Yesterday was a very very big day. My good friend Kanaad and I decided that it would be a good idea to ride our bikes from Delft to Houten instead of taking the train like the normal people. The 73 kilometer ride took us four hours and left us tired for the rest of the day but it was so worth it. We rode through the “green heart” of the Netherlands which was super beautiful. In addition to experiencing the beautiful Dutch countryside, we also got a first hand look at how truly comprehensive the Dutch cycling infrastructure. 95% of our ride was on some form of dedicated cycling infrastructure.
At the end of our great journey we reached the city of Houten. Houten is a suburb of Utrecht and recently recognized the as the Netherlands’ “Cycle City” for 2018. Houten is one of many New Towns within the Netherlands that were constructed to allow the country to grow in a sustainable manner. Houten’s design is unique though because of how it is based around greenspace and cycling as opposed to automobile traffic. The town is laid out to have residential areas be connected directly via cycle paths with green spaces between neighborhoods. Different neighborhoods are not directly accessible to each other by car, cars are regulated to the ring road that circles the town. Neighborhoods are accessed by car via neighborhood roads that branch from the ring road. By design the fastest way to get anywhere is via bike. The town is also anchored by a train station that was constructed along the railway connecting to Utrecht. The city is designed in a manner to encourage the use of non-auto modes.
When compared to the United States, Houten is not an extremely unique idea but is just less car oriented than some of the attempts to create walkable suburban development in the United States. The US example that I think of is Norton Commons outside of Louisville, Kentucky (I worked across the river in Indiana for a year for some context). The community is designed to be dense and walkable. It has a central school and has most amenities within the community such as doctors offices and a grocery store. The main difference is that it is poorly connected to the city via and therefore has roads throughout the community. I think that places like Norton Commons would and could benefit from becoming more like Houten by restricting car traffic more but I think outside most cities the transit component is unrealistic. We could reduce the number of autotrips in the suburbs with a Houten-like design by giving communities the option to run errands and go to social outings without their cars, but it we would still be car dependent for most work trips. I think this is the case because most of our cities are have too largely dispersed job centers to be able to have high frequency, efficient transit serving Houten-like suburbs. We can learn from Houten to make our suburbs internally more efficient, but unfortunately unless major policy changes are made to encourage density of jobs and housing across the board I believe we won’t be able to support the transit piece so these suburbs will still mainly depend on autos for work trips.