Have you ever imagined a highway for bicycles where you can ride 20Km from your home to the city you work in less then one hour? The city of Utrecht in The Netherlands already went from dream to asphalt, with the first highway of this type already set. “Works are still under way, but whomever passes by can already see pieces of urban art along the way” sayd David Langerak, the representative of Utrecht’s City Hall at EU – Eurocities. Because, ultimately, “the concept around future cities has a lot to do with transforming the experience of mobility in something healthy and sustainable, but also in something pleasant” said Langerak this Thursday in yet another Portugal Mobi Summit Interview.
That is also the motto around the “circular streets” or – as Langerak prefers to call them – “healthy urban streets”, where the Dutch city is leading the way. Langerak exemplified with a model case of a street near the biggest train station of the country, which was completely transformed, going from a jammed freeway to what is now known as the most sustainable street in The Netherlands.
In the new bike lanes, the municipality opted for a burgundy colored pavement, substituting cement (because it lasts longer) and bamboo traffic signs. New trees were born, double of what one could find before, of six different species, so to be resilient to plagues, and even the soil is reused to better store rain water.
With plenty of vegetation and artistic interventions, the street – where there are also office buildings and a conference center – is becoming an attraction and leisure point, inspiring other sustainable initiatives. For example, in that same street a 95% energetically sustainable building was born, all covered by plants. And that is how new urban ecosystems are born, by suggestion.
Utrecht assumed the goal of becoming a circular city, that is, with increasing sustainable options, be that for the reduction of emissions as well as for the reuse of materials and its durability, together with the creation of green spaces. “By 2050 we want to be a circular city and create the best business environment for circularity” stated David Langerak.
The manager admitted that at a political level it’s nor always fast and easy to put into practice disruptive ideas, but referred that the key is putting ecologists, architects, businessmen, politicians and civil engineers working together and responding to these questions: “Do this projects lead to a healthier, sustainable, happy and inclusive urban life?”
Highways for bicycles and circular streets are two examples of tendencies that are here to stay, independently of how the pandemic will evolve, believes Langerak. And if some countries, such as Portugal, are still admitting a return of the use of the car in a pandemic scenario, in Utrecht, bicycles are assuming a role that is increasing in importance and is here to stay.
If it’s true that The Netherlands is, since long time, quintessentially the country of bicycles, the most recent numbers in Utrecht, a city of 350 thousand inhabitants, continue to impress us. Almost all of Utrecht families (96%) owns bicycles, which are in contrast with those who own cars, which do not go over 64%. 134 thousand residents use the bicycle as a daily means of transportation. The municipality on the other side, put available 21 thousand park spaces for bicycles near train stations.
Shared mobility is also a tendency which is growing in the city, evolving at 30% per year, and counting with over four thousand vehicles operating in that modality, points Langerak. Electric scooters are not seen as a priority for Utrecht City Hall nor they seem to be popular among their citizens.
“We see the bicycle as the most interesting solution of micro-mobility”, underlines, clearly assuming the dutch singularity. And presents arguments that go beyond the obvious health issues. “It’s faster to go by bicycle and train from Utrecht to Amsterdam than by car”.
Utrecht has been betting on giving back spaces for people by, for example, transforming a six lane highway in the city center. In its place there is now a canal – where one can do canoeing – and a street shared by cars and bicycles.
Streets where bicycles have priority are increasing with speed limits of 30 to 50km/h for cars. This was the solution found to give safety to this means of transportation. “This way, people are not afraid to bring their children to school by bike, it can take a bit longer, but is for security reasons”.
To the studies that indicate that in France, bike users are mostly men, while in Japan it’s the opposite, Dutch specialist David Langerak could not react differently and even with some disbelief: “the use of bicycles has nothing to do with gender! it’s simply fast, easy and also safe” underlined in an interview conducted by Paulo Tavares and Charles Landry, co-curators of the Portugal Mobi Summit.