Tuesday, 2 October 2018

Visiting new developments in the Netherlands

For the fourth year in a row I spent a week this summer cycling around the Netherlands. I'll share my experience of some of those cycle rides between cities later in the year. One thing I have made an effort to do on the last couple of visits is to visit new residential developments, which are usually located on the edge of cities. Today I will write about two of those developments I visited this year and try, as best I can, to show you what these are like. Bear in mind I visited both of these places at the weekend and my visits were short, therefore I only saw a brief snapshot and did not see many daily activities such as the school run, or use routes that might look great to me but actually cause issues for local residents.

The first place I visited was Stevenshof, home to around 12,000 people located on the outskirts of Leiden, which I visited within a few hours of arriving in the country. Whilst it could be argued that Stevenshof is not really a "new" development, as construction started in 1982 with the district completed in the mid-1990s, it is still a modern planned development. It is also a good example of how cycle infrastructure was planned from the outset, along with the road network which is laid out to ensure that, whilst all properties can be accessed by car, driving through or within the development is made very difficult, whilst riding a bike is the quickest and shortest transport mode to use. The architecture is very 1980s, certainly nothing like the Dutch-postcard-looking narrow houses in the centre of the city. Most properties here are houses, often with gardens, and it felt very much like a place for families. All streets in Stevenshof are named after well known Dutch women.

Stevenshof. Click here to see it on google maps

Stevenshof is bordered to the East by the Old Rhine river, to the north by the A44 motorway, to the south by the railway line, and with the countryside forming a border to the west. Entering Stevenshof by car there are only two entrances from the East, one bridge at the very north with a separate bidirectional cycle track alongside

and to the south one bridge to carry motor vehicles with a separate bridge alongside accommodating a very wide cycle track

Both of these are linked by the main road, Stevenshofdreef, which runs north to South through as the main distributor road

Stevenshofdreef, viewed from a walking and cycling bridge which spans the road linking two residential areas 

There is also another route in from the East via a cycling and bus only bridge, which motorists cannot use

The prioritisation of both cycling and public transport is also evident to the south; the only route under the railway by car is via Stevenshofdreef, but at the local railway station, De Vink, an underpass only for buses and cycles can also be found

It also has ample cycle parking on both the north side

and to the south

Cycling away from the train station into Stevenshof there is a pedestrian and cycle crossing over the main road

To access a residential area via a cycle track opposite the station

Or over a bridge to a cycle route directly through housing (with access only roads for cars on the opposite side)

to a six way junction, but only for bikes

I stood here for a while watching numerous families cycling by (click here for a panorama of this junction via Bertram Bourdrez). Below you can see the different routes you would have to take from the station to this junction if you were on a bicycle or driving

These cycle routes are spread throughout the town, linking different residential areas and amenities together

running directly through housing

out to the outskirts of Stevenshof

they even continue around the edge of the development, just like a ring road but only for bikes

with the routes coming back in again at various points, such as between housing (with direct access to people back gardens)

and also alongside football pitches or basketball courts

and playgrounds too, giving children safe routes to cycle here together with friends after school, as well as back home alone afterwards

In a few places I found these cycle tracks continued to also run alongside the residential roads

This was despite the roads being access only by motor traffic with very low levels of people driving here

these roads are only accessible for cars going to or from housing on this street or a few surrounding streets but the continuation of the cycle tracks made it much easier to continue cycling, with direct safe routes and it was clear and self-explanatory of where to go. The cycle track above went past a primary school, with the next road alongside also filtered to through traffic

Click here to see this cycle track, filtered road and primary school entrance on google streetview
A cycle track running between a canal and homes, with access only cul-de-sacs on the opposite side. Walking and cycling bridges linked the cycle tracks and residential areas together but with very few bridges for cars - they would have to take the long way round

The main park, Stevenspark, is located directly in the middle of the development, with cycle routes through it. Although important to point out that people don't have to divert to the park to use this "quietway" - there are quiet cycle routes all around it too!

These routes are also suitable for all

Opposite the park is the main shopping centre. This is accessible by car via Stevenshofdreef, with a large car park (with a cycle track along Stevenshofdreef too of course) but there was also another entrance on the other side, which could be reached only on foot or bike.

