A cyclist’s paradise on earth

This article was published in 2008, in Newsletter 78.

Cycle track alongside canal in Assen
Image as described adjacent

Former Cambridge Cycling Campaign Committee member David Hembrow organised a study tour in the “Cyclists’ Paradise” of the Dutch cities of Assen and Groningen. The tour was attended by campaigners from the UK (three from Cambridge). In these places about 40-50% of urban trips are done by bicycle against a minority of trips by car. Pretty much all children cycle to school and school trips are done by bike. We witnessed a school run, where hundreds of children arrived at their primary school, either on their own bike or on a child seat on a parent’s bike – they all arrived within a space of just about 10 minutes – the air was clean, the only noise came from children’s voices – there was not a single car in sight.

City Area (km2) Population Density(/km2)
Groningen 83.69 181819 2284
Cambridge 115.65 117900 1019
Assen 83.48 65131 780

Assen is cycle-friendly thanks to serious investment in cycling infrastructure. The city is growing by about 1000 new inhabitants per year and all expansion is to be kept within 7 km from the city centre. The annual budget for capital expenditure on cycling is about €2million. A network of 108 km of cycle way, most of it away from cars and wide enough to cycle in pairs, creates a safe environment free from conflicts with motorists or pedestrians. Planners clearly are cyclists planning for cyclists.

Children arriving for school
Image as described adjacent

On the roads we did not see anybody wearing helmets or high visability clothing – cyclists simply feel safe. Surfaces are built to a high standard, smoother than the latest installations in Cambridge. Many new crossings avoid dropped curbs, raising the surface for motorists instead. Most traffic lights offer two all-way green intervals for cyclists in every phase. “No-entry signs” invariably are for motorised transport only, excepting cyclists. A and B roads have wide cycle tracks usually segregated from the road by about 3 metres distance, but the countryside is also served by an extensive network of cycle ways. Consequently, children from villages within about a 12 mile radius cycle to school and friends.

Substantial space made for cycling in new housing development
Image as described adjacent

We have taken a number of pictures and can hopefully prepare a more comprehensive report in the next newsletter. We hope that political decision makers and planners, especially those working on new developments like Northstowe and the so called Eco-Towns, raise their standards to what clearly helps to reduce car use, carbon emissions, increase fitness, provide greater independence to children, … dreaming of paradise?

At our July monthly meeting (see later in this Newsletter) we will be discussing the applicability of Assen’s approach to cycling provision in Cambridge, in particular the differences in the amount of space available and the issue of off-road tracks.

Photos from our trip should be online by the time you read this at www.camcycle.org.uk/events/visits/assen/.

Klaas Brümann