Amsterdam and Copenhagen must join a third city that has become bike friendly, where, in fact, it is better to travel by bicycle than by car. That city is Utrecht, in the Netherlands.
But how has this city of 330,000 inhabitants become a new paradise for bicycles where the average daily bicycle travel is 125,000?
The greatest secret of Utrecht lies in its infrastructure. It is the most effective way to change transportation habits, so it seems. Specialized lanes and parking facilities give cyclists advantages over cars, which account for less than 15 per cent of trips to the city centre.
For example, a new, modern bicycle parking lot below the Utrecht Centraal train station is about to double its available spaces to 12,000, after the first 6,000 were sold out in less than two years. Cyclists can move from the street by a ramp to their parking lot (as in a downtown parking lot for conventional vehicles) and, from there, walk to a railway platform.
Elsewhere in the city centre, the streets that were once destined for automobiles have been redesigned to prioritize bicycles. A canal that was buried by a highway in the 1970s, is now returning to its original form, with green areas, pedestrian paths and bicycle lanes.
Utrecht was not always so kind to cyclists. In the fifties and sixties, the cities of the Netherlands were almost as accessible by bicycle like any other European country. But in the 1970s, the growing number of children killed in traffic accidents triggered a wave of activism and protests, which drew attention to a paradigm shift.
The increase in fuel prices and the environmental movement helped reinforce national policies to reorient urban centres towards cycling.
Today, 98 per cent of households in Utrecht own at least one bicycle. Half have three or more. Nationwide, bicycles now outnumber people.