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.