When Kylie van Dam went in search of a cycle-friendly city she found the almost car-free suburb of Houten. It’s a model more cities could copy, she writes
Kylie van Dam
Wed 16 May 2018 11.00 BST
Before I’m out of bed, our 15-year-old slams the door and jumps on her bike, heading for school and meeting friends along the way.
Last week, our eight and 13-year-olds attended four parties between them. They scoffed the obligatory birthday sugar, went bowling, shot lasers, played mini-golf and patted sheep – travelling to and from all of these activities by bike. There wasn’t a helmet or scrap of hi-vis between them.
This is daily life in Houten, a suburb of Utrecht in the Netherlands. Spend any time here and you’ll soon see hordes of kids riding their bikes to gym lessons, parties, after-school care or sports activities through wind, rain or shine. One of my favourite Dutch expressions is “Jij bent niet van suiker gemaakt” (“You’re not made of sugar”), meaning you won’t dissolve in the rain – so get on your bike.
This lifestyle drew us to the Netherlands from Britain. After 15 years of dreaming – via Sydney, London and Norwich – we went in search of a more cycle-friendly city.
To move between neighbourhoods in Houten, cars must take the figure 8-shaped ring road. This leaves interior streets largely the preserve of pedestrians and cyclists. Now we’re Houtenaars, citizens of a world-renowned cycling suburb studied by future town planners around the globe. Houten has been on the map since Roman times, but modern development began in the late 1960s as an overspill for fast-growing Utrecht.
Architect Rob Derks designed Houten to prioritise pedestrians and cyclists over motorists. A ring road circles the suburb, and residential districts within are only accessible to cars through these roads on the edge of town. Instead, there is an extensive network of paths and cycle lanes connecting these areas.