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blog: Five things we learned in Utrecht

Author: Jon Parker

In June 2018 we celebrated 20 years of ITP with a study tour of Utrecht.  Whilst there we spent a full day debating the future direction of ITP with all our staff; taking every opportunity to have a look around a vibrant and growing Dutch city.  Alongside confirming our commitment to people-focused business planning, it was a fantastic trip - with so much to see that inspires our work back home in the UK and overseas.

Here are just five of the key lessons we learned from soaking-up the atmosphere of a city built around people and bikes, but which also prioritises public transport as a functional mobility service and a way of enhancing a sense of place.

1) Plan for people, and you attract people

Utrecht is a great example of a city that is thriving as a result of embracing active lifestyles. Walking around the urban extension of Houten it strikes you that prioritising walking, cycling and public transport over highways and parking has been incredibly successful at creating a pleasant place to live. Houses in this community ‘sell at a premium’, despite car routes to/from the development being tortuous. Thoughtfully planned walking routes lead you to green corridors and fast, affordable public transport connections. Strategic cycling corridors also take you directly, safely and easily to the places you want to be.

Houten People
Bike Racks
2) Cycling is serene, and most people can do it

Cycling has become a way of life for all.  The young, old, men and women all cycle alongside each other considerately. Cycle parking is ‘incredible’ in both its sheer scale and user-centred quality of design.  Whilst it may take up significant space in the city centre, it is hard to imagine what the comparable number of car parking spaces would like look like.  Well, actually it's not too hard to imagine - we see it in most UK towns and cities everyday – a land-use that could be so much more valuable if developed in different, more productive ways.

3) Riding a bike in urban areas needn't be unsafe

One of the most notable things is the complete absence of cycle helmets... literally nobody wears them!  Nor do people on bikes wear any dedicated ‘cycling gear’. Most simply appear to hop-on and hop-off of bikes as part of a practically minded approach to making everyday journeys.  Yes, it’s flat, but most importantly national and local governments have invested considerably, and purposively, in the infrastructure necessary to make cycling a safe and pleasant experience.  There is little interaction with the highway, and when there is, people on bikes get priority.  Always, without compromise.

Houten Women On Bikes
Rush Hour 2
4) Public transport complements active travel

Using trains, trams and buses in Utrecht is a pleasure.  Everything about them is focused on quality, and the resulting user experience is exceptional.  Trains run largely on time, from a majestic new station that sits at the heart of the regenerated city centre.  For a population of 400,000 people, Utrecht has a vibrant and commercial train station unlike any I have seen in the UK (certainly outside of London).  Buses interface seamlessly with trains, and at every interchange the provision of high quality wayfinding signage, footpaths, cycle routes and plentiful bike parking makes it oh so easy to complete the final mile in a calm, efficient and sustainable way.

5) ITP's philosophy remains just as relevant in 2018

Having set up ITP in 1998 to ‘improve the way the world moves’, we are delighted that our philosophy remains as strong as ever.  Since the company has formed we have maintained a belief in nurturing and supporting the very best transport planners, and giving them a say in the future direction of the company.  The next ‘ITP Plan’ will emerge from our team's workshop discussions in Utrecht, building on the many ideas and views expressed by all of our staff during the visit.

Study Tour 2 Square

While I am sure people of Utrecht must have their grumbles, it is hard to see how transport could be one of them! Here’s to the next 20 years of ITP, and plenty more inspiring study tours along our own journey.

Jon Parker, ITP Managing Director


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