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Study visit Transylvania University, Kentucky

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On May 8th, participant Mobycon welcomed students and staff from Transylvania University, Kentucky.

Mobility experts Shelley Bontje and Jason Colbeck introduced the group to the history of cycling and mobility in The Netherlands. They discussed the dramatic rise of the car in Dutch cities and the impacts it had on the built environment, safety and social cohesion. The group also heard how these changes reached a tipping point in which safety, particularly for children, was compromised to such an extent that people demanded change. The discussion included how community activism in response to these changes, and a series of policy changes in the 1970s and 1990s have helped to transform Dutch towns and cities into the liveable, people-friendly places we see today. There was also some discussion about the future of mobility in The Netherlands, and how new and emerging ways to travel could affect the way we plan and design our urban areas.

Shelley and Jason took the group on a tour of Delft, highlighting the changing landscape of the city and its people. First stop was the city’s new train station, the site of one of the country’s largest housing and infrastructure projects. Shelley demonstrated how the city is continuously undergoing changes to its urban fabric, including replacing the former station building and concrete viaduct with an underground station and thousands of new homes. The group saw how cycling has been built into the new district from the start, with a 7,500 space free bicycle parking facility, accessible directly from the railway platforms, and linking to the city centre as well as surrounding neighbourhoods.

The tour continued, travelling to areas of the city developed in the last half of the 20th century, showing the group that even in The Netherlands post-war spatial planning meant creating more space for the car. They were able to experience how different this environment was, and how it changed the way people travelled. The group learned how, through a shift in policy and design ideology, this has since been tamed and much of this space reallocated for cycling and walking, including the impressively multimodal Delflandplein roundabout in which people walking and cycling are given priority, but can interact with cars, buses and even trams. The tour stopped off at the world’s first woonerf, or ‘living yard’ in which members of the community sought to create their own traffic-calmed streets and spaces in an early example of tactical urbanism, leading to changes that have since been enshrined into Dutch street design.

Of course no tour of Delft would be complete without a visit to the historic city centre, and the group heard about more recent changes to make the city more people-friendly by removing through traffic, maintaining access only, and relocating parking underground to create a lively city centre in which pedestrians are prioritised and people walking and cycling coexist peacefully. Finally, a brief loop through the Delftse Hout – the city’s green oasis, showed the group how the cycling network extends beyond the city’s streets, providing easy access to nature and traffic-free, active routes for leisure as well as transport.

Already seasoned fietsers from their previous travels in Amsterdam and Leiden, the group had been able to gain a better understanding of the history and processes that the Dutch have been through in order to achieve the active and human scale environments they now enjoy. The students and staff at Transylvania University are always engaged and eager to discover new ideas, and this trip proved no exception. Mobycon looks forward to hosting them again and exchanging knowledge from both sides of the Atlantic.

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