If suburbs and small cities in the United States are serious about becoming places that are truly bicycle-friendly – as recent trends noted by the League of American Bicyclists would seem to indicate – they should take a closer look at exactly how the Netherlands is treating new residential developments.
This latest peek into Dutch cycling culture from Clarence Eckerson at Streetfilms (who produced an envy-inducing feature on bike utopia Groningen a couple of weeks back) shows that in the Netherlands, it’s not only the urban core that benefits from state-of-the-art bike infrastructure.
Led by David Hembrow, who blogs at A View from the Cycle Path and conducts bike tours all over the country, the film takes us from the small city of Assen on a 20-mile ride to Groningen, population 190,000, which has the highest cycling mode share of any city in the world with 50 percent (60 percent in the city center and a remarkable 30 percent even in its much more thinly populated surrounding province). The entire 20-mile route consists of the sort of protected cycle infrastructure where you would be happy to ride with a young child, as many do.
There are a few things of special note on this tour: first, new residential developments in Assen and elsewhere in the Netherlands, which have what would in the U.S. be considered a “suburban” flavor of quiet and abundant greenery, are built very intentionally to make cycling the easiest option. Cycle paths are completely separated from traffic and lead directly to the downtown area and to nearby towns and cities, making for a seamless commute. Traffic is routed so far away that it often isn’t even visible from where the cyclists cruise along. Pushbuttons at the few intersections cyclists must cross mean no more than an eight-second wait for a green signal.
The routes offer varied scenery and a relaxing, safe environment in which to ride, making travel by bike for longer distances between towns a viable option, as well as for shorter trips within one community. A new shopping street in Assen is constructed to echo an old-fashioned village center. The stores are more readily accessible by bike than by car, although car parking is available in an underground lot beneath the plaza where people congregate.
All this deliberate planning results in a community where using a quiet, safe, healthy, economical mode of transportation – cycling – becomes the default. “People cycle because it’s pleasant,” says Hembrow. “Not because they’re beaten with a stick to stop them from driving.” He adds, “What people don’t understand is that the whole country has transformed itself for cycling.”