Monday 10 July 2017

Trip to Netherlands: Utrecht

We were hosted at the City Hall be Jan Bloemhevul and Mark Degnakamp, and for the morning by other members of the transport, mobility and cycling staff.

Background to Utrecht

Utrecht is a city of about 350,000 people and they compared themselves, maybe, to Sheffield in the UK.  They business is mostly service industry and high tech, and like Southampton, the Universities, Hospitals and medical research are the biggest employers. They have the biggest inland docks in the NL, and this historic area is still apparent.  In recent years there has been a massive expansion of the population, and a whole new area of the city has been created to the South, as well as a new science park to the west.

Utrecht is well known in Urban planning circles for its innovations in changing the way space is used and its move to being a "liveable city”, and its aspires to be a “World Class Bicycle City”. Around 43% of all journeys under 7.5km are made by bike, 17% of all journeys between 7.5km and 15km, around 50% cycle to work or school and there are 125,000 cycle journeys through the city centre every day which puts it right up there with the most successful. It also has 15% of journeys on public transport.

"Utrecht is growing at a rapid pace. It is a city where an increasing number of people wants to live and work. Additionally, it is a popular destination for day trippers and tourists. This is good news for the Utrecht economy, but with the growing bustle and increased activity we also have to make a greater effort to keep our city pleasant, orderly, clean and safe. In Utrecht, this is a joint effort of residents, entrepreneurs and organisations. The bicycle has been assigned a leading part, for if we make Utrecht a genuine world-class bicycle city, the health of our city and its region will benefit in all respects. 

On Our Way to Making Utrecht a world-class bicycle City

To become a world-class bicycle city, Utrecht should be safe for cyclists of any age. In a world-class bicycle city, the street scene is dominated by cyclists. In the development plans for the public area, the bicycle has pride of place and right of way – both literally and figuratively – wherever possible. To be a world-class bicycle city, however, it is essential that a firm basis is in place: an extensive network of comfortable bicycle paths and lanes as well as excellent bicycle parking facilities. We are doing our utmost to make this happen. We aim at using innovative methods to make cycling easier, safer and more fun."

Unfortunately I left my phone in my hotel so had no pictures this day, but I have borrowed some media from the Utrecht web site.

Utrecht; Cycling City of the Netherlands?

Interesting Lessons

The first and most enduring impression of Utrecht is the extent of the success of their  cycling policy. “Build it and they will come” could never have been shown to be more true! But there are some interesting side-effects of moving all those joints from cars to bikes.
  • They have a very real cycle parking problem,  They have recently spent €50M on 20,000 cycle parking places near to the station. (But if that seems a lot, they also had to spend €1B on space for 8,000 extra cars, so cycling infrastructure looks cheap!)
Mass Underground Bike Parking in the City Centre
  • There are bikes left everywhere. Sometimes so many that it becomes unsightly or even hazardous. In city centre spaces they have had to make it compulsory to use official bike parking spaces. Public bike parking is usually free, but in the underground purpose built stores they start charging after 24 hours and the cost ramps up.
Bikes are everywhere they can be

  • There are traffic jams for bikes, particularly at popular times, commuting times etc. Very often the density of transport in the bike lanes is much higher than on the wider roads - and it becomes to look like there is too much space allocated to cars and more should be allocated to bikes.
Bicycle Rush Hour Utrecht 
  • New Buildings are now required to provide cycle parking for all the residents/users of that building 

In order to reduce motorised traffic the traffic designers take various measures to discourage cars and encourage cycling
  • Lanes on highways have been reduced form 2 or 3 in each direction to 1 in each direction.
  • The traffic light phases have been changed to longer red passes for cards and longer green phases for bikes
  • Speed limits on roads of 30 kph (20 mph) have been applied on all roads except major through roads. The roads have been redesigned to make 30kph likely - people ignore the speed limit if the road is too wide and easy. 
  • They have a policy of trying to keep flow going on the city streets, which can often be achieved by removing traffic lights. Where the streets are narrower and slower, it turns out that the flow is better without lights and pedestrians can cross more easily
The effect of this traffic evaporation from the centre is to displace some car traffic outwards on to the motorway ring roads, and of course, these are now suffering congestion.

They are working to improve the air quality in the city by reducing emissions.
  • Smart Logistics. They are working towards a zero emissions policy for all deliveries - by moving to electric and to cargo bike delivery
  • They are incrementally increasing the standard required of vehicles allowed in the city - so Euro 6 or LNG are on the way.
Last Mile Delivery by Cargo Bike

In the long run they envisage a city without private parking places. Instead the city will provide “mobility as a service” and sell citizens and visitors the full mobility package tailored to their needs. This will involve car sharing systems, bike sharing, and public transport, all available via a city smart card, and all intelligently planned for each individual.

BIKE! The amazing world of cyclists in Utrecht (tongue in cheek)

Bike Ride

After our presentation from the city we went for a ride with Jan and Mark.  A few interesting observations:
  • There were bridges over the rivers. One bridge was cycle only and had cost some €M's.  The road bridge had a two way cycle lane welded onto the side.
  • There was a lot of new and high quality infrastructure, but we also saw the "bad". On a route into the centre of the city through the outskirt shopping areas (could have been Shirley or Portswood in Southampton) a narrow cycle lane had been forced along the pavement.  It was too narrow for easy cycling yet it took a large amount of the pavements, leaving the pedestrians and shoppers squashed and jumping for cover as cyclists went shooting past at 20kph. This is not the scenario I would want to see. Pedestrians should come first. 
  • It was interesting to see intelligent signs that told you how you would need to alter speed to go across the next traffic light without stopping - so 150 m before the lights you were encouraged to go slower or faster, or keep the same speed.


There is an excellent website at with lots of information and figures, and pictures, some of which I have borrowed for this presentation. 

The CREATE Project funded by the European Commission under Horizon2020 is one of the first projects that addresses the task Tackling Urban Road Congestion.

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