• A new city center development in the Netherlands could go nearly car-free.
  • Residents in this district will share a pool of cars and bicycles. There will be 3 private car parking spaces planned for every 10 houses.
  • More cyclists can mean a healthier population, fewer long-term rider casualties and less air pollution, studies show.

One Netherlands city is rethinking urban living, moving from private cars parked out front individual homes to a community built for pedestrians and two-wheeled travel.

The nearly car-free neighbourhood is planned for Utrecht and will have little place – or space – for privately owned vehicles.

Called Merwede, the proposed development will transform an industrial area of the city centre into a model of sustainable living, where walls and courtyards come alive with greenery and solar panels cover rooftops.

Everything residents need will be available within walking distance, or reachable by bicycle along a network of cycle routes linking different parts of the district with the city centre.

The area will have good public transport links, allowing residents to travel long distances and connect with other parts of the country and beyond.

cyclists cycle cycling bikes bicycles riding green friend Eco Holland Netherlands Amsterdam town planning development sustainable development environment renewable solar energy change transition friendly environment carbon footprint carbon emissions reduction change natural climate change global warming air pollution clean energy power renewables plastic plastics Cities smart urban urbanization development growth growing inclsuive inclusivity poverty tech technology
Emergency vehicles will have access to Merwede’s centre, but not cars.
Image: marco.booekman

Away from Merwede’s heart, garage parking will be available for private vehicles, but there will only be about three spaces for every 10 households, 300 of which will be for shared cars.

Emergency services will be able to access the streets but the district’s heart will be a no-go zone for cars.

What's the World Economic Forum doing about the future of cities?

Cities represent humanity's greatest achievements - and greatest challenges. From inequality to air pollution, poorly designed cities are feeling the strain as 68% of humanity is predicted to live in urban areas by 2050.

The World Economic Forum supports a number of projects designed to make cities cleaner, greener and more inclusive.

These include hosting the Global Future Council on Cities and Urbanization, which gathers bright ideas from around the world to inspire city leaders, and running the Future of Urban Development and Services initiative. The latter focuses on how themes such as the circular economy and the Fourth Industrial Revolution can be harnessed to create better cities. To shed light on the housing crisis, the Forum has produced the report Making Affordable Housing a Reality in Cities.

Boosting public health, safety
Cycling can lead to a number of public health benefits, research shows. In addition to reducing pollution, cycling regularly helps to reduce stress and lower the risk of chronic conditions like heart disease, type 2 diabetes and strokes.

Bike-friendly communities can also increase safety for cyclists. An OECD Cycle Safety report found higher levels of awareness in places with large numbers of bike users, cycle paths and supporting infrastructure.

Investing in infrastructure
Still, without investment in infrastructure, the “safety in numbers” idea can vanish. Both drivers and cyclists must adapt to a surge in bike users, the OECD report found, or cycling fatalities will increase with the number of cyclists.

Safety levels differ from country to country and from city to city. The Global Bicycle Cities Index 2019 highlights the most cycle-friendly cities. European centres like Utrecht, Munster in Germany and Antwerp in Belgium, lead the way by building dedicated bike infrastructure, creating bike-sharing schemes and holding no-car days.

cyclists cycle cycling bikes bicycles riding green friend Eco Holland Netherlands Amsterdam town planning development sustainable development environment renewable solar energy change transition friendly environment carbon footprint carbon emissions reduction change natural climate change global warming air pollution clean energy power renewables plastic plastics Cities smart urban urbanization development growth growing inclsuive inclusivity poverty tech technology
Utrecht tops the list of the world’s most cycle-friendly cities.
Image: Global Bicycle Cities Index 2019

Merwede's cyclists will have an advantage as Utrecht is already a cyclist’s haven. Dedicated routes, run in, out, and around the city, and are widely used. About 60% of visitors to the city centre get there by bike and the city is home to the world’s largest bicycle parking garage.

If the proposal goes through, Merwede won’t be the only city built with cycling in mind. Other cities, such as Amsterdam, have also invested in cycling infrastructure to encourage people to cycle.

With the right planning, more cycle-friendly cities can lead to healthier people, fewer rider casualties and improved air quality, changes that are good for riders, their communities and the environment.