Last month I went on a study tour of Amsterdam, Delft, Utrecht, Dusseldorf, Wuppertal, Essen, Mulheim, Cologne, Ghent, Antwerp and Brussels. What did I learn?
Every one of those cities has trams: they’re part of the city fabric, shaping and responding to cities’ growth and regeneration. There are also many buses. All transport modes are closely integrated: typically, adjacent to the central train station are tram and bus stations, and, in the Netherlands, stacks of cycle parking (12,500 spaces at Utrecht).
Ghent is an interesting comparator for Cambridge: a bold transport plan has all but removed cars from the medieval city centre. This has brought about a large increase in cycling. However, just as in the centre of Cambridge, it feels like there isn’t enough space for everyone: trams and buses move haltingly, and it’s increasingly difficult for people cycling to negotiate perilous tram tracks.
The first kerb-guided busway, opened in 1980 in Essen, is ageing rather better than Cambridgeshire’s, but it feels like a relic: an experiment that works but ultimately leaves you wondering, what’s the point?
Sadly, the unique aerial monorail in Wuppertal has been closed since November, when part of the structure collapsed. This follows hugely expensive modernisation programmes, when the line has been shut. We should learn from this: for all their intriguing novelty, proprietary transport systems are costly in the long term and inflexible.
The lesson from the Netherlands is abundantly clear: if you enable safe, convenient cycling, people will cycle. Nationally, 27% of trips are made by cycle, compared with 2% in the UK. That makes cities noticeably less noisy and very much safer. In the Netherlands, motorists cause forty-seven pedestrians’ deaths a year; cyclists, four. If UK cities emulate Dutch policy, it could result in a 60% reduction in pedestrians’ deaths. Shifting trips from cars to cycles saves lives.
So, ingredients for successful city transport are safe provision and priority for most people to walk and cycle, strong discouragement of driving in city centres, close integration of cycle parking, mainline rail, buses and, where space and demand support them, tried-and-tested trams.
This article was first published in the Cambridge Independent on 10 July 2019.