Today we made our way to the Netherlands’s Bike City of the year, Houten. Houten loves bikes. That might even be an understatement. The city was very welcoming and let us use their fleet of bikes to tour the city. Cruising around the intricately planned neighborhoods felt a bit like being on a movie set. There was a place for commercial areas, places for homes, and a place for green space. Each area was accessible by spacious (3.5 meters wide) bike paths. You might be wondering where the cars are in this bicycling paradise… well, all the cars are routed to ring roads that encompass the perimeter of the city. Just beyond the ring roads the movie set seems to end and the scene abruptly transitions to farm land.
The design approach of Houten emphasizes both separation and connectivity. Each neighborhood is different from the last and each section of the city is reserved for one use and one use only. This planning approach requires a connective network of bike paths to make sure residents can get to all the different areas of the city. Cyclists always have priority. No need to yield, no need to look both ways before cycling across the street. One of the main attractions is a two level roundabout that routes cyclists under the motor vehicle traffic roundabout. Cyclists never even need to interact with traffic.
The whole city is a bit surreal. I couldn’t imagine this design approach in the United States. Most cities in the United States operate more organically and don’t confine their growth by highways. Houten did resemble the design of some suburban communities in the United States. Design approaches in the United States use more mixed use than separated use plans. Traffic is almost synonymous with Atlanta, so it is difficult to imagine a city where we could avoid cars all together. However, almost all the residents of Houten have to commute outside the city and 80% commute by car. So maybe things aren’t actually as they appear. Even though you can cruise through Houten on bicycle without encountering a car, you might have to sit in an hour or two of traffic… it will just be outside the ring roads.