Utrecht Plans To Expand Its Car-Free Zone To Become Bicycle Capitol Of Europe

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You may not have heard much about the city of Utrecht in the Netherlands since a series of treaties signed there in the spring of 1713 brought an end to the War of Spanish Succession. The city is famous for the number of its residents who rely on bicycles to get around. It built the first bike lane in in the Netherlands in 1885. Last year it built the world’s largest multi-story bicycle parking garage with room for 12,500 bikes.

Bicycle in Utrecht
Image credit: City of Utrecht

Now a new development of 6,000 homes in the city’s Merwede district is being planned with bicycles as the preferred mode of transportation. It is expected to be serviced by 20,000 bicycles but no cars, with construction scheduled to begin in 2022. The new 24-hectare community will be home to about 12,000 people and will include 2 new primary schools, a high school, and several health centers, together with an assortment of shops and businesses, according to The Guardian.

Bike lanes and tram lines will service the community. Only four 60-meter long “logistical roads” will extend into the neighborhood from the surrounding area to provide access to delivery vans. Electric shuttles will ferry supplies from the logistical roads to individual homes and businesses.

Car parks with a total capacity of 1,800 cars will be built underground near the logistical roads. That equates to less than one parking space for every three homes. There will be no assigned spaces and the cost of parking will be high enough to discourage people from bringing cars to the area. “It should be easier to get a bike than it should be to get a car,” the project’s architect, Marco Broekman, tells The Guardian.

Along the logistical roads, there will be parking for 300 shared cars the residents can use. The nearest large parking area for those who insist on owning a car will be located 3 kilometers away. Kees Diepeveen, a local alderman, says residents of Utrecht are rapidly changing their attitudes about owning motor vehicles. “We have the highest number of shared cars [per capita] in the Netherlands. It is amazing to see how the average household is changing its habits. This especially counts for the younger generations.”

The new Merwede district will have the largest underground heat and cold storage facility in the Netherlands. Water from the nearby Merwedekanaal will be used for cooling in the summer. The roofs of all the new homes and buildings will be covered by gardens or solar panels — an idea borrowed from Paris which now mandates the roof of all new buildings be covered with vegetation or solar panels.

Broekman says, “By having this car-free area, we can design spaces without the straitjacket rules of the car, and thus focus on essentials for a high density area, which is the quality of public space, city on eye level, green, biodiversity, climate adaptation and meeting places for social interaction.”

The idea of walkable, bikeable communities is taking hold in many places around the world. More and more people are beginning to question whether private automobiles are really something they need, especially in congested cities where traffic slows the pace of travel to a crawl, parking spaces are at a premium, and the cost of ownership on a per mile basis is skyrocketing. Perhaps Utrecht will help other world cities re-imagine the future.


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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new." You can follow him on Substack and LinkedIn but not on Fakebook or any social media platforms controlled by narcissistic yahoos.

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