Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Visiting Houten - Bicycle Heaven, "Fietsstad 2008" - presentation by Andre Botermans

Andre Botermans from Houten
Andre is a planner with the city and had a tough act to follow from last year when Herbert Tiemens, an Engineer gave us the presentation in 2011. He started with a history of the town and nearby Utrecht. In 1867, it was 1600 people. It had a rail station that was central that ultimately became central to its development. Nearly 100 years later, in 1950, it was the same size.

In 1966, the regional government decided to build houses in cities and it was declared that  the rural areas would stay free from urbanization. Houten was tabbed in the second round of growth to 100,000. Citizens fought back and the number was reduced to 30,000. Paper on Spatial Planning - Structuurschets 1e groeitaak

Example of a park along the Houten Bicycle Highway. 
The Dutch used "Rational" Urban Planning based on the small scale, conscious of nature and the environment. Andre indicated that it was developed in a time before sustainable development was a fully formed concept. The idea started with the idea of a Bicycle City, leading bicycle routes to the train station. Car infrastructure was set up as a ring road without connections internally between sections of the neighborhood were going to emphasize bike safety by reducing interactions with cars. Also, cars are asked to give way to bikes in all cases and separated at the ring road.

The primary schools are located near the Central Greenway so access for children is guaranteed.  Parks are located throughout the city and many are connected to the Greenway.

Bottle return by bicycle (he biked with two on
the rear rack and had two more 12 packs in his
In Houten, "most of the things we do by bike". Everything is at such a short distance: shopping, school, parks, etc.
On the ring road, there are higher buildings to design as a gate to frame the entrances where you can go into the living area. The intent was to base the design like an old Roman town. These larger buildings on the Ring Road are often offices or else often used by elderly as they get a nice view of the countryside as apart of their location.

There are very few long roads, in fact the maximum tangent section used in planning is 250 feet. All of the bike routes are in red asphalt to communicate the intent of each facility.

They are planning a new roadway connection to A12 that will relieve some of the congestion to the main link to the freeway system.

Houten's bike safety record and crash rate is 31% of Dutch cities of comparable size because of the limited interactions necessary. When thinking about this, I think this is a result of a high percentage of families (it is a suburb) and the higher income and education level than comparable cities. Nationally, 49% of the houses are owner occupied. Houten is 70% owner occupied and the second phase will be 80%. There is a lot of discussion about this that could be called go question. Houten is a more expensive suburb than many surrounding communities. So to say that Houten's unique design makes a community 70% safer would be an overstatement, but Andre didn't make the case for that, he just stated what the results are.

Bicycle parking in the Houten train station. 3,000 spaces!
Bike parking is fantastic at the Central station, with over 3,000 spaces. It is massive and free. No subscription or annual cost for parking bikes. They have 200 bikes often left over night, but they don't worry too much about that as they can sign them as needed and pull them away.

There is security cameras for the facility and a bike shop so that you can get help if you need it. The OV Fiets rental is also there if you don't have a bike and need one for the day. A little more on the facility here.

Andre indicated that there are a lot of cars in Houten. A lot of the families have dual income with kids so they have the means to buy cars. Many of the jobs in the community are white collar. The city estimates that 1/3 of employment is in Houten, 1/3 is in Utrecht, 1/3 is elsewhere. Future growth will seek to have equal jobs and the number of people. Utrecht is a 12 minute train ride to downtown Utrecht. Jobs outside if the Utrecht Central are accessible by bike or by transit transfer.

A few other interesting facts worth sharing about the community:

Housing in Houten has some unique
features, including these that are right
on the water.

  • The City wants to be careful to implement jobs with their expansions with the intent to use this to reduce GHG. 
  • 23 houses per hectare us the approximate density of housing. New area is 24 per. About 10 per acre. Pijnacker (near Delft) is 34 or 15 per acre.
  • The City officials are going about retrofitting the old village circa 1950 to make it consistent with the current standards, but it is occurring slowly due to financial constraints.

The "second growing task from the National Government is issued in 1991 and again Houten was not willing to grow, but the compromise was to end up at 60,000. Andre described several concepts that were laid out. Ultimately, the planners focused a new town along the railway south of the existing part. The urban planner was Rob Derks, who is retired now, but still lives in Houten. The new area has no central greenway, but a five sided greenway that has a smaller center and the existing center is strengthened.

The new town center of Castellum included medium density
around the city's second train station.
The south section was chosen by the municipality, but the land was owned by speculators. Thus, the municipality had to partner with the developer and it took a long time to get to a solution that wasn't too dense for Houten's vision. The new site is called Castellum and that has also been planned around a new station. Houten's existing center is intended to grow and the new south center will be a minor station.

It seems like a pretty fantastic minor station that if we completed community planning as they do would be a vast improvement in the Portland metropolitan area, but of course the existing communities are not nearly as farm focused and the development of streets and all of the other infrastructure is much different than the U.S. experience.

UPDATE: Here's a Youtube video summarizing Houten.

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