New year, new policies

New Years Eve is the same day as “Old Year’s Day” as it is called in the Netherlands. The name says a lot about the point of view, do we have to look back, or shall we look forward? As my bicycles don’t have mirrors (well, my recumbent has one, but I only ride it twice per year), I prefer to look forward. So, I am looking forward and excited about what we will have for cycling in 2018!

In less than three weeks time we will know which city will be proclaimed by the State Secretary for Infrastructure and Water Management as “Cycling city of the year 2018”. The Cyclist Union announced five nominees for this honorable title. To my satisfaction two cities in the province of Utrecht are nominated: Houten and Veenendaal. Both have been awarded before with the title, Veenendaal in 2000 and Houten in 2008.

It is interesting the municipalities Etten-Leur, Houten, Veenendaal and Zoetermeer can be characterized as satellite towns, appointed in the 1960’s to accommodate the population growth in the Netherlands. The policy of satellite towns was initiated by the second national urbanization policy, and appointed municipalities to create suburbs for existing bigger cities in close proximity. Etten-Leur to Breda, Houten to Utrecht, Veenendaal to Ede and Utrecht and Zoetermeer to The Hague. Winterswijk is in this case the odd one out, as a regional centre in the Achterhoek-district, close to the German border. During the seminar Future of cycling, hosted by the province of Utrecht, the nominees will present themselves and we will look forward to the policies of municipalities in the coming years. The local elections in March will raise attention to local traffic issues and the need to invest more in cycling.

Surprisingly none of the nominated cities is regularly named by Dutch people as an cycling city. Only Houten has some name for cycling, but with it’s population of 46.000 this town functions as a suburb of Utrecht and is not considered to be a city by Dutch standards. For instance, the Geoscience department of the University of Groningen recently calculated the best Cycling City of the Netherlands.

In their explanation (in Dutch) the researchers named Utrecht as the best cycling city, with 160 square kilometers that can be reached within half an hour. Slightly more than the 159.6 in Groningen. Their method to calculate the surface of the city and the connectivity of the network available for cycling is food for more geospatial analysis. I showed the researchers the calculations we make in the transport modeling of cycling in the province of Utrecht.

Also none of the Dutch cities ever mentioned in the Copenhagenize index mastered it to the nomination of Cycling City. It’s fair not every Dutch city is ranked in their index, as they are writing themselves:

Schermafbeelding 2017-12-31 om 15.21.39.png

The criteria of the Cyclist Union for their nominations are based upon a survey filled by 45000 people. The questionnaire was dealing about road safety, parking space at train stations and willingness of the local municipality to deal with complaints of cyclists. This bottom up approach is very rewarding for smaller municipalities with an eye for cycling and the results show the democratic value of cycling.

Heat map of Strava cycling

Heat map of Strava cycling doesn’t tell which city is the best cycling city, as it merely registers leisure trips.

This summer the Dutch Office of Statistics made a mistake in their interpretation of the average commute distance in the Netherlands. In their blog they calculated the average distance by road. In their approach they neglected the average 30% of commuting by cycling. Those cyclists often have a shorter route than traveling by car, thanks to the Dutch policies of road calming measures and reduction of car permeability of larger areas. My own commute is a good example, by car it should take 17.3 kilometers, while by bike it is only 12.7 kilometers (according to Google). And when you are captured in a car oriented mind, it becomes hard to understand why cycling can be a solution for your congested travel. In those cases a buddy to show short cuts works even in the Netherlands. This autumn we cycled a coworker from her home to work and to her surprise it was more pleasant and quicker than she expected. And she also surprised me, she even didn’t know the shorter route in her own town but wanted to take the longer car route to cycle to Utrecht! A real eye opener for me, don’t take the characteristics of cycling for granted, even not in the Netherlands!

As a new years resolution I keep on helping people to experience cycling. I wish you all the best for 2018!

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