I’m back in Bristol after a trip to Groningen, Netherlands (above), Ashford UK, and Lille France. Groningen was amazing. I traveled of my own volition– something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time, to experience the city with the highest percentage of cycling in Europe. 57% of all trips are made by bicycle in this student town in the North of the Netherlands. It surely did not disappoint. As soon as I arrived, I was a little overwhelmed at the numbers of people on bikes. It was like Critical Mass everyday. The way it should be. Paradise on wheels.
Above is the City of Groningen’s 21st century solution to the problem of cycle overcrowding at their railway station- the brand new underground bike park. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, De Young Museum. (For those not from SF, the art museum in Golden Gate Park that installed a 800 car underground parking garage in the middle of the park against the law, destroyed historic pedestrian tunnels, and has fought against cycling and walking in the park for many years. But that’s another story…..
The station now has room for more than 4000 bicycles, all of them monitored 24 hours a day and many of them valet parked. There is bike repair, rental, and sales, and the facility is linked to other bike stations through a membership scheme. Cycling in Groningen, and indeed much of the Netherlands, is just the norm. By prioritizing cycle traffic over cars, the Dutch engineers have managed to balance the roadway’s playing field and allow a blossoming of bicycle transport as a practical network useable by just about everyone. The city planners in Groningen have been able to achieve this through what they call a system that is “continuous and integral.”
The bicycle planner for Groningen, Cor van der Klaauw, was nice enough to meet me on a Saturday, give me a tour of the City’s cycle network, and to explain exactly what continuous and integral means for bicycles in the context of an urban transport system. He says the city treats cyclists with respect– they create a network of cycling lanes and paths that never just ends suddenly (as often happens in the UK and the US). Cycling is the lifeblood of the city, and it must be given adequate space and time to flow safely and efficiently. There are entire housing developments that are built along major bicycle and scooter “roadways,” massive bike parks everywhere, many roads that are one way for cars but two way for bikes, and special signal phases for bikes. Understandably he is proud of what they have achieved, but is by no means resting on his laurels. “We think we can boost the numbers of cyclists even higher,” he says. “We have programs to introduce new immigrants to cycling. Many of them came from places where the car is the ultimate status symbol. We need to show them that in Holland, they can get around very easily by bicycle, status symbols aside.”
Utmost respect and props to the Netherlands, showing the world what tolerance is all about. Booyakasha
News from SF: over the past few days there has been a huge uproar over an incident that occurred during the March 30th Critical Mass, where a suburban mother with a van full of kids drove into the mass of cyclists, who promptly surrounded the van and called 911. Someone apparently threw a bike at the van, shattering the van’s rear window, no doubt traumatizing the kids, who were already probably upset by their mother’s aggressive driving. It’s amazing the strong emotions that are triggered simply from the act of a group of people on bicycles riding through a city together. So simple and yet so revolutionary at the same time.
Let’s try to forgive Susan Ferrando, the driver of the van. It’s easy for someone from the suburbs to forget that their car is a deadly weapon and that the streets aren’t solely for the use of motor vehicles…
Next time, Susan, you may want to take Caltrain when you come into the city. Hell, bring the bikes and the kids on April 27th and join the ride. You all could probably use some exercise. It’s a car crazy world out there….
I’ve lived in Groningen for a year and at first i was amazed to see how the inhabitants went everywhere by bike. however, in a few days, as i became an inhabitant myself, i became used to use the bike and completely forgot about intercity buses.
In Groningen riding a bike is easier than driving a car. And that’s the way it should be. Now that I’m back in Spain, my home country, I miss riding my bike because, although I have one, my city and the car drivers are not ready for bikes. Although things are starting to change, bikes here are still mostly seen as a hobby to practice in the countryside, not as a form of transport.
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I wish I could find the article I photocopied maybe 5 years ago that first got me into following the Groningen story. I remember clearly from reading it being struck by the main driver (scuse the phrasing there) behind the authorities making the really very significant changes in the city. Apparently it was largely for economic reasons. Now we might want changes in Bristol and other cities over here to be for environmental, health, quality of life etc reasons, but I can’t help think that if there’s an economic case too, that could help. Particulary as so often that is the reason for things NOT happening here!
Groningen is just up the road from where I live. It’s a great place, but note that what has happened there is limited to the city boundaries.
I quite often cover the 30 km from my home in Assen to Groningen.
Apart from riding to the end of the road I live in, the entire journey is on cycle paths separated from motor vehicles.
These prioritize cyclists so much that I can generally cycle all the way there without stopping at all.
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