The silence of the cars in Houten in the Netherlands

Towns designed to encourage cycling and walking. A report from the recent study tour to the Netherlands by UK policy makers.

An eerie silence greets you when you arrive at Houten station in the Netherlands. What's missing is the sound of cars, something that we sometimes forget is ever-present in London. The reason is not that motoring is banned, but that Houten's 50,000 residents find it far more convenient and pleasant to cycle or walk. Some 40% of journeys under 5 miles are by bike and 24% are made on foot.

A British delegation to the town, guests of the Dutch government under the 'Love Cycling Go Dutch' banner (a continuation of our 2012 'Love London, Go Dutch' mayoral election campaign), was shown how this exceptionally high modal share was achieved.

At the heart of it is a town plan that enables cyclists and walkers to travel straight into, or through, the town centre but which puts motor vehicles on to a ring road. The net result is that anyone can travel on cycle tracks and cycle streets (on which cyclists have a respected priority) all day while barely meeting a motor vehicle.


The town's two main stations (which link to the nearby city of Utrecht) have massive cycle parking facilites (3000 spaces each; more than all central London's train stations put together) that are located right beneath the platforms. If plans go ahead we can expect to see something similar at Waterloo – hopefully a forerunner of what ought to be in place at all central London stations.

In the nearby city of Nijmegen UK delegates were shown some of the major cycle infrastrcuture projects that the Dutch are prepared to invest in as part of a new generation of fast cycle routes aimed at inter-town-centre journeys.

Building a wide cycle track adjacent to a long rail bridge cost 26 million euros, but the Dutch regonise that the pay-off will come from more cycle journeys, fewer car trips and a healthier population. One of their transport experts Proferssor Bert van Wee cites a Norwegian study that estimates a cost-benefit ratio for cycling infrastructure of more than 4 to 1.

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