Livable cities story: Groningen
Here they speak
Groningen, a city in the north of the Netherlands, proudly presents itself as the world’s cycling capital city. With some justification, as the two-wheeler represents no less than 60% of all transport journeys. This is thanks to years of innovative, cycling-friendly city council policy. Colleague city officials from Japan, Belgium and Canada all come to Groningen for inspiration, with one clear winner: the global urban cyclist. We talk to the driving forces behind the cycling capital Groningen: Ingrid Bolhuis (programme manager Quality of Life in Public Spaces) and Erwin Kloen (project manager), both working in the municipal directorate of Urban Development.
Groningen, the Netherlands, Ingrid Bolhuis (left) and Erwin Kloen (right)
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Way back in 1977 city officials in Groningen made the rigorous choice to create more room for cyclists in the city centre. Kloen: “A revolutionary traffic circulation plan reduced traffic congestion in the centre and strengthening the caring, living and work function of the city. It was, and still is, a great success. Now, more than 40 years later, it is once again time to make choices, that perhaps go even farther than we were already used to.”
Relaxed streets and neighbourhoods
And Groningen has made a choice. In 2021, in order to improve livability in neighbourhoods and villages for residents, the city drew up a guide for Living Quality of Public Space, with the significant title of “New Space”. Bolhuis: “The guide uses the human dimension as a starting point, as in meeting the needs and wishes of city residents. It turns out that having “a car in front of the house” doesn’t have the highest priority.
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People find it more important to be able to move in a relaxed way through streets and neighbourhoods, where children can play safely outside and where residents can meet each other. Where cyclists get room and cars have a less prominent role.”
The guide contains ten factors which determine the layout of a street. Bolhuis explains: “Mobility is just one of them and is no longer the most important factor. Others are safety, health, social interaction, ecology and cultural history. We organized walks with residents and entrepreneurs through neighbourhoods and translated their proposals into new “street models” for different types of streets in Groningen. If there are existing urban renewal plans, to replace the sewers for example, we take these models as a source of inspiration and redesign the public space together with residents and businesses.”
Smart cycle routes
Meanwhile the number of cyclists in Groningen continues to grow, and space needs to be found for them: “We don’t just look at the fastest route from A to B, but we also look at the health and social aspects as our point of departure. Together comfortably on our way. That is the leading principle,” says Bolhuis. One example is the smart cycling routes which connect the city to the university campus.
get room and
cars have a less
Kloen: “Wide paths, few obstacles and virtually no traffic lights. Some 20,000 students use them every day and they are among the busiest cycle paths in the Netherlands.”
As well as building new cycle routes, Groningen changed the traffic rules. Kloen: “One such example is that at junctions we make all traffic lights go green for pedestrians and cyclists at the same time, so that they are not crossing at the same time as cars. This avoids blind spot accidents and people can also cross diagonally. You might think that this would lead to problems, but this is not the case: cyclists manage this among themselves: they speak the same language.”