I saw many people, of all ages coming and going by bike here, some carrying large bags of shopping home in their baskets or panniers

For those that need to visit more shops then the centre of Leiden is just a couple of kilometres away, with most cycling along the southern bridge I mentioned earlier

via a very busy (access only for cars) service road alongside the main road

and then via a pointless bicycle roundabout and protected cycle tracks all the way to the main shopping street. Access to local leisure facilities is much closer, by turning right directly after the underpass under De Vink railway station to cycle less than a kilometre through parkland

Out to a Hockey club, which was being well used by dozens of local teenagers (if you've visited the Netherlands you'll know that teenagers cycling with hockey sticks is a regular sight)

a small section of cycle parking outside the Hockey Centre 
With also a local swimming pool, again with ample cycle parking available outside. There is also a car park but anyone driving from Stevenshof would have to do so by driving twice the distance (and only via main roads, which also have separate cycle tracks)

The other new development I visited was Stadshagen, a new suburb of Zwolle. This development is newer than Stevenshof, with construction beginning in the mid-1990s, the shopping centre opening in 2004 and, with over 17,000 residents already living here, construction continues on new housing at the edge of the development. Stadshagen will eventually have between 30,000 and 40,000 residents.

Stadshagen. Click here to see it on google maps

Just as with Stevenshof, Stadshagen is separated from Zwolle by water and so only has a few connections via bridges. Mastenbroekerbrug to the north, which is open to motor vehicles with a cycle track alongside

Further south is Twistvlietbrug, which is only only open to cyclists and buses

with bus gates either side of it

To the very south access is via Voorsterbrug, a dual carriageway with a wide separate cycle track

Which then leads onto the Westonholter Bridge, which Mark Wagenbuur has previously written about here

although that actually leads into Westenholte. The cycle track splits just before the bridge with the main route into Stadshagen running under the bridge, where the photo below was taken
Although residents in Westenholte can easily cycle to Stadshagen via a bicycle underpass underneath the railway station and road alongside
which is much quicker than driving a car between the two areas

From this underpass the cycle track runs directly past a primary school (with ample cycle parking outside) and then service roads alongside the main road

Which have several barriers which ensure they are only used to access a small number of properties but continue as cycle routes with priority over side roads

The cycle track then runs on a bridge over water, alongside the road

With a large shopping centre (with apartments on top) to the right

The shopping centre has only been open for 14 years but the cycle routes to it are still being upgraded, it was originally just painted cycle lanes, as seen here on google streetview

the cycle track then leads directly to the shopping centre, or splits off to the West to access the residential areas to the north of the shopping centre

via a bus gate to reach the access only (for private motor traffic) residential streets

This is because, whilst there are plenty of North-South cycle routes through Stadshagen there are no routes that allow you to drive from South to North or vice-versa. All motor traffic is directed via the ring road along the very edge of the development.

Back at the shopping centre there is plenty of cycle parking within the car park - just under 200 cycle parking spaces, 40 of them covered. Alongside this cycle parking the exact same space fits in 18 cars.

Cycling with your young child and a brand new barbecue? No problem on a normal Dutch bike with a basket

As well as the cycle parking in the car park there are over 70 heavy duty cycle stands on the footway directly outside, providing parking for (at least) 140 bikes

There is also underground car parking, although a continuous footway crosses the car park entrance, giving pedestrians priority

Compare it to this supermarket in Tottenham, London, built in 2013, nearly a decade after this Dutch shopping centre, where pedestrians must wait for the green man before they cross the car park entrance

Below is a map of the area surrounding the shopping centre where I have attempted to highlight how much easier it is to navigate this area by bicycle (or on foot) than it is by car. The green routes are cycle tracks or walking and cycling only bridges with the main access routes by car highlighted in black. You can also see bus gates in red to the North and West of the shopping centre, and also over Twistvlietbrug in the Southeast corner of the map (the bridge and main cycle route leading into Zwolle I mentioned earlier)

Note how the residential areas have just one or two access points for motor traffic but people cycling and walking have many different routes to choose from. Whilst it is possible to access all areas by car you cannot drive West to East or North to South through the area; cars must take the longer route and so cycling or walking is always the most convenient option.

