HOUTEN – the price of perfect cycling

Houten cycleway - a million euros per kilometre, but every man and his dog can enjoy it.

Sydney may have got a bargain when it recently spent $200million on a 200km cycle path system, according to Dutch traffic engineer Herbert Tiemens. With his family, he rode the Pieperpad with us for a day and taught us a lot about cycling infrastructure. We knew it was excellent here in the Netherlands, but we had no idea of the cost.

A million dollars per kilometre sounds a lot to spend on green paint and concrete barriers, and there was predictable opposition to the Sydney plan. But Herbert, whose job is planning Dutch roads and cycleways, tells me he budgets on a million euros per kilometre for a new cycle path – about 50% more per kilometre than Sydney’s network.

How does that compare to the cost of a kilometre of road? I ask. ‘For a million euros, we get one metre of motorway,’ says Herbert, ‘It’s a thousand times more expensive.’

It's official, Herbert - Houten is a Fietsstad, cycle town of the year!

Herbert works for the city of Houten, a town of 48,000 residents south of Utrecht. In 2008 it was voted Fietsstad (‘bike town’) of the Year by Dutch cycling body Fietserbond.

The centre of Houten is closed to most motorised traffic, with only bikes (and unfortunately motor-scooters too) allowed. Consequently it is very quiet in the main square by the railway station – perfect for sitting in the sun with a cup of coffee. A car-free cycling ring road circles the town, ducking below intersections where required.

‘We only have one set of bike traffic lights in Houten,’ says Herbert proudly, ‘All other bike intersections are separated from cars.’

Houten station - trains above, bikes below, cars...who needs them?

The brand new station was designed to make it easy for commuters to ride to the train. Below the platforms is the Fiets Transferium with parking for several thousand bikes as well as a repair shop and bike hire service.

The area surrounding Houten is ideal for recreational cycling, with quiet country roads and cycle paths through the forest of the Utrecht Ridge.

When they put in a tunnel, we'll be able to avoid all this inconvenience. Foto: Marjolein Tiemens-Hulscher

We come to a stop at a railway crossing at the village of Driebergen where plans are in train (sorry) to put in a tunnel to take cars and bikes under the railway line.

‘What will the tunnel cost?’ 170 million euros is the answer, though for that money Driebergen gets a new station too.

So for around the cost of running a few cars under a railway line and putting in some new platforms, Sydney has a whole network of cycle paths. There’s still a long way to go of course, and we need to encourage people to use it, but it’s a good start!

De Gemeente Sydney heeft onlangs $200 miljoen uitgegeven voor een 200 kilometer lang fietspadsysteem. Dat was waarschijnlijk een koopje, volgens de Nederlandse verkeersingenieur Herbert Tiemens. Samen met zijn gezin reed hij een dagje met ons mee, en hij heeft ons veel geleerd over de fietsinfrastructuur. In Nederland vinden we dat gewoon , maar hadden geen idee wat het zou hebben gekost.

One lane for cars, two lanes for bikes, one beautiful road!

Een miljoen dollar per kilometer klinkt duur voor groene verf en beton. Maar Herbert, wiens vak het is om plannen van wegen en fietspaden te maken, vertelt ons dat om een nieuw fietspad te leggen rekent hij op miljoen euro per kilometer – ongeveer 50% meer per kilometer dan het netwerk van Sydney heeft gekost.

Hoe is dat in vergelijking met de kosten van een kilometer asfalt weg? vraag ik me af. ‘Voor een miljoen euro, hebben wij een meter snelweg,’ zegt Herbert, ‘Dat is dus duizend keer zo duur. ‘

Herbert werkt bij de Gemeente Houten, een stad van 48.000 inwoners ten zuiden van Utrecht . Houten was genomineerd tot ‘Fietsstad 2008’ door de Fietserbond.

Het centrum van de stad is grotendeels afgesloten voor auto verkeer, alleen fietsen (en helaas scooters) zijn toegestaan. Het is heerlijk rustig bij het plein in het centrum – perfect voor een kopje koffie op een zonnig terras. Een autovrij fietspad omringt de stad en duikt onder de weg als dat nodig is.

‘Wij hebben slechts een set fietsverkeerslichten in Houten,’ zegt Herbert trots, “alle andere kruispunten zijn van auto’s gescheiden. ‘

Het splinternieuwe station werd ontworpen om het makkelijker te maken voor forenzen op de fiets. Onder de perrons is de Fietstransferium met parkeerplaats voor duizenden fietsen, plus fietswinkel en fietsverhuur.

The cycle paths of the Utrechtse Heuvelrug get plenty of traffic.

De regio Houten is ideaal voor recreatief fietsen, met rustige weggetjes en fietspaden door het bos van de Utrechtse Heuvelrug.

