Netherlands: Groningen, Cycling City.

When you cycle in most towns, you quickly learn which routes are safe and which routes to avoid. This isn't the case in Groningen; you simply pick a route from A to B in the certain knowledge that it'll be perfect for cycling.

With a population of 170,000 people, Groningen is the Netherlands' sixth largest city. Fifty-seven per cent of the citizens travel by bicycle. Nearly half of all city trips are by bicycle compared with only 30 per cent by car.

 â€˜We ride because it's fun, it's faster, it's convenient,' explains Groningen city planner Gerrit van Weryen. ‘This is not an environmental program, it is an economic program. We are boosting jobs and business. It has been proven that planning for the bicycle is cheaper than planning for the car.'

 The city centre is divided into four sectors; cars can drive in and out of sectors but not from one sector to another, forcing cars to take long detours, while bicyclists travel easily between adjacent sectors.

 A vital threshold has been crossed. Through sheer weight of numbers, the bicycle now makes the rules, slows the traffic and determines the attitudes of drivers. Motorways have been dug up, roads are being narrowed or closed to traffic, miles of bike lanes and special bike overpasses weave through the city and there are tens of thousands of bike parking places. New houses are built to which the only direct access is by cycle, while out-of-town shopping centres are banned.

Dutch bicycle planning shows that if cyclists are given their own rights of way and priority in transport planning, the elegant simplicity of riding a bicycle is still popular after many years of motorisation.

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