Famed back in 2008 for becoming the first cycling city of the UK, Bristol supposedly takes its name with pride. But is somewhere else more deserving of the title of a cycling city? Yes. Welcome to Utrecht; Holland.
The Dutch have always been famous for their cycling. Their flat roads, the orange jersey. But their commitment to the bike is not only from the professional cyclist. In Utrecht, the small city about an hour away from Amsterdam, it’s really not a surprise to forget how to walk; your bike is your legs.
Instead of road crossings for pedestrians, there’s cycling road crossings. Be ready for strange looks from our trendy Dutch counterparts when you’re not perched on your traditional, minimally geared (and rented) bike.
Aside from a shared love of two wheels, there are more similarities between Bristol and Utrecht. Each is home to two universities and each has a wonderful cultural prowess. Bristol is often referred to as a smaller London and Utrecht has the second highest number of cultural events in the Netherlands, only second to Amsterdam, including city festivals and countless arts and music venues.
The difference is the sheer number of bikes in the city. Bristol’s public transport is pretty extensive but Utrecht have so many bikes on the road that the City Council have plans for the world’s largest bicycle parking station. Is the proposed 3-floored building with space for 12,500 bicycles as likely in Bristol’s near future as it is in Utrecht?
Maybe the real issue isn’t the Bristol residents’ unwillingness to cycle but the lack of update to the roads. Inner city Utrecht feels like a haven, whereas the Bearpit feels like a death trap. It’s all very well having some beautiful cycle trails through Ashton Gate, home of Bower Ashton, or the Bristol to Bath cycle route but for daily commuters it’s difficult to find a safe route to work and uni; especially one safe enough for weary eyed students. It isn’t something students of Utrecht University need worry about, with their beautiful parks and empty roads – apart from the occasional tram equipped with (very) startling horns.
Although Utrecht is home to the largest university in the Netherlands, Bristol is home to over 50,000 students. As a forward thinking, eco-conscious city Bristol needs to take a look at Utrecht and reconsider our daily bus journey to university. Although it may be difficult to convince freshers to take up the free bike over the free bus pass, for the rest of us we don’t need another person telling us once again that cycling is a healthier, more environmentally thoughtful way to get around.
If the Dutch are outdoing us of their own accord, it’s time to get on your bike and really make Bristol the proud cycling city it had the motivation for in 2008.
By Alicia Brooks