Ras has dedicated her life to promoting social justice. She loves to write about empowering women, helping children, educational innovations, and advocating for the environment & sustainability.

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