Five minutes in Utrecht

On a sunny Wednesday afternoon, I was taking pictures outside a supermarket on Biltstraat in Utrecht – watching people coming and going by bike.

Screen Shot 2014-04-17 at 11.59.53I’d estimate there are around forty to fifty bicycles parked outside the shop here; a steady turnover of people arriving and departing, mingling with those travelling past on the cycle track.

Screen Shot 2014-04-13 at 20.41.58Then this pair appeared.

Screen Shot 2014-04-17 at 12.02.51
A dad, with his young daughter standing on the rear rack. Kids do this, rather than sitting down on the rack, because they can see where they’re going.

At the supermarket, they slowed, and stopped.

Screen Shot 2014-04-17 at 12.04.55But just so the daughter could put some rubbish in the bin. They were quickly on their way again.

Screen Shot 2014-04-17 at 12.06.04Looking down on some other children.

Screen Shot 2014-04-17 at 12.07.40It’s a little hard to see, but I realised at this point that the Dad was now talking on his mobile phone (you can see his right elbow is bent, his hand off the handlebars).

Screen Shot 2014-04-17 at 12.09.54

This is all perfectly normal behaviour, if the environment is safe and attractive.

At the next side road, I spotted some children playing in the road, with water pistols.

Screen Shot 2014-04-17 at 12.12.27It looked like they had just cycled home from sport, after school, and were now cooling off. They also cooled off the delivery driver who stopped to chat.

Screen Shot 2014-04-17 at 12.14.00Back on the main road, a young boy is carrying a large box.

Screen Shot 2014-04-17 at 12.15.39

Followed by a lady in a wheelchair.Screen Shot 2014-04-17 at 12.16.03A five minute window into street life in Utrecht.


This entry was posted in Infrastructure, Subjective safety, The Netherlands, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Five minutes in Utrecht

  1. Just how I remember it and also why I am moving back this summer. I want my kids to live like this, not how ‘normal’ life is in the UK and even if it could ever change, it’s a long long time away. I’d rather pay tax into a system like this than the one I currently tolerate here.

  2. gonperes says:

    The powerful consequences of bicycle culture. Another great article.

  3. Ricardo says:

    Great post. Causes overwhelming jealousy for someone like me who lives in Coimbra (Portugal). We do have nice and sunny weather (25ºC today) but as they say: That’s all folks! (as far as a cycling infra-structure is concerned).

  4. inge says:

    I’m Dutch, live in Groningen so I can moan about it a bit because I don’t have to drool with envy.
    This laissez faire attitude does have it’s disadvantages, 2 weeks ago a young guy with headphones AND talking on a mobile crashed really hard into my bike. I was not going fast, wanted to stop for the flowerstall but he was. He wasn’t paying attention, well not to me anyway. And yes, I let him have it, I’m not shy.
    I’m not a fan of his behaviour because even here, in the Netherlands it can be dangerous to close your ears to other traffic and texting while riding is not always smart.
    I know, can’t compare with the U.K. there it probably would have been a van and I wouldn’t be writing this. But cyclist do die over here , only last week 2 people died in accidents involving a bus and a car. So you still have to be careful even with good infrastructure.

    • Har Davids says:

      Apparently, many accidents involving cyclists seem to be caused by the constant use of smart phones by people texting and wearing headphones. I’ve some near misses and I try to be extra alert whenever I see someone dumb enough to pay more attention to the gadget du jour than to the direct environment. Some motorists also think they can multi-task while travelling at speed; only this week I noticed a man doing 60 Km/h driving on the motorway, totally fixated on his phone. I guess some people leave it to others to arrive at their destination safely.

    • Simon says:

      I was passed by a van where the driver was doing his paperwork on his steering wheel. He actually had a pen in his hand and was writing as he went by. This is the reality of the infrastructure in the UK.

    • Dmitri Fedortchenko says:

      I agree with you on texting and cycling, but when it comes to headphones – having headphones on is no more distracting than sitting in a car with windows rolled up. Not to mention listening to the radio while driving, which is not frowned upon even by the most stringent anti-car advocates.

  5. Jitensha Oni says:

    Ha ha, that takes me back. I was on my way to a shop in Leidschendam with the son in his seat behind me (the seat like the lady with the long sleeved white top has in the first pic). Or so I thought until I felt a small pair of hands on my shoulders. He’d managed to undo himself and stand up because (it transpired), much like the kid in your photos, he “wanted to see”. To take my blood pressure higher, many of the Dutch folk cycling by started waving at him, and, of course, he waved back. I eventually managed to persuade him to sit down again, but for a while it was a bit like a slow two-wheeled version of the movie “Speed”.

    Bearing that in mind, re-read what inge wrote and what she seems to see as the main issue. Interesting, no?

  6. Paul says:

    Good for cycling but the footways seem to have lost out ?

    • Dmitri Fedortchenko says:

      While I only visited Utrecht and Amsterdam for a few days, I noticed that walking was mostly concentrated to the very centre of the city and especially to pedestrianized areas, like parks and shopping streets. And especially in Amsterdam, many of the people walking in the city center were tourists. Locals rode bikes.
      Few people are unable to cycle, thus more people tend to cycle rather than walk.

  7. Francis Grisham says:

    This is what it’ll be like here. We just have to wait for cycling numbers to grow at their present rate. By my calculations, we should get there around the time of the heat death of the universe.

  8. Iain says:

    @ Paul. Sure it is different for pedestrians, you have to consider crossing cycleways as well as ‘motorways’. But its not a big deal as its easy to cross a cyclepath and you’ll more likely cycle instead of walking for equivalent journeys in the UK. It is also more likely you’ll have pleasant pedestrianised areas and less likely you’ll be chocking on car fumes and noise; there is just less cars in the urban environment. So people using the footways have a lot to gain compared to the UK.

    More reading…

    Quite frankly, pedestrians in the UK have a raw deal.

  9. jeldering says:

    Besides giving the child a better view, from old memories I can tell it gives a Titanic-like “I’m the king of the world” feeling. The father using his phone at the same time seems like pushing it too far, especially since the junctions they’re crossing in the last two pictures (on both sides of the Wittevrouwen bridge) can be busy and a bit chaotic.

    More great pictures of cycling that look completely normal to any Dutch person:

  10. Peter Perer says:

    We have just put a Yepp on one of our bikes (A KTM Bosch pedelec) Both my partner and I have been cycling in London for decades but I have to admit I do feel nervous going on road with our daughter in the child seat. The pictures in this blog would not be possible in London. Even in the shared space areas there is antagonism towards people on bikes. I can deal with this when alone but not when I have a small child with me. Nevertheless we will continue.
    (what a pessimistic comment I’m afraid)

  11. Q. van Hasselt says:

    I have to say, as a Dutch woman living in Utrecht (cycling daily to and from work along this street) and having stumbled across this blog, I am astonished and also a little shocked at the discussions here. Something I have been taking for granted my entire life is apparently the subject of fierce campaigning in the UK. I use my bike daily to get me to work, school, shopping, everywhere. But apparently in the UK you can only cycle anywhere if you’re suicidal and/or clad completely in protective gear, and there is a protest movement going on trying to convince authorities that is not normal. I am suddenly grateful for something I had never given a second thought and I am enjoying my daily work commute much more!

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