Europe is no stranger to cycle-friendly cities, particularly in the Netherlands. There is one certain city that has earned the (unofficial) title of “The World’s Cycling City however, and that’s Groningen.
Located in the northern part of the Netherlands, this college city has spent the last five decades refining its cycle-friendly design, with more plans on the way to further encompass the bicycle-friendly atmosphere and logistics that has earned the city plenty of respect from the global community.
Here’s a quick primer on Groningen, and how they’ve managed to get where they are today.
Groningen is actually the capital of Groningen province, and has a population of over 200,000 residents, with around 18% of them being college students. There are two main universities in the city: Groningen University, and the Hanze University of Applied Sciences.
A college town in nature, the city is very young at heart, and boasts an array of centuries old architecture, along with a setup that is inline with the pre-automobile era. These are a few of the characteristics that made it so conducive to being bike-friendly in the first place, but there was a real starting point...
Although Groningen already had a head start in terms of being so accommodating to bikes, there were some profound changes that needed to be put in place for it all to happen.
In the early 1970s, a young man named Max van der Berg was in charge of the city’s transportation and planning. During this period, the population of the city was starting to grow, and automobiles were becoming more prevalent which was taking a toll on what van der Berg the city’s atmosphere should be.
Because of this, he began to draw up plans to restructure the city’s transportation plans, swapping out car-oriented roads for bikes, and implementing a slew of new routes and regulations that would shift the focus towards bicycle travel.
By 1977, much to the chagrin of come city employees and council members, the new traffic circulation plan was put in place -- literally overnight. While the decision led to the resignation of some council members, and some outrage from shop owners, things actually went surprisingly well.
In the years following, Groningen has become the example for many other cities wishing to implement bike-friendly policies and designs.
The city’s bike-centric nature isn’t so much about accommodating bikes as it is discouraging car use.
One of the biggest factors is how the city routed traffic away from the city center, and more towards the outside of the city. By design, no car can drive from one section of the city to another, but instead has to take an outer road ring that is diverted away from the center of the city.
Many roads are one way, discouraging thru-traffic for cars, while allowing multiple directions for bicycles. On the roads that bikers share with cars, the bikes have the right-of-way, and cars are considered second-class.
Along with strategic road planing, there are thousands upon thousands of public bike racks and bike parking areas, along with numerous bike rental spots.
For a better visual, imagine a more standard city that has some bike accommodations, and reverse everything in favor of bikes. Rather than large parking lots, there are smaller bike parking zones. Rather than bike lanes taking a back seat, there are a handful of car lanes instead, often restricted in where they can go.
Technology plays a factor as well. There are actually rain-sensitive traffic lights that alter their patterns when they sense moisture, and even heated bike lanes that stave off ice and frost during colder months.
All of this amount to a cyclist’s utopia, especially for those who have to deal with normal urban areas in other cities, where bike riders are hardly accommodated.
The world definitely has much to learn from Groningen. Their bike-centeredness has resulted in over 60% of residents using a bike as primary transportation, and also led to the cleanest air in the country. It’s our hope that other cities take a long, hard look at what Groningen has done, and seek to imitate their lead.
This post was last updated on June 5th, 2018 at 02:11 pm
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