From Utrecht to the world

When the 2020 Vuelta sets off from the Dutch city of Utrecht, it will become the first city to have hosted the start of all three Grand Tours… but the real cycling stars there are the city planners that have set an example in the possible for the rest of the world. Are you listening UK?

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We were at the Taipei Bike Show in March and, as part of the show, we always expect a few announcements and random press conferences so we went along to the City of Utrecht’s announcement of it hosting the start of the Vuelta in 2020. That’ll make Utrecht the first city to host the start of all three Grand Tours (it having previously hosted the Tour and the Giro). But it seems that Utrecht has more than just headlines in mind, as its commitment to cycling puts pretty much every other city in the world to shame, and it ranks amongst the very best according to the tough Copenhagen measures.

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Klaas Verschuure, the Vice mayor of Utrecht, took the lead on the announcement as the Mayor of Utrecht was understandably back in their home city still reeling from the terror attack on 18 March.  He proudly expressed some of the facts and figures: firstly, when you take Holland as a whole, it is a country of 17 million people and 22 million bicycles, and on average every person in Holland spends 18 minutes every day on a bike. So, for Utrecht to be one of the leading cycling cities in Holland (and so the world) that’s a pretty active cycling city. In the centre of Utrecht there is secure parking for in excess of 30,000 cycles (with more in the works) – and the largest single cycling park is able to securely hold 12,500 bikes. This facility can handle 100 riders a minute riding into the park (it provides secure underground parking with service areas, changing facilities and more). Utrecht has also built a huge network of traffic free cycle lanes and bike highways linking (again traffic-free) to other major Dutch cities including a 45km northbound route to Amsterdam. That’s a total of 18,000km of bike lanes and paths. With a city that sees more than 125,000 cyclists take to the roads everyday between 7am and 7pm Utrecht has plenty of reasons to look after its city’s riders. Utrecht’s planners aim, it seems, is to fully replace the car with bikes (and e-bikes).

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Holland is also the biggest buyer of e-bikes (as riding into later life is significantly higher than anywhere else in the world, with many riders continuing into their 70’s) and the infrastructure has changed to reflect that too, with specific charge stations and lanes for the higher speeds of some e-bikes.

Simone Jorink, an urban planning engineer in Utrecht, showed plenty of examples of how introducing a complete infrastructure has improved the city, the massive underground park has given more space over ground for pedestrians and open spaces. With the cycle parking at the central rail station an essential part of proceedings seeing as that single train station handles more people than Schiphol Airport (Holland’s largest) with 88 million users per year. Utrecht’s increased cycle use also meant it was able to remove a (motor) highway from the centre of the city and return it to an open waterway as it was a century ago. Admittedly it’s taken a while (protests and changes started in the 1970s) but this Dutch city should be held up as a leading light in progressive town planning.

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So yep, we can head out to Utrecht to see the start of one of the world’s biggest bike races next year, but we reckon our politicians should be heading to Utrecht to see how cycling provision should be the world over.

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Finally, a shot from the announcement in Taipei. Because Miffy!

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