Utrechts “Fietsstraten”

Upon request: My own translation of the article underneath in Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant, November 16,2013.

Article Volkskrant November 16, 2013
Article Volkskrant November 16, 2013

The car is submissive in the cycle street

Utrecht invested 113 million in trails, bike bridges, tunnels and bicycle streets.

Utrecht – ” Cars are the guest” says the sign at the Utrecht Troelstralaan. It indicates that the road is a bicycle street. Students on rickety bikes, a young father with a son in the front seat and a blonde cyclist on her phone, they spread out on the new red asphalt. Some motorists drive gallant behind cyclists, other cracks along it.

” We have rolled out the red carpet for the bike” says Utrecht alderman for traffic Frits Lintmeijer (Green party, “GroenLinks”). The fifth cycle street of Utrecht has just opened. The left wing Utrecht executive Board wants to make it pleasant for cyclists and reduce car use, including better air quality. As much as 113 million Euros has been invested in this 4 years period for bike measures: improved bicycle paths, bicycle bridges, tunnels, bike parkings and also bicycle streets, which cost an average of 500 thousand euros each.

The most used bicycle street is the Prins Hendriklaan towards the university district Uithof. This is part of one of the busiest routes in the Netherlands , with almost 15 thousand cyclists a day. “It is fantastic cycling here, I hear regularly,” said Lintmeijer.

Utrecht had in 1996 the first bicycle street in the Netherlands, in the Burgemeester Reigerstraat. Invented by the then – Green Party alderman Hugo van der Steenhoven. That failed miserably, partly because city buses did not want to linger behind cyclists in this busy shopping street. But in recent years, the bicycle street is on the rise, from Zwolle to Oss, Haarlem and from Houten to The Hague and Utrecht.

The lesson from the nineties is that cyclists only can be “the hare” when the road is not too busy and has no main autoroute. To some motorists bicycle street evokes resistance. Sometimes neighbors complain about the cost. “Every innovation in traffic causes problems. And there are, of course, road users who don’t bother.” says Hugo van der Steenhoven, now director of the Cyclists Union. But the bicycle street has been a good solution to facilitate cyclists in a limited space and allow cars too.”

Van der Steenhoven sees most cities busy with attempts to encourage cycling and reduce car use. Also on this topic Utrecht is frontrunner. To cope with the European air quality requirements, Utrecht decided this month to impose an environmental zone for cars. Starting 2015, polluting diesel cars built in 2001 and older are banned from the center. The investment cost over 3 million include the enforcement of the ban.

Critics, as the VVD, speak of symbol politics. They find it too much investment to restrain this relatively small number of vehicles from the center. Inhabitants of Utrecht, excluding new area Leidse Rijn, own over 3400 dirty diesel cars and 1800 vans  that are not longer allowed in the city center in 2015, about 2 percent of the fleet.

According to Lintmeijer this is an important first step. “These environmental zone leads to 10 percent less nitrogen emissions in the city and 30 percent less soot. After the most polluting vehicles, more types can be excluded in the future.”

[after this article was published in Dutch, Lintmeijer disclaimed the figures as stated in the article. “I didn’t mention these figures. I think they quoted total effect of all air quality measurements influenceable by the city. #tech]


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