By Annie Blissit
Houten is a suburb of Utrecht comprised of ring roads surrounding Houten and its expansion, South Houten. This city represents a more extreme approach to prioritizing the cyclist. Both cities are centered around their respective train station. In fact, when the expansion was proposed in the national plan, Houten refused to begin any development in South Houten until a new train station at its center was built.
Figure 1. Map of Houten and South Houten showing the ring roads and central train corridor
From the train station, a network of parks and bike paths connects the cities. To travel by car, one must use the ring road. There are branches from the ring road to neighborhoods but there is no allowance for through-traffic. This design greatly discourages car use in their city and creates a safe environment for all ages to ride their bicycle. Many children ride to and from school unaccompanied.
Figure 2. Park and path network from train station
The ring road is an extreme boarder for Houten. It is always obvious when you are leaving Houten as you will either cross under or over the ring road. Outside the ring road there is little to no development to prevent sprawl.
Figure 3. Crossing at the ring road | Figure 4. Outside the ring road
Despite being centered on train stations, many households own a car for travel outside the city. We also learned that many residents still commute outside Houten for work and the majority of the commuters drive cars to work. This presents a conflict in the suburban bicycle community where the bicycle is prioritized locally but the city’s location promotes continued regular use of personal vehicles.
I think the Houten design could be applicable in two very different scenarios in the US. Like its identity in the Netherlands, Houten could be applied as a unique American suburb where most families have a car and commute but within their suburb, the main mode of transport is cycling. In my opinion, the better application is to use the ring road concept for a downtown area, as is more commonly implemented throughout the Netherlands. Cars are able to commute to the city, but at some limit are required to park along the periphery. Within the city, traffic is reserved for trams, cycling, and pedestrians with limited vehicle use for emergency vehicles, taxis and deliveries.