The city of Houten is about 16 square kilometers, surrounded by a “ringroad”. Cars are prohibited in the city center, so vehicle roads in the city dead end on its fringes in residential areas. The city’s transportation network consists of a dense network of bike streets and paths, which is the quickest way to navigate about town. The train runs through the core of the city, providing residents convenient access to surrounding areas. This transportation design earned Houten the title of “Cycling City 2018”. Despite this bike-centric design, two-thirds of Houten residents still leave the city for work, 80% of which commute by car.
Photo: Train station in Houten
Cycling around Houten, I was reminded of the United States' 20th century efforts in re-visioning cities and the flight to the suburbs. A few that come to mind: the Garden City Movement; Levittown; and Greenbelt, MD. All of these efforts sought to re-design the traditional design of the US city, by moving vehicles out of the city core or by creating more public green spaces. Ultimately, none of these designs took off for various issues (induced traffic congestion, insufficient mix of land uses, etc.), which indicate that there is a delicate balance in creating livable, connected communities. This type of approach is possible in the United States, but in order for it to succeed, it is required to consider several planning and design elements including a diversity of land uses, affordable housing, and mode share, among others.