Keepng the cars from the city

Dear Bloggers,

As a bus driver I also need to drive in the city of Groningen to get students into the right directions from Central Station to the biggest student campus you have to drive straight through the city and I must say that this is not the easiest job as bicycles are passing you on all sides and you have to try not to kill any of them. The streets are pretty narrow but there are not many cars on these roads as they are only available for busses and taxis and of course bikes are allowed here as well. I must say it is quite a challenge to drive in a city that you only know from the outskirts. The city itself is famous for its one way traffic so it is easier to walk or bike if you want to go shopping. The big shopping malls for construction, gardening and furniture are on the outside of the city and have plenty of parking space.

In Groningen, the Netherlands' sixth largest city, the main form of transport is the bicycle. Sixteen years ago, ruinous traffic congestion led city planners to dig up city-centre motorways. Last year they set about creating a car-free city centre. Now Groningen, with a population of 170,000, has the highest level of bicycle usage in the West. 57% of its inhabitants travel by bicycle - compared with four per cent in the UK.

'57% of its inhabitants travel by bicycle '

The economic repercussions of the programme repay some examination. Since 1977, when a six-lane motorway intersection in the city's centre was replaced by greenery, pedestrianisation, cycleways and bus lanes, the city has staged a remarkable recovery. Rents are among the highest in the Netherlands, the outflow of population has been reversed and businesses, once in revolt against car restraint, are clamouring for more of it. As Gerrit van Werven, a senior city planner, puts it, 'This is not an environmental programme, it is an economic programme. We are boosting jobs and business. It has been proved that planning for the bicycle is cheaper than planning for the car.' Proving the point, requests now regularly arrive from shopkeepers in streets where 'cyclisation' is not yet in force to ban car traffic on their roads.

'Businesses, once in revolt against car restraint, are clamouring for more of it'

A vital threshold has been crossed. Through sheer weight of numbers, the bicycle lays down the rules, slowing down traffic, determining the attitudes of drivers. All across the city roads are being narrowed or closed to traffic, cycleways are being constructed and new houses built to which the only direct access is by cycle. Out-of-town shopping centres are banned. The aim is to force cars to take longer detours but to provide a 'fine mesh' network for cycles, giving them easy access to the city centre.

Like the Netherlands nationally, Groningen is backing bicycles because of fears about car growth. Its ten-year bicycle programme is costing £20m, but every commuter car it keeps off the road saves at least £170 a year in hidden costs such as noise, pollution, parking and health.

Cycling in Groningen is viewed as part of an integral urban renewal, planning and transport strategy. Bicycle-friendly devices seen as exceptional in the UK - separate cycle ways, advanced stop lines at traffic lights, and official sanction for cyclists to do right hand turns at red lights - are routine.

New city centre buildings must provide cycle garages. There are tens of thousands of parking spaces for bikes, either in 'guarded' parks - the central railway station has room for over 3000 - or street racks. Under the City Hall a nuclear shelter has been turned into a bike park.

"We don't want a good system for bicycles, we want a perfect system", says Mr. van Werven. "We want a system for bicycles that is like the German autobahns for cars. We don't ride bicycles because we are poor - people here are richer than in England. We ride them because it is fun, it is faster, it is convenient."

Following Groningen's van

Groningen undoubtedly leads the way in the 'cyclisation' of Europe's cities, but many others are putting two wheels in motion to follow its example. In Germany and the Netherlands in particular, where car culture and the Green movement have both made significant impacts, many cities are building on their provision for bikes. The UK, where transport policy priorities are still dominated by motor vehicles, rather lags behind Groningen's van.

No other European city can match Groningen's record, where fiftyseven per cent of all trips around the city are on bikes, but in quite a few the ratio is rising to a third or more. Delft and Munster now have 41 per cent, and Freiburg's 27 and Heidelberg's 22 per cent are only the leading examples for what is becoming a trend across the continent.

Uniting these cities is a dual commitment on the part of central and city planners to discourage cars and to encourage bikes. Amsterdam, along with 30 other Dutch cities, for instance, voted to eliminate motor vehicles from their city centres in 1992. The Norwegian cities of Oslo, Trondheim and Bergen levy a toll on all cars entering the town centre.

Matching the disincentives for car drivers are carrots for cyclists, such as Bremen's designation of certain streets as bikes-only zones, or Denmark's provision of cycle lanes on three quarters of its roads.

Such legislative commitments do seem to be the key in getting citizens to kick the car habit. Tthe cost of the 'motorised society'. Traffic jams cost about £15 billion simply in terms of delayed deliveries and time that is wasted.

New roads, the maintenance of old ones and administration cost £6 billion. Noise pollution, racks up a further £2.1 billion in lost productivity, medical care and depressed property values, and other kinds of pollution waste another £3 billion. Road accidents, in grim addition, soak up another £5 billion.

For the moment such striking statistics have failed to steer British transport policy away from its infatuation with road building as the solution to traffic congestion, and it will be some time yet before London charts on Bicyclist magazine's top five world biking cities. In 1993 this featured Tianjin, Copenhagen, Harare and Seattle. Straight in at Number One, perhaps predictably, was Groningen

The Old Sailor,


  1. Heer Oude Zeeman toch!
    Ik moet u aanraden zo vlug als mogelijk universitaire studies aan te vatten. Dit artikel getuigt van een grondige en hardnekkige studie. Uw artikeltje leest wel een beetje stroef. En het is in het Engels...
    In Brugge gaan er nu en dan - zo eens om de tien jaar - stemmen op om de binnenstad verkeersvrij te maken. Ik ben dat plan wel genegen. Dat moet mogelijk zijn, vooral in een middeleeuwse stad die niet echt gebouwd is om al dat autoverkeer te verwerken.
    En, o ja... nog iets. Klik voor de aardigheid eens op deze link:
    Met vriendelijke groeten,
    De Drs.


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