In the late 1960s Houten had very ambitious population growth goals under Netherland’s new planning act that established the 4 main cities, red circle, and green heart center. The early 1970s was also a turning point in Dutch planning and infrastructure design because of how dangerous driving had become. This combination led to Houten’s decision to create a ring-road traffic structure with a central green zone and an extensive network of bike paths leading to the city center. Since this original design and its expansion south, Houten has continued to this day to give cyclists the most importance in their spatial planning and mobility design. Houten’s cycling routes are the shortest links between any residential area and the city center. The ring-road structure discourages transportation system users from choosing to get around by car by making it harder for cars to get around. For example, vehicles cannot go directly from one neighborhood to the other; they must leave the initial neighborhood, get on the ring road and enter the final neighborhood from there. Furthermore when cycling routes pass through residential areas, cyclists are given priority and vehicles are to act as guests on the road. Houten has also prioritized public transportation and connecting cycling with public transportation. Their train stations have extensive bike parking facilities that continuously need expansion because of their popularity.
I can imagine such an approach in the US for towns of similar or smaller sizes and populations of Houten but not for cities as big as Atlanta. For example my hometown in New Jersey that is 1 square mile with a disappointing and struggling downtown area and far more traffic problems than necessary would benefit greatly with a ring-road structure. You can see this sort of ring-road and inner bicycle and pedestrian network on a much smaller scale on college campuses such as Georgia Tech’s that feel like a sort of closed neighborhood from the city. Areas around Tech green, the heart of campus, are only accessible by foot or by bike.
While touring around the town in smaller groups it was evident why Houten was named the Netherland’s “Cycle Town of 2018”. I loved Houten for its smart and well executed transportation planning and so much more. The town prioritized safety and green space. It maintained its small-town feel even though population is ever growing. Riding around felt like I was in a town that wasn’t real, everything felt and looked too perfect!