Narrow Streets, Creative Minds

Lange Haven, Schiedam, Netherlands - image Google Streetview
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When I speak to audiences in Canada I often hear that our cities are not built for bicycles. When Mayor Mayor Mark Gerritsen of Kingston, ON, a city that aims to be the greenest city in Canada eventually, introduced me and mentioned  that “we have to remember that Kingston is an old city with narrow streets“, I had a chuckle. In Halifax I heard similar remarks. Read on.

It can't get any narrower than this.

Also our own Maria McRae told me a few years ago that she thought Ottawa “just has no space for bike lanes“. “Do Canada’s cities not have some of the widest roads in the word, always grown  in lock step with the rise of the auto mobile“, I asked her rhetorically, trying to sound like a pro. She agreed. Over the last few years, Maria turned into an advocate of recycling, solar energy and cycling, understanding that innovation brings knowledge and savings in the long term.

I know a girl called Maria

Let’s  take a peek at Europe again, the continent that has many cities with narrow streets, much narrower than Kingston. They did find the space for bikes, however you gotta be a bit more innovative to accommodate bicycles and pedestrians. If there is really no space, you just paint -O horror- the road in the local bike lane colour, ask cars to slow down and voilà, there you have your bike space.

This used to be an old style road, where cars reigned. A few years ago, the road was repaved, cyclists now have right of way and auto mobiles are 'guests', always having to wait for cyclists, like for these seniors. Cycling next to each other is legal.

One shouldn’t assume the Dutch and Danish and German bike infrastructure was always there. Creative solutions have been found to accommodate people who chose for a healthier life style, who move closer to their work place and keep their cars of the road. With a current gas price of CAD 2,32 a litre in Holland (over 9 dollars a gallon, per March 29, 2012), you take the bike a lot more often.

Lange Haven, Schiedam, Netherlands - image Google Streetview

I used to live in a place called Schiedam on the Lange Haven in an 18th century gin warehouse (the gin was long gone but I had the second best chocolate shop of the Netherlands next door and they’d paid me in chocolate when I helped them out once in a while). I usually had to park my car about a 350 meter walk away, next to an old 100 ft windmill no less, which was rescued by city council and now serves as a proud industrial heritage building towering over the down town core. I wasn’t the only one: in a city like Schiedam, it is fairly common to walk a few minutes to your car. Cyclists, however, can get pretty much everywhere from door to door.

Really 18th century factories, four of them are still standing in down town Schiedam. Domtar in Ottawa meanwhile knocks its 100 year old building down. pic from Panoramio: C.Van Tol

We all know Amsterdam. A  lesser known city is Utrecht. Utrecht became one of the most important ‘cities’ in the Netherlands in 850 (as in three digits). Even the Magna Charta wasn’t written yet. In 1579 the “Union of  Utrecht” was signed, in which the seven Netherlands’ northern provinces decided to join forces against Spanish rule. In 1713 the Treaty of Utrecht was signed, which contained  significant implications for Canada’s future (thanks to Charles for pointing that out):

France ceded to Great Britain its claims to the Hudson’s Bay Company territories in Rupert’s Land, Newfoundland and Acadia. The formerly partitioned island of Saint Kitts was also ceded in its entirety to Britain. France was required to recognize British suzerainty over the Iroquois and commerce with the Far Indians was to be open to traders of all nations. France retained its other pre-war North American possessions, including Île-Saint-Jean (now Prince Edward Island) as well as Île Royale (now Cape Breton Island), on which it erected the Fortress of Louisbourg. – Source: Wikipedia

Today in Utrecht, large amounts of cyclists, cars and pedestrians have taken the place of the Spanish occupiers. And delivery trucks. An innovative and smart entrepreneur jumped on the challenge of delivery in down town areas with a solar powered delivery vehicle: the Cargohopper. And how do you like the “beer boat”? Here is a video showing how it works. It may look futuristic but is being in place already for years. Older narrow streets are not a problem for bike infrastructure, it just takes creative minds to work around it as the video shows. If you enjoy this post, sign up with your email address  in the top right of this page and get new ones delivered in your inbox.


1 Comment

  1. Yes, it takes imagination. It is perfectly normal for people to see what is around us now, and assume it was always thus and must always be that way. Travel is one measure to broaden the mind. More importantly here in Ottawa are demonstration projects that make one improvement — and there is LOTS of low-hanging fruit — and show the world doesn’t end. The next step is to repeat the experiment, over and over again, until it is normal.

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