Day 2 Utrecht

This morning featured an early meeting with Utrecht council officers responsible for strategic transport and big EU projects respectively. Utrecht is all about creating healthy urban living for a happier life but when you see the level of investment it is truly mind blowing.

The strategy of putting pedestrians and cyclists at the front of the queue has brought about huge support for cycling. It looks like everyone cycles everywhere. It actually brings about additional problems. As they have got rid of the cars, the number of bikes that need to park in the City Centre has grown. There are tens of thousands of bicycles that need space to park. Recent infrastructure investment has brought about the building of a raised public square housing over 4000 bike storage spaces, another square is planned with 8000 racked storage places below.

thousands of cycles storage racks soon to be moved to state of the art subterranean facilities like the one in the 3 pics below

As building continues, integrated transport of buses and tram terminuses are shuffled around in a kind of jigsaw as the City moves towards its completion. The work is on a truly biblical scale. One 11 lane highway which previously brought car traffic into the city centre for shopping has been replaced by two way bicycle access, a bus lane and a reinstated canal the predated the 11 lane highway.

The redesign of the City where - in the centre at least - cars are completely exclude has done wonders for the economy and has been welcomed by traders and employers alike. In many other areas signs state that “this is a cycle area” and “cars are a guest”. As you cycle around on some of the busiest cycle routes in world, the culture is transformed. People weave in and out of each other with courtesy and care, fellow riders ding their bells as they overtake turning left and right in front of you but the absence of cars and heavy goods vehicles makes the whole thing a stress free experience.

During the discussions with council officers, I was surprised by interesting facts I should have known before. In Holland all students have free public transport. With an advantage like that, why would they yearn for car ownership?

In the case of ANY road accident involving cyclists, the presumption is that the car driver is always responsible; that the driver, wrapped as he/she is in a protective cage must have done something wrong to cause the collision. It changes the mind-set and ultimately driver behaviour.

The effects of all this is along with careful planning around traffic lights and junction management has resulted in a 30% reduction in cars on the roads of Utrecht and a 20% increase in the use of cycles.

It is hard to express the effect of all this in words on the page. You can only experience it for yourself but the calmness it brings to the urban experience is truly transformative. I thought I’d share this video to help readers get it.

Restaurants with pavement dining and drinking areas abound and the improvement in local health and wellbeing — according to officers — goes from strength to strength.

There are some amazing structures to wonder at here. I was really taken by the exclusive bridge over the river a mile or two from the centre designed to carry only cycles and pedestrians. It runs 17metres high above the river with a length of 110 metres, culminating in a curling spiral downwards path, forming the roof of a school as you cycle down to ground level.

Amazing. More to see in Rotterdam tomorrow.

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