Friday, July 8, 2011

Houten (The "BIKE" Heaven)

Start of our journey. As you can see Mr. Davis is thinking very deep!!

Our adventure in the Netherlands continued today by visiting a municipality called Houten which is located in the center of the Netherlands and it’s in the province of Utrecht
Houten was founded in 1867. In the 1960s, Houten was a very small village with an outdated road and an older train station but since Utrecht was located in the center of the Netherlands the government felt the need to add more housing due to the population growth. They thought it would be ideal to add housing for about 100,000 people, yet the people who lived in Houten in that time did not like the national government’s vision. There were discussions and a good deal of public process and finally a compromise to add population after 5 years of discussion. The outcome was that the city of Houten agreed to add 30,000 inhabitants in the south side and their condition was that they would build the housing themselves on their terms and they would not allow the government to interfere. That was when the first master plan was created, which started in 1975. After that was complete, a second part of their expansion happened from 1995 to 2007 and they added about 20,000 houses in the north side of Houten.

We were welcomed to Houten by Herbert Tiemens. He gave us a lecture about the city, its development, its highlights, the issues that they our facing and some statistics about Houten.

From Left: Herbert Tiemens, Peter Furth, Maria lijding 

After the lecture we went out on a scavenger hunt around city of Houten to explorer the so called city of “Bike Heaven”.

From Left: Will, Kate, Kirk, Pam and Ian

One of the interesting plans that city of Houten had was to build a ring structure city. That means having a segmented residential area in the middle and having a ring road around the city which was used only by cars. The advantage of this kind of structure would be for pedestrians and cyclist to have easy access from one neighborhood to another and also access to center of the city. At the moment, Houten has about 14 segments which each contain about 300 to 400 houses.

Ring structure and the communities that are located around the ring.

One of the smartest ideas in the development of the new train station was the bicycle parking which was located under the train station.  There are 3,100 spaces for bikes and it’s also free to park. This creates great accessibility to for the community. The parking is secure and monitored by an attendant. In addition to the bike parking a bike rental shop is located below the station. That is one way to encouarge people to use the bicycle in order to commute. If I am a tourist or even an employee at Houten whom lives outside Houten I could just take the train to Houten and rent a bike for couple of Euros per day and get to my desired destination.  This could be a great lesson for TriMet to use this kind of facility in order to promote bicycle riding in Oregon. If someone lives in Beaverton for example and plans to travel to downtown Portland they could easily use the MAX to commute to downtown and with paying just a few $ to rent a bicycle they can commute around downtown. This way not only they save fuel money but they also would save money for parking, reducing emission and etc.

Bike rental is located directly down the stairs of the station.

Most of the homes in Houten are attached or multi-family housing although there are some single family housing and it seems their yards aren't large enough since most of the yards was devoted to public space.


One of the other interesting observations that I had in Houten was the some interesting traffic signs that it was used along its route. The most interesting one was a sign that was posted to remind cars that bicycles are number one priority and they should not pass them. The direct translation of this sign is “Treat cyclist as guests”.

Treat cyclist as guests

Here's the perfect example of the application of the sign. You can see that the woman in the picture has done her shopping and cycling back to her next destination. The car behind her is not attempting to pass her. Like most of bicycle tracks in Netherlands red pavement signify that the road is a Bicycle Street and the shoulders means that slower speeds should be maintained. 

Car following a cyclist

Roundabouts play an important role in community planning for the Dutch. As I have seen much different type of roundabouts so far I observed another interesting round about which was only for bicycles and it was located below a turbo roundabout which was only for cars.
one roundabout for bikes and one for cars.

bicycle roundabout

Turbo roundabout.

One of key highlights of Houten is the title that they have for the bicycle riding and it’s known as “Bike Heaven”. That is really true. The greenery, the way that bike routes are connected to center of communities and passing through a lake is amazing and beautiful. While I was riding my bike around there it really felt like heaven around you.

Exiting lake near the bike route

bridge over the lake for bikes. 

Bike Heaven!

This is one of the views that you could get while riding your bike.

After a long bicycle ride there is need to divert to some fun and how can you do that in a middle of a long bicycle route? Well the answer is shown on this picture. Zip Line!

Mr. Davis Enjoying the zip line ride!

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