Even by Dutch standards, the city of Utrecht is stunningly bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly, but there are plans to make it even more so.
Whereas in much of the rest of the city motorists are treated as guests on “fietstraats”—or bicycle streets—there will be almost no cars whatsoever in the soon-to-be-redeveloped district of Merwede; shops, schools and other amenities will be within easy walking distance, and central Utrecht, one kilometer to the north, will be a short bike ride away.
An urban development plan to radically transform a canalside industrial estate has been drawn up by the municipality of Utrecht together with ten landowners. Subject to agreement by locals, the 60-acre site could be up and running as a dense eco-friendly car-free suburb by 2024.
The plan envisages a 17-block mixed-use district for 12,000 residents, none of whom would need to use privately-owned cars for their daily needs.
The center of Utrecht is already largely pedestrianized and has been since the mid-1960s, but many of the city’s suburbs were designed with cars in mind. Merwede will be the city’s first largely car-free suburb.
There will be some cars dotting around, envisage the planners, but these will be mostly share cars, and used for irregular, longer journeys. Privately owned cars won’t be given any street space. Just a third of a car will be allowed per household. And as a means of discouraging car dependence, these motor vehicles will have to be parked underground some distance away from resident’s homes.
A third of Utrecht’s 1.3 million inhabitants already cycle daily to the city center. Merwede is the template for how other districts could be transformed in the coming years, increasing this bicycle use even further.
Maike Koch, a spokesperson for the municipality of Utrecht, agrees by email that Utrecht is a “very bicycle-friendly city,” but that nevertheless, “public space is still largely determined by cars.”
She says that Merwede “will be different” because “public space in this centrally situated area will be car-free with a high-quality green design.”
Merwede, she adds, “will be a city district with everything for daily provisions, like a supermarket, primary and secondary schools and medical services, within walking distance. People can do their shopping, work, and play sports in the neighborhood and relax at a terrace in a city square.”
As well as mainly designing out cars, Merwede will have other eco features such as heating and cooling supplied via the canal: this will be the largest underground heat and cold storage facility in the Netherlands.