The ancient university town of Groningen in the north of the Netherlands is one of the world’s most bicycle-friendly cities. Groningen boasts around 300,000 bikes and only 75,000 cars, and it’s a model for how cities can limit motor vehicle traffic and promote biking as the preferred mode of transportation. The city’s 190,000 residents make more than 50 percent of their trips via bicycle.

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The story of how Groningen got to the point where bikes vastly outnumber cars started in 1977. City officials created a compact street plan by dividing the central city into four quadrants and then prohibited cars from passing between each of these sectors; instead they forced car traffic to travel on a road that encircles the city. The regulation stipulated that only bicycles were permitted to cross between the four sectors, which laid the foundation for a nearly conflict-free biking experience throughout the city.

Nearly four decades after the decision to limit vehicle traffic, an interconnected network of bike paths dot the city’s landscape and bicycle parking is plentiful. There is even a bike path that leads straight into a bike parking garage inside one of the largest IKEA stores in the world. Cargo bikes are available to residents to transport furniture from the store to their home, and there is also bike sharing at the city’s rail stations. This ensures that commuters don’t have to carry their bikes on the trains, but can park at the station parking garage on one end and pick up an OV-fiets bike share on the other side.

Freeing the city from cars and promoting bicycling has had many positive benefits, including a significant reduction in air pollution and accidents. And a StreetFilms video about Groningen observed another advantage of the city’s bike-first approach to urban planning — it’s very quiet.

Via Grist

Lead image via Danny Rimpl