​Urban Bikes: Cycling Template for the World’s Cities?

Groningen - where the bicycle rules

​Groningen - where the bicycle rules!

​Groningen's ​wonderful cycle-friendly centre - where bicycles rule

​If you’re a city cyclist, it sounds like Utopia.
More than 60% of all trips in the city are made by bicycle; the figure rises to 70% for trips to educational institutions.
There are  already 10000 parking slots for bikes near the train station – and the city wants to add a further 5000 to help cope with the number of urban bicycles in daily use.

​Read this extract from an article in The Guardian

Bicycle - Top Mode Of Transport

​New “park and bike” areas with bike rental services will emerge on access roads to encourage commuters to leave their cars behind and enter the city by bike.  A “bicycle effect analysis” will be obligatory for each territorial development project to ensure that provisions are made for bikes right from the start.


Bikes outside Groningen university. Photograph: Peter Horree/Alamy

“The bike is the number-one mode of transport in the centre of Groningen,” says local politician Paul de Rook, who rides his bicycle daily to the city hall, “but we have to make an effort to keep it that way, because our population is growing and public space is severely under pressure. ”

The city of Groningen has a long history as a trading town and fortress.  And it has an amazingly young population: almost 18% of its 200,000 inhabitants are students.

The young population is one of the reasons why cycling is so popular but there’s much more to it than that.

Putting Pedestrians and Cyclists First

​The history of Groningen as a bicycle city par excellence goes back to the 1970s, when a left-wing council wanted to make a change. In the 60s, the number of cars was growing rapidly and they were severely clogging up Dutch cities.

The common response was to tear down old neighbourhoods and build motorways right through the centre of town.

​Reclaim Old Neighbourhoods

However, in Groningen, local politician Max van den Berg decided on a revolutionary policy. Van den Berg, who was 24 when he became responsible for the city’s traffic and urban development policy, dreamed of expelling cars from the centre and creating space for pedestrians and cyclists.

“Instead of destroying old neighbourhoods, we wanted to restore them and convert them into pleasant areas for people to live in.

   Discourage Cars

"The idea was to discourage motorised traffic and to give priority to pedestrians, bikes and public transport,” remembers Van den Berg.

The essence of Van den Berg’s traffic circulation plan was that the centre of Groningen would be divided in four sections.

​Bike a Quicker Option

For motorists, it would become impossible to go from one section to the other: cars had to take the ring-road around the inner city, whereas cyclists could move freely about on new cycle paths constructed to accommodate them.

Driving a car would become a time-consuming affair in the centre of Groningen; travelling by bike would be a much quicker option.

Bicyles in Groningen

The average Groningen household owns 3.1 bikes. Photograph: Alamy

“Many people who lived in the old neighbourhoods were enthusiastic about our ideas. But there was also fierce opposition, especially from businessmen and shopkeepers who were convinced it would mean the end of their business if cars could no longer cross the centre.”

Angry shopkeepers painted slogans on their store windows, collected signatures and demonstrated at the city hall – to no avail. In 1977, the traffic circulation plan was implemented over a single night.

​Cars Blocked Overnight

Hundreds of new signs were put up to create one-way streets or change their direction. Overnight, the centre of Groningen became impenetrable for cars. The next morning, hostesses greeted confused motorists with flowers and leaflets that explained the new situation.

“We were simply ahead of our time,” says Jacques Wallage who, as the local politician who took over the traffic portfolio from Van den Berg, was responsible for implementing the controversial traffic plan. “In the 70s, the general idea in the Netherlands was that cities needed to adjust to the car. What we wanted was to adjust the car to the city.’’

What Commercial Disaster?

After the traffic plan was implemented, new cycle paths were constructed and trees were planted in the centre. The Vismarkt, a central square – which for years had been a huge parking place – regained its historical function as a market. And the much-feared commercial disaster simply didn’t take place. The majority of the shopkeepers survived and some of them even thrived.

Groningen now boasts the cleanest air of all big Dutch cities and many streets in the centre are amazingly quiet.

Fewer Cars

Nowadays, the inhabitants of Groningen possess an average of 1.4 bikes per person. The average number of bikes per household is 3.1. And, while the number of cars is declining, the use of bicycles in the city is still growing.

De Rook is now creating cycle paths outside of the city of Groningen, to make it possible to reach neigbouring villages and towns by bike safely and comfortably.

​Ban the Buses?

And he has launched a new idea: to remove the buses from the city center and have them use the ring-road in the future, to make even more room for pedestrians and cyclists, and to create more public space with trees and benches.

Interestingly enough, there is hardly any debate about it. Even the shopkeepers seem to think it’s a good idea.

Read the full article from The Guardian  here.