Our friends at small places have produced another multi-sensory feast of city cycling splendour, this time featuring Delft, Netherlands — just one stop on their summer 2018 tour of northern Europe.

“Old enough to have a historic centre, large enough for it to be vibrant, yet small enough to make that centre mostly car-free. The suburbs of these cities grew up in the decades where protected bike lanes were standard on all streets, avoiding the awkward middle ring of cities like Amsterdam and The Hague.”

You can almost smell fragrant, summer air while all manner of bikes criss-cross intersections, public squares and underpasses. Bells brrrringing, hair flying in the wind, people smiling — where are the cars?

Spoor en centrum translates roughly as “rail and city centre”, a pragmatic reference to the new heart of mobility within some of the world’s most active and accessible urban communities, at least those of a certain size:

It’s been said that the Netherlands is both a dense country and a sprawling city, but neither is quite right.

Large cities quickly give way to countryside, and a constellation of dozens of cities sit in a sweet spot around 100,000 people – where every trip is a comfortable cycling distance and frequent rail service to every other city is close at hand.

Before comparing your city to Delft, first bear in mind that, to adopt the spoor en centrum approach, a city must feature, by definition, rail at the centre of its transportation strategy. Beyond simply connecting to cycling infrastructure, such rail facilities would integrate with and support (and thus be supported by) bespoke infrastructure and facilities for all modes and accessibility requirements in society. All in all, a multi-modal system that anticipates the needs of high volumes of commuters — of all ages, all abilities.

Consider: trains from Delft to The Hague (Den Haag) run every six minutes, and can accomplish the 10km in about seven minutes. World-class. Similarly, the main bike parking garage at Delft station is underground, with over 5,000 spots, and at least as much again in a second underground facility, plus outdoors around the station.

End-of-trip facilities are thus in keeping with the city’s transportation strategy, and the travel modes encouraged by civic leadership for citizens within spoor en centrum. Multiple levels of government get what they want and need. Commuters get what they want and need. Quid pro quo.

Bike mode share in the city: 40%. As such, a seemingly appealing place to walk and wheel, less so for driving.

While this is the direction many North American cities, including those in our growing region, are heading towards, we obviously aren’t there yet. But we could be — let’s simply consider the basic ingredients, population, area and, thus, density.

At 100,000 people in less than 25km2, Delft clocks in at 4,443 people/km2. Vancouver is over 5,500 people/km2…but not a great comparison from the perspective of population and land area. (We’re more like Amsterdam — about five to seven times the scale of Delft, with a variety of high, medium and low-density neighbourhoods.)

Port Coquitlam and City of Langley aren’t terribly far off on both factors, and with densities between 2,000-2,500people/km2. But change is harder — one is not much of a transit, business or post-secondary education hub (PoCo), and the other — possibly — less ready culturally (CoL).

The best fits? The City of North Vancouver and New Westminster — both have worked ardently over the decades, relative to the region, to incorporate cycling infrastructure on roads and recreational paths when it wasn’t necessarily politically expedient, or reflective of present-day use.

Both are also smaller in size and population, but at Delft-esque population densities. Both also have the benefit of past and current mayors, members of council and staff who follow European-style approaches to integrating community and transportation planning with future visions of the cities they want to be, in addition to the needs of the community today.

Lastly, both have looked to Vancouver for inspiration, while also plowing ahead with different strategies that meet their specific conditions; mostly, this involves being perched on the sides of slopes, and  squeezed between bridges and highways controlled by other levels of government.

Does British Columbia, population ~5 million, have the potential to build a few Delfts? Perhaps. According to small places, at a population of 17 million,there are a couple dozen Delfts in the Netherlands.” So yes, a few more Delfts is the least we can do.

Delft will no doubt continue to inspire comparison and challenge for the Lower Mainland, as the city will soon be home for Chris & Melissa Bruntlett, Vancouver authors of Building the Cycling City. (New employer? The Dutch Cycling Embassy, natch!)

Read more about their move here, and tune into their future adventures between spoor en centrum.


  1. Can the difference in enthusiasm for cycling between these two cities
    be explained in part by the difference in climate?
    Annual precipitation data in mm
    Delft (first number) / Van (second number)
    Jan 73.4 / 188.3+125.2(snow)
    Feb 58.3 / 125.8+ 55.4(snow)
    Mar 60.5 / 140.1+ 23.1(snow)
    April 45.8 / 105.9+ 7.3(snow)
    May 54.8 / 75.6
    June 70.8 / 59.7
    July 77.6 / 42.9
    Aug 83.3 / 43.8
    Sept 86.7 / 89.6
    Oct 88.4 / 137.8
    Nov 93.3 / 219+ 15.6 (snow)
    Dec 82.7 / 186.3+ 90.4 (snow)

    1. Pretty sure they also get snow in Delft and it’s ridiculous to portray Vancouver as getting snow for six months of the year. In a typical year we might have snow on the ground for five or six days. What Delft (and all of the Netherlands) gets in winter months is icy-cold persistent strong winds that can be at least as uncomfortable as rain. Rain isn’t that big a deal, really… compared to car-dominated roads it’s only a minor irritant. It’s the difference in protection from automobiles that is the biggest factor in the attractiveness of cycling. That and their lack of a hysterical anti-cycling sector of the population.

      1. Facts trump rhetoric. You can test the precipitation thesis yourself. Just plop yourself down on the seaside bikeway on a wet and rainy January day and start counting.

