Day 3 in Utrecht! Once again, we ventured with Ronald into the wide unknown! Well, actually, it was just a unique suburb of Utrecht, but of course to us, everything is brand new 🙂
As Marc is fond of doing, we were instructed to make our way to some address to meet for the day. Since the bike ride was a bit longer, I got to think a bit about our short time in Utrecht. The bike was slowly becoming less awful, meaning that I think I almost died only once on the way out to Ronald’s house. The upright, step through style was definitely growing on me, but I couldn’t get over the pedal brake hurdle. Also, wayfinding is not as easy in the city if you don’t know what the end destination is (i.e. knowing the name of Ronald’s neighborhood would have made a heck of a difference!).
However, the small mob of us made our way to Ronald’s with minor incident (did you know that it is actually humid in the Netherlands??). From there, we got to go see an entirely master planned community! The suburb Houten was one that the government decided to expand Utrecht with. This meant that the entire transportation network was designed to accommodate pedestrians and bicycles first! The city was built with a ring road for vehicles outside the city (only about 5 km in diameter), with access roads into the interior, but no roads cutting completely through the city. There is a network of bike and pedestrian paths connecting the entire city to itself and to Utrecht, encouraging people to leave their vehicles outside and use other means for their daily lives. The train station had bike parking only… hundreds of spots. The scary thing: The majority of them were full!
While in theory and on paper, this idea looked really good, a lot of the class felt that the suburb was somewhat… eerie? I’m not sure that is the right word, since we visited in the middle of the day, but it was interesting. There certainly seemed to be a different feel between the planned growth area that we saw in Houten and the organic sprawling feel of the city center. Something for the engineer in me, who LOVES organization and rules, to note.
It seemed like Marc heard my silent frustration with the wayfinding in the city, since after visiting Houten, we took a nice ride into the Dutch countryside. Paths that might not even be marked on a map in the United States had excellent route markers, and we even learned what a dead end marker looked like! (Very helpful to know!) In our wanderings, we even found a canal with a great beach! Most of the guys jumped in for a swim, while I courageously volunteered to watch the bikes. I may not have done a great job since my eyes have closed for another beachside nap, but hey, everyone’s stuff was FINE.
Honestly, the ride back was the type of ride that convinces me that our bike facilities NEED to be improved in the States. It was so relaxed and easy to cruise back into town on all sorts of wonderful bike and ped bridges in time to enjoy our last evening in Utretch. Of course, that obviously meant another dinner on the canal and a stroll through the city to admire the lights under a full moon. This class was just terrible to suffer through, seriously.