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Houten – A City for Cyclists July 22, 2010

Posted by Dana Petit in Denmark, Graduate, Individual Fellowship, Master's, Netherlands.
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While in the Netherlands and Denmark, I visited a variety of sites and towns that provided cyclists with better-than-average everyday biking experiences. This isn’t difficult in two countries that pride themselves on the comfort and convenience of their bike infrastructure. The sites I visited ranged from suburban residential neighborhoods to downtown commercial streets and everything in-between.

Downtown Houten - Girl riding bike

Houten was designed so that cyclists can move about faster and more easily than motorists.

One of the highlights of my stay in the Netherlands was visiting Houten, a town of approximately 50,000. Back in the ’70s, Houten was a wee village of 4,000.

Because of its proximity to Utrecht, a larger university town, the national government designated Houten as a “centre of growth,” and the village was left with the challenge of figuring out how to accommodate up to 10,000+ new inhabitants. While many in the village were opposed to such dramatic growth, forward thinking leaders saw that developing Houten as a “bike city” could help to maintain the village’s small-town social dynamic and high quality of life.

I had the delightful experience of biking to Houten from downtown Utrecht, where my hostel was located. In the United States, biking from the center of a city of 300,000 to a suburb on its outskirts would probably be a harrowing experience. It might involve biking on the shoulders of two to four-lane roads, struggling through intersections in which few motorists expect to see a cyclist, and generally adapting to infrastructure never intended for bicycles. On the way to Houten, I was always on a bike lane, a bike path, and even a bike road. (A bike road is a road for bikes, on which cars can travel, but they must move at the pace of the cyclists.) While I took my trusty bike map along with me, I hardly needed to refer to it because of the constant wayfinding signs along the bike paths and lanes that pointed me in the right direction.

Houten was designed so that cyclists can move about faster and more easily than motorists. The town has an extensive network of bike and pedestrian paths than extend radially from the shopping district at the town center through an extensive greenway system. (more…)

The Bicycle Landscape June 28, 2010

Posted by Dana Petit in Denmark, Graduate, Individual Fellowship, Netherlands.
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In the Netherlands and Denmark, the bicyclists rule the road. In many cities and towns here, they are the fastest, most convenient and most fun mode of transportation.

Bike Parking in Houten

In the Netherlands and Denmark city and town officials believe that they must make cycling easy and convenient in order for people to decide to bike on a daily basis. Many people in these countries see biking as a quality of life issue.

I’m traveling (by bike mostly, but also the occasional train, tram, or bus) throughout the Netherlands and Denmark this May and June to study the urban design and transportation systems that make biking one of the most popular commuting options in both of these countries.

I am a third year master’s of landscape architecture student in the School of Natural Resources, and I’m hoping that by studying great urban cycling systems I will be able to design better spaces for bicyclists in the United States.  I’ve been fortunate enough to receive a fellowship from the International Institute to support my travels and learning.

In the U.S, less than 1 percent of all trips are made by bike (League of American Cyclists). In Denmark and the Netherlands 20 – 30 percent of trips are made by bike (Cycling in the Netherlands, Fietsberaad).  In both countries, city and town officials believe that they must make cycling easy and convenient in order for people to decide to bike on a daily basis. I’m visiting places with especially high bicycle use to try to understand what type of infrastructure makes cycling great.  I’m also meeting with city planners and urban designers to learn about specific projects that have been especially successful.

Why care about whether people can ride their bike to work, school, or shopping? Many people in the Netherlands and Denmark see biking as a quality of life issue. Biking to work or to the store can be more fun and relaxing than dealing with congested roads in the car. Parents can allow their children to bike to school and after-school activities on their own if their community has safe cycling conditions. Elderly and individuals who can afford to own a car can also get around more independently if their area has good bicycle infrastructure. Biking on a daily basis helps people get exercise and avoid health problems like heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. On a larger level, cycling has a low carbon footprint and produces minimal pollution.

I believe bike-able cities allow us to become more connected to our neighbors and the spaces around us. On a bike, we can say hello to neighbors, stop and chat if we wish, or just notice smaller details of the houses, buildings, trees, and people we’re passing. The slower, more human, pace of a bike allows us to see more, hear more, and feel more of the space we move through on a daily basis. As a landscape architect, I want to help design spaces that encourage community and connection to other people and the environment, and I believe that bicycles are an important part of these types of communities.