  2. Keep in mind history, technology, geography and weather.

    Much of Europe’s cities were flooded with countryside in-migrants 200+ years ago, creating what we today call “affordability crisis” or “lack of rental housing”, “sustainable housing” or “densification” or “mixed use neighbourhoods”. This created enormous political pressure to build denser cities, fast. However, since neither the car NOR the elevator had been invented ( that was 1870s or later only) most building had to be 6-7 stories at most, and cities very walkable. In addition the only long distance transportation system were horse drawn carriages, boats or later, trains. London was so busy with people and horse drawn carriages in 1860s they build the first subway, over 150 years ago, before cars, with coal trains to decklog the crowded streets.

    As such, much of Europe has walkable downtowns today with decent rail based infrastructure.

    Contrast that with the historic growth in North America, or certainly hinterland tough-to-reach west coast cities like Vancouver, where cars reigned with the massive city growth starting 100+ years ago, with elevators available too. Thus, a dense neighbourhood like Yaletown today with 20+ story highrises doesn’t accommodate much more people than a typical Amsterdam, Paris, Munich, Berlin, Madrid or London central city neighbourhood with its 5-7 story buildings to the curb, wall to wall, ie an entire block, often with additional housing in courtyards.

    In Amsterdam due to the canal system it added additional character and transportation options with boats. You also see this in Hamburg, Venice, Brugge and to a lesser degree in Berlin and St Petersburg with a decent sized river / canal system.

    Cycling also is not nearly as widespread in N-America except some flat fair weather cities like Vancouver due to the very harsh winters or unbearablably hot summers in S-US or even sweltering Toronto, Boston or New York 100+ years ago. Hence bikes weren’t as common as in say N-Germany, Holland or Denmark with its very flat terrain and weather between 5-25, hardly ever above it and hardly ever snowy or below 0. Further south, more hilly, biking too is not so common, ie southern France, S-Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium or Luxembourg even ..

    As such, keep weather, geography, technology and history in mind.

  3. Not sure how to quantify this, but just looking at total precipitation is misleading.
    Much of that rain comes down outside of the hours most of us are out doings things.
    If you are back home in bed when the skies open up for real, total precipitation matters not a whit.
    When it does rain heavy during the day is the time to take the dreaded bus, or find other means.
    Other factors are more significant, esp. unequipped, illogical bicycles.
    If you look at Craigslist, or go into a store, you not will see equipped bicycles.
    For the bikeshop, it’s understandable why. The price will freak people out; and they’re harder to store and display.
    At a bare minimum the bike should have fenders – not just for riding in the rain, but between periods – when the air is sparkling and the roads are wet. Otherwise, hello dirty rooster tail.
    The bikes I use most often have panniers – from the Old French ‘panier’ – bread basket. I often have baguettes sticking out of mine, and load up with groceries, or beer and wine, more often than with the car. This is with a family of four. Without panniers your option is a backpack which holds little and feels horrible. It’s hard on your sweaty back and your sack.

  4. It is generally true that it rains more at night than during the day, but this is true everywhere so the comparison between the two cities is still valid. According to the statistics Vancouver by comparison is much dryer in the summer and much, much wetter during the fall, winter, and spring, which can’t help but dampen cycling enthusiasm.

    All this is to say that what appears in one place does not automatically apply in another place owing to differing cultural histories, physical environments and social preferences. In Vancouver it is the precipitation regime that determines who rides and when they ride bicycles.

    The City of Vancouver is doing a very good job supporting cycling by building safe cycling infrastructure, inventions of our own time and place of which we too should be quite proud.

  5. There is a bizarre mental disconnect in many people’s minds about cycling.
    An older man of Punjabi extraction approached me last week as I was unlocking my bike at a grocery store on my nemesis – Kingsway.
    “Too dangerous,” he asserted.
    I spent several months in India. You want to see crazy streets? Omg. Bullocks don’t pay attention to traffic signals.
    Clearly, this fellow had it within him to be a nascent cyclist. With a few good experiences on a quality equipped bicycle, he would turn away from the dark side – motordom.
    For contrast, you get downhill mountain bike racers where you are guaranteed ugly injuries; or the pileups on the Tour, or Giro; or BMX verticals and flips – off the charts dangerous.
    After cycling in Vancouver over 25 years, I know a lot of routes. There’s hardly an alley I haven’t seen. Even Killer Kingsway can be safely negotiated by threading the back lanes. There are hiccups: at Kingsway and Knight the lane disappears and you have to work your way around to get onto 22nd; at Kingsway and Rupert it terminates behind Collingwood Library. You can climb a gravel rise behind it (fun), to the sidewalk, and proceed along it to the intersection, but continuing east is tricky. You are almost obligated to take Kingsway. There is no more lane, and School Ave is one way west. Sometimes I take the sidewalk along historic Carleton School (my bad), but there are rarely peds, and if there are, I go around them on the grass.
    There are other workarounds on this brutally motor-dominant strip that are quite pleasant, but I rarely encounter other cyclists. After this post, there could be more.
    Ride safe.

    1. ‘bizarre mental disconnect’?
      ‘the dark side – motordom’?
      ‘Killer Kingsway’?
      ‘brutally motor-dominant strip’?
      ‘older man of Punjabi extraction’? This anecdote is perhaps the most offensive of all. Riding Kingsway is indeed a young man’s sport, but that has nothing to do with the ‘bullocks’ of India (another offensive comment).

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