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Groningen: The World’s Cycling City 7

Groningen - The World's Cycling City

Groningen: The World’s Cycling City – Screenshot from Streetfilms film on vimeo

Clarence Eckerson Jr. from Streetfilms recently took a trip to Groningen, Netherlands and documented its widespread bicycle culture in a wonderful 15 minute film.

Groningen, a city of about 192,000 people has the highest mode share of bicycle users of anywhere in the world. 50% of all trips in Groningen are done by bike. That number rises to just under 60% in the city centre.

David Hembrow, from A View From the Cycle Path blog, appears in the film and discusses how good design makes for pleasant bicycling in Groningen:

“If you’re making a journey inside the city, then you can start and finish in a different part in the city and take a direct line between the two. But if you go by car, you have to take a detour.

This is not really an anti-car measure. What this is is making the neighbourhoods where people live more pleasant. And making cycling into a viable option.”

Groningen - The World's Cycling City

Groningen: The World’s Cycling City – Screenshot from Streetfilms film on vimeo 

Professor Greg J. Ashworth commented on the resistance Groningen faced in 1977 when the city originally implemented bicycle-friendly policies:

“And everyone said, it can’t work. This is impossible. The shopkeepers said ‘we’ll leave the city immediately. No. Everyone must park right in front of our doors, otherwise we will lose all of our business.” And then wonder wonders, the world didn’t collapse. The shops didn’t leave the city. The police found, yes, people could learn to handle this plan. People adapted to it. And that was, as I say, 1977.”

Sounds like familiar resistance that we regularly face here in North America.

Please take the time to watch this great film in its entirety.

Who on earth wouldn’t want their city to resemble Groningen?? This, I fail to comprehend.

Groningen: The World’s Cycling City from Streetfilms on Vimeo.

James D. Schwartz is the Editor of The Urban Country and is based in Toronto, Canada. You can contact James at james.schwartz@theurbancountry.com or follow him on Twitter.

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  • lagatta à montréal

    James, I’d already seen that wonderful film. You forget to add the North Sea windchill factor. In some ways, the weather there is more brutal than Toronto’s.

    Moreover, while Netherlands and Denmark are tied for first/second place, the 3rd and 4th most cycling-friendly countries are Sweden and Finland, which go up to the Arctic, or close to it. (Germany comes 5th – its cycling provision is very regional – in some places excellent, in others, an afterthought).

  • hamish

    Another good Dutch eg. is on Youtube; When cyclists matter… from D’en bosch

  • Avili

    I used to live in Groningen and it is really easy and cool to go by bike. I did experience the pitfalls, though. 1) the bus system is not as well thought through as the bike routes are. From where I’d lived to work it used to be 10 minutes by bike, by bus it would have been around 40, because the only option was to go to the station (hoofd station) first and from there to my work bus stop. Ridiculous! 2) dont ever be disabled or in pain, take extremely good care of every limb you need for cycling. If you happen to depend on crutches, you are lost and lonely and it is absolutely impossible to get anywhere by car.
    And always buy rain clothes, waterproof gloves and something to protect your shoes – because in Groningen you need it.

    • Tkeen

      That’s a good point – cycling is great for the healthy and able-bodied, but for the very elderly or disabled, maybe not so much. Also, the bearded fellow in the video makes a telling point when he describes Groningen as a ‘fortress city’. Most European cities have fortifications somewhere, and their tiny jumbled streets grew organically up inside those walls…not good for cars at all. However in North America, cities were laid out in wide-open grids by no-nonsense British or American engineers in the 18th to early 20th centuries. They were designed for ease of travel in and out, which suited the later arrival of the car all too well.

    • USbike

      This wouldn’t help people on crutches, but for people on scooters the cycle tracks offer a much better alternative than the sidewalk:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=xSGx3HSjKDo

  • Henk

    I’ve lived in Groningen for some years now and have a bike and a car. The bike is a lot easier to use to get to the University or to go shopping, but there IS enough space to drive with a car, despite the fact that we do not make use of no-nonsense British or Americans. Using the bike is simply a choice we make, but not due to lack of sufficient space. By making no-car zones however, the city does stimulate us to make the choice.
    As for less capable people: Yes. It’s hard to drive a bike then. But isn’t that the same anywhere else in the world? We have a great healthcare system to take care of the elderly, although a lot still do ride bikes. Crutches, of course, are a different story. But the public transport has gotten a boost as well. I broke my leg 2 times in a few years and never had trouble getting anywhere. A bus stop is always nearby and my friends offered to take me on the back of their bikes as well.

  • goldentrade

    Groningen, Netherlands, is one of the world’s most bike-friendly cities, and a model for effective bicycle infrastructure.

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