Cycling to the outdoor car park at the shops

Driving to the outdoor car parking at the shops

A quick look at those East - West cycle routes. The one north of the shopping centre and park runs along a canal

Seven bridges connect it to the houses north of the canal (you can see one in the distance on the picture above). Only two of these can be used by motor vehicles. It runs directly past a primary school, located directly in the middle of the park surrounding it

No roads serve this primary school so the only way to reach it is on foot or by bike. You could drive but would have to park some distance away and walk. As this cycle route crosses a road it is continuous and has priority

On the opposite side of the canal a road does run parallel to the canal but it is only a through route for buses and people cycling, whilst being access only for motor traffic

The other, much busier, East - West cycle route runs south of the shopping centre and park and connects to Twistvlietbrug, the cycle and buses only bridge I mentioned earlier, so is one of the main routes between Zwolle and Stadshagen for those on bicycles.

The park lies to the north of this route, with residential housing to the south. It links up with the residential streets via filtered cycle streets

and also links to the back of the shopping centre via a bridge

To more cycle parking. I rode behind this girl, who could not have been older than ten years old, as she cycled to the shopping centre on her own

It then crosses the North - South route between the underpass and the shopping centre I mentioned earlier

before heading north as a fietstraat to the residential area further north

 Some cycle only routes cross it, such as this cycle track below, crossing from a primary school to the right of the picture, on the opposite side of the water

The next road to cross it is restricted to buses and cycles only

cycle tracks lead off it to housing at the side of this route

In the picture below you can see a school to the right and a sports centre to the left. This must be a very busy cycle route during the school run!

And finally a look at the North of Stadshagen. The main distributor road, Mastenbriekeralle, runs through here and, as you can see from this google streetview link, it has wide grass verges between single carriageways so it is not possible for cars to overtake each other. Every junction is a roundabout, the safest type of junction design for cyclists, with separate cycle tracks and priority for people on foot or bikes at all of them. Some of these roundabouts are only three arm junctions for cars with an exit only for people cycling

Once again all the residential neighbourhoods are easily explored on foot or bike but the streets are designed to deter through motor traffic using them wherever possible. Below is one example:

A cycle track runs along the Eastern edge of the development

and through the middle

With almost all the horizontal streets filtered to cars 

For those that need to travel into the centre of Zwolle it is just a couple of kilometres away, either via the cycle and bus only Twistvlietbrug, quiet direct low traffic streets and cycle tracks along main roads, with underpasses to ensure crossing main roads on the way is quicker and safer

Or via Voorsterbrug and cycle tracks all the way to the centre of the city. It even has this bridge over a road junction, built in 2015 to make crossing the main road safer and to eliminate the inconvenience of being delayed by traffic lights 

Mark Tresaure has written about it here

I've also visited new developments in Amsterdam, Utrecht, s'-Hertgenbosch, Zoetermeer and a few other areas of the Netherlands; they are all very similar to what I have tried to show here. The design of these developments ensures that walking and cycling is not only safe but also very convenient. Every area can be safely and easily reached by bicycle, meaning even primary school aged children can cycle to their school and back home again. The networks of where people drive and where they cycle are completely different; through traffic is kept away from the residential areas, which only have one or two access points. If you're cycling it is the exact opposite; cycle routes go through the neighbourhoods. 

It's not just about the bicycle of course, with cycling being made so convenient the share mode of people driving is low and cars are kept away from the neighbourhoods leading to quieter, less polluted streets for residents. Young children can not only cycle anywhere they want to but can also play in the street directly outside their homes. This is something you often see in the Netherlands

I found it deeply depressing to cycle through the Olympic Park in London near my home less than 48 hours after cycling through Leidsche Rijn, a new development in Utrecht. In the Olympic Park driving is made the most convenient way to get around by default with many new wide through roads constructed or in the planning stages. There are many different routes drivers can take, rat running directly through residential areas, despite there being main roads right alongside. 

Cycle routes are not planned and cycle tracks are laid down as an after thought, often with obstacles in them making them unusable. Walking is not convenient; in some places you have to use five separate crossings and wait in four pedestrian pens just to get from one side of the road to the other. It is a real shame that with a blank canvas the Dutch can create truly liveable neighbourhoods, but in the UK we don't. There are many examples of how to do it and the benefits it can bring, right on our doorstep. I wish we'd take notice.

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