On our 7th day in Amsterdam, we traveled to Utrecht and Houten. They are about 30 minutes south of Amsterdam by train. In Utrecht, we met with Hans Voerknecht from Fietsberaad (Bicycle Council). We also met with Ronald Tamse, who works for the city on traffic education and safety and Peter Kooy, the Principal at De Spits Primary School.
We traveled through the city and saw lots of different bicycle infrastructure. However the real highlight of the day was going to the De Spits Primary School. Watching the children meet their parents and bike away was an awesome sight compared to the car filled parking lots and idling in the United States.
Ronald also talked a lot about how the education component of his job is critical at getting kids to bike. In the Netherlands, schools have a great opportunity to participate in bike classes. The students are educated on the rules of the road as a pedestrian, bicyclist or car.
They even have miniature courses, called TrafficGardens where they are able to practice! Then once they reach age 12 or so they have a big practical exam where they have to travel along a route around the school to show their skills. If they pass they get a certificate/award.
It is through this education component that they are able to instill education and awareness that bicycling is a normal everyday component of society.
During the second part of the day we visited Houten. It is linked to Utrecht following some very mellow roads. Central Utrecht and Central Houten are only 10 km (~6 mi) from each other. Houten is an interesting case study because it was essentially a pre-determined city. The government decided that Houten would be a ‘Groeikern’ – a centre of growth. This means that the population has grown from 4,000 to 30,000 with an end goal of approximately 50,000 by 2015. However what make Houten a great case study is that the road and path network was designed to make bicycling much easier than car. In most cases if you wanted to get from where you live to say the city center, by bicycle you would have a direct path whereas a car would have to travel to the ring road and skirt around the city to reach the city center.
In Houten, we were led by Herbert Tiemens. He showed us many interesting sites, however by far my favorite was at the central train station. Their bicycle parking was amazing! Fietstransferium holds about 3,000 bikes and was almost full when we arrived in the middle of the day. I guess the University of Oregon has a bit of catching up to do…maybe when we put in the new EMU we can aspire for this.