We stoppen bij de spoorweg in Driebergen. Er is een plan om hier een tunnel onder de spoorlijn te laten bouwen.

‘Wat kost zo’n tunnel? ‘ vraag ik.

‘170 miljoen euro, inclusief nieuwe station.’

Voor minder dan de kost van een station en kleine tunnel heeft Sydney een fietsnetwerk. Er moet dus nog een hoop gebeuren, we moeten mensen stimuleren om er gebruik van te maken, maar het is een goed begin.

The writer is riding het Pieperpad, with the assistance of Greenpeace, Netherlands, and Bionext.


Filed under Cycle touring, Holland

9 responses to “HOUTEN – the price of perfect cycling

  1. David Barrett

    Sydney needs more bikes! Every city needs more bikes! Bikes here in Japan are more dangerous than cars, in that you are 100 times more likely to hit a biker than a car. Bikers here are so reckless. But they ride till they die, and most without gears!

    • I’ve ridden the bike in Tokyo, David.

      My local guide warned me that when approaching a blind intersection in Japan you don’t stop to wonder whether there might be a car coming – there is always a car coming!

  2. Paul Martin

    Great post, Richard 🙂

    • Thanks, Paul. Of course I was impressed with how it works in Houten, as I’m sure you were too.

      It can be done anywhere, with enough political will, and the benefits eventually become obvious.

  3. Tim Churches

    Apparently the cost of the City of Sydney segregated cycleways implemented so far is more like $6000 per lineal metre, not $1000 per lineal metre. And I thought the budget was $75 million for 200km of “cycling network”, which suggests that only a minority of that “network” will be segregated cyclepaths, and the rest will be lines and symbols painted on minor roads (which is not always inappropriate, although the Dutch would not put up with it).

    • Thanks Tim.

      It’s very hard to get exact figures to make comparisons of course. There is a big difference between putting in a completely new cycleway and simply painting some bike lanes and signs on an existing road base. At present I think in the City of Sydney only 55km of the 200km network is actually segregated bike path.

      But I was very surprised by (1) the apparently high cost of a cycle path even in the bike-friendly Netherlands and (2) the astronomical cost of road infrastructure in general.

  4. Paul

    The centre of Houten is not closed to car traffic, that is just nonsense. Only one road is, the through pedestrian route under the railway station. And Houten does not have a ‘car-free cycling ring road’, it has a ring road, for car and trucks, where cycling is forbidden.

    And it is not true that all except one “bike intersections are separated from cars” in Houten. All bike routes there cross roads: only the crossings with the ring road and the railway are grade-separated.

    You recently visited Houten, together with the Australian visitors from cyclingdutchstyle.com.au. All were very positive about the town. That shows mainly that people can easily be misled by local government officials, especially if they are predisposed to see the Netherlands as a cycling paradise. In reality, Houten does not have a pro-cycling policy, and its cycle infrastructure is comparable to other similar areas. And the spending on road projects in the region (Greater Utrecht) is far in excess of anything spent on cycling.

    • Thanks for the visit and the comments, Paul. I’m happy to admit I’ve only had a brief visit to Houten and you seem to know it well.

      But yes, I was impressed with what I saw, and jealous too. Whatever limitations Houten’s cycling infrastructure may still have, it is way better than anything anywhere in Australia. The Dutch cycling system in general is also superior to anything I’ve seen anywhere in the world (which is something over 40 countries so far).

      I’m always keen to learn how things could be done better to improve and encourage cycling (as are you too I suspect), and also willing to give praise to anyone who seems to be on the right track. The Netherlands, Greater Utrecht and Houten all have things to teach me, and the rest of the world.

  5. I guess I know why Richard said that:
    – In fact, only the plaza at the center of Houten-Noord and its immediate surroundings such as the road Paul mentions are off-limits for cars (except trucks for market day), not the whole downtown.
    – There are many intersections with car roads, but bikes have the right of way over cars
    – The ring road around the city is for cars, the “ring road” you are talking about is I guess the circular bicycle road in Houten-Zuid.
    – Houten was planned with creating an effective bicycle network in mind, it’s a planned town built from scratch with this as one of the main goals, so in effect it is pro-cycling, even if the Netherlands are probably the most advanced country in the world in terms of cycling policy in general anyway.
    – However, it is true that Dutch people have built and continue building a lot of highways, but on the whole they still have the highest percentage of bike commuters in the world and have done a pretty neat job at building an intermodal network revolving around trains, cycling and walking.

    (I don’t live in Houten but I have family in the Netherlands and have lived and worked there. As an urban planner who lived and worked in many countries around the world, I can attest that the Dutch cycling system is simply the best of the world, with Denmark as a close runner-up.)

    More info on Houten:


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