The Netherlands is regularly held up as a beacon of how to get it right when it comes to promoting cycling and providing a safe environment for people to ride their bikes in. And nowhere has embraced the bicycle as much as Groningen, where modal share hits more than 50 per cent, as this film from Streetfilms highlights.
Home to nearly 200,000 people, the city, which lies in the northeast of the country close to the German border, has the highest bicycle usage in the world.
Film maker Clarence Erickson Jr of Streetfilms set off to find out the secret, the result being a striking 15-minute documentary featuring contributions from experts, as well as locals talking about cycling around their city.
The bicycle dominates; it’s everywhere – with 10,000 parking spaces for bicycles at the city’s train station alone. After shopping at the local branch of Ikea, you can hire a bakfiets for just €1.50 to get your purchases home; students – there are 50,000 in the city – will also rent one for flat moves.
Among those featured in the film are the Briton, David Hembrow, who chose Groningen as a place to live specifically because of its approach to cycling, and who regularly leads study tours in the area for those wanting to learn how such high levels of bike riding were achieved and to see the infrastructure first-hand.
On his A View From The Cycle Path website, Hembrow outlines, with the help of slides from a presentation given by the City of Groningen’s Cor van der Klauuw – who also appears in the film – just how it is able to achieve such high levels of cycling.
Part of the reason, as the Streetfilms documentary outlines, was a deliberate policy by the left-wing city council in the early 1970s to split the city centre into four zones and make it impossible to move between any two of them by car.
The result is that journey times by bike within the city are much quicker and easier than those by car, which have to be driven out of the centre, around the ring road, then back in, before the driver even considers where to park their vehicle.
The concept is called “filtered permeability” – a principle also applied elsewhere such as in the German city of Freiburg, and the British sustainable transport charity, Sustrans, is among its adherents, encouraging as it does walking and cycling over driving.
The councillors who ran Groningen in the 1970s showed what can be done with vision and political will, the result being a city that is worlds apart from the car-choked centres of those in Britain.
Whether any town or city here would be brave enough to embrace the concept, and its population willing to dispense with their reliance on their cars, is questionable.
Simon joined road.cc as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.