You only have to take a few steps in Utrecht to see that the cyclist is king. The fourth largest city in the Netherlands, the medieval city has 360,000 inhabitants, nearly 60% of whom use bicycles daily. Some thoroughfares, such as the Vredenburgknoop, see an average of 33,000 bicycles circulating per day.
For 30 years, the authorities have been pursuing a proactive policy and encouraging the combined use of bicycles and trains in Utrecht station, the nerve center of the country’s railways.
Attached to the station, the largest bicycle parking lot in the world was completed in 2019 and has nearly 17,000 spaces. Sprawling over multiple floors, complete with modern signage and two-wheeled highways, the place feels futuristic to say the least.
And the city would like to go further. “We want even more cyclists and pedestrians. The main goal is not the supremacy of the bicycle, but the reduction of car traffic”, explains Herbert Tiemens, mobility consultant.
Up to 100 cyclists per minute enter the car park every day, funded by the municipality and the railway company. Property developers are also required to provide bicycle facilities for each office building constructed.
The city does not hesitate to make its mobility policy a real brand image. “We have gained a healthy and happy population. We have plenty of people who have really created a link with the city and who no longer want to leave it”, assures Herbert Tiemens.
long time fight
Kerngroep Ring is a militant group that has been fighting the car since the 1970s, when a motorway project threatened to raze the forest of Amelisweerd, on the outskirts of the town. The Supreme Court will rule in favor of nature and the road will eventually be built further. Today, they continue to fight against the expansion of the A27 motorway.
“The more roads we build, the more cars there are. If we don’t give this opportunity, users will find other alternatives. And that’s the goal: to have a healthy urban lifestyle, to demonstrate that all these cars are not necessarily necessary”, testifies the activist Jan Morren.
A disruptive thought 40 years ago, today dominant in Utrecht. In the historic center along the canals, pedestrians and cyclists have priority over traffic. Two kilometers away, a road for cars has been reduced from 4 to 2 lanes, with the creation of a green space for walkers.
Half an hour’s walk from the city center stretches the Merwede canal, where a future district will emerge by 2030. Petrol or diesel cars will be completely banned for the future 12,000 inhabitants of the city.
“The absence of cars will give us more livable spaces on the streets, where children can play, and where we can create more green spaces for adaptation to climate change and for biodiversity. When will cars be even authorized to a certain extent, but only small electric vehicles”, details IMirjam Schmull, responsible for sustainable development of the Merwede project.
The future car-free neighborhood will be free of fossil fuels and autonomous thanks to a heat pump connected to the canal. A radical urbanism that is already being emulated in the Netherlands, and beyond.
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