Houten is a suburb of the City of Utrecht located in the Netherlands. They specifically designed the suburb to be extremely bicycle friendly and family friendly. To accomplish this, they created their community within a ‘ring road’, where you can access any development with a car. However, the catch is that you need to travel via the ring road if you want to get anyplace outside of your neighborhood using your car. This strategic placement of roads has significantly affected the way the residents in this suburb get around.
You can see the ring road in the picture above as the white line making a figure eight around the city. The main bicycle streets are shown in red/pink/orange. This encompassing network has allowed many of the residents to ride their bicycle around as their main means of transportation for their short trips.
As Houten is about 13 km (8 miles) from the City of Utrecht, the trip between Houten and Utrecht is 8 minutes by train (City Council of Houten), 22 minutes by car (maps.google.com), and approximately 29 minutes by bike (maps.google.com). Houten is also centrally located within the country, being 50 km (31 miles) from Amsterdam, 65 km (40 miles) from Rotterdam, and 75 km (47 miles) from Den Haag by car (maps.google.com).
The city center of Houten has services such as a town-hall, police station, library, shops, and supermarkets (Trafficstructure_Houghton.pdf). Also, many services such as doctors and banks are located within the town. Another distinguishing feature of Houten is the layout of schools within the community. The maximum distance students travel to elementary school is 300 m (1,000 feet). There is one secondary school in the middle of Houten and a new school is being built along the ring (Tiemans).
Outside of Houten, Utrecht is a major destination for jobs and cultural activities. Being centrally located within the Netherlands, Houten especially attracts those families that consist of two working adults that also happen to work in two different cities (Furth).
Work and Errands
The design of the community suggests that it is possible to live, work, and play all within a short bike ride away. Surveys have shown that roughly one third of Houten’s residents who work or study live within 10 km (6 miles) of their commute destination. Another third commute 10 to 19 km (6-12 miles) and the remaining 36% commute more than 20 km (12 miles). Houten residents that commute to their place of work or study by car is 56%, by bike is 42%, and by public transit is 22% (Foletta). These numbers add up to more than 100%, as some residents combine multiple modes of transportation for their trips. For example, 62% of train users arrive to the station by bike, utilizing the 3,100 bicycle parking spaces that are a main feature of Houten’s central station.
For shopping, 18% of residents live within 500 meters (1,600 feet) of their grocery store, 33% between 500 m and 1 km (1,600 feet – 3,300 feet), 21% between 1 and 2 km (3,300 feet – 1.2 miles), and 18% between 2 and 4 kilometers (1.2 – 2.5 miles). Trips to the grocery store by residents consist of 45% by car and 41% by bike (Folletta). Bikes are used almost 70% of the time for service destinations in Houten, such as banks and doctor visits. Additionally, over 70% of the time residents use their bike for visiting friends and family (Folletta).
A key distinguishing feature of the community are the bicycle highways. Since the City of Houten was built with these bike highways going into downtown and to every local neighborhood, it would be expected that the use of the bike network is greater than in other suburbs in the Netherlands.
With many trips being made by bike, combined with the design of the city’s roads, there is a much higher level of bike safety in Houten due to its unique design. There are only 1.45 injuries per thousand people per year versus 2.87 injuries per thousand people per year in Utrecht. There has only been one transportation fatality within the ring road in 30 years. The Netherland’s national fatality rate for 2010 was 3.88 per 100,000 people (Dutch Daily News).
The previously referenced survey discusses the demand on the transportation network by gathering data for distances traveled, number of trips taken per week, ownership of vehicles, and money spent on different modes of transit. Overall, each resident of Houten travels 250 kilometers (155 miles) per week.
On average, this is divided up per person per week as follows: 141.5 km (88 miles) by car, 27.8 km (17 miles) by bike, 8.6 km (5 miles) on foot, and 72.1 km (45 miles) by transit.
Car trips usually make up the longer trips, while daily trips in town are mainly made by bike. The transit in Houten consists of buses running along the ring road, and train stops at two stations: Castellum Station in the newer southern end of town and Central Station in the center of town. The train into Utrecht only takes 8 minutes from Central Station, so a person working in Utrecht 5 days a week would easily accumulate the average weekly amount of mileage by train, and would likely account for another member of the family that does not utilize transit.
Average distances per trip covered by each mode are 36 km (22 miles) by car, 5.7 km (3.5 miles) by bike, and 1.8 km (1 mile) on foot. These numbers reflect that residents adjust their mode of transit based on the length of trip they are taking. For very short distances, it is easiest to walk, as getting out a bike and then parking it a few blocks later would take a similar amount of time. For medium distance trips, it is easiest to bike because the bike network in Houten always provides a mostly direct path to go anywhere in the city. For long trips outside of town, it is easiest to take a car or train, as it would take too long to get there by bike. The average trip distance survey did not include public transit.
There are 1.39 cars per household in Houten. Of the households surveyed, 6% have no cars, 58% have one car, 30% have two cars, 6% have three cars, 8% have motorcycles, and 7% have mopeds or scooters. The relatively high number of cars could be due to the fact that Houten residents have a high relative income and many couples move to Houten to be in the middle of their two places of employment. Only 2% of the population does not own a bicycle.
On average, each household spends €55.2 per week on gas and €16.7 per week on public transit. Compared to the neighboring suburb of Veldhuizen, 17% fewer Houten residents traveled to work by car and 16% more Houten residents commute to work by bike.
The carbon footprint of Houten residents is undoubtedly lower than average because they walk and bike extensively for short and medium trips, while they use their car mainly for longer distances on the highways – allowing their emissions to be lower than stop-and-go city driving.
Differences in Mode Choice
The following images provide 4 separate comparisons between mode choices, in order to get from Point A to Point B, in and around Houten. These comparisons consist of the distance and time required, as well as the costs or money ‘gained’, for each scenario.
To determine the costs or money ‘gained’, we assumed a fuel economy of 43 mpg for the vehicles while fuel itself cost $9.52 per gallon (AA Ireland). Furthermore, the City of Houten has determined that every kilometer traveled by car costs the city €0.10, while every kilometer traveled by bike gains €0.12 (presentation by Hans Voerknecht). Using this information, we are able to provide you with the financial comparisons for each case.
Comparison #1: Travel from the inner portion of Houten, where denser housing is found, to your favorite local shop in the town center. First use a car to get there, then, try it out by bike.
Time/Distance: 13 minutes – 6.4 km / 4.0 miles (assuming no congestion)
Cost: €1.25 / $1.80 (€0.64 for wear and tear and €0.61 for fuel.)
Time/Distance: 3 minutes – 650 m / 2,100 ft
Money ‘Gained’: €0.08 / $0.12
Comparison #2: Travel from your neighborhood within Houten to a friend’s neighborhood halfway across town. First use a car to get there, then, try it out by bike.
Time/Distance: 11 minutes – 4.1 km / 2.5 miles (assuming no congestion)
Cost: €0.96 / $1.38 (€0.41 for wear and tear and €0.55 for fuel.)
Time/Distance: 9 minutes – 2.5 km / 1.6 miles
Money ‘Gained’: €0.30 / $0.43
Comparison #3: Travel from your neighborhood within Houten to a destination outside of the ring road. First use a car to get there, then, try it out by bike.By Car
Time/Distance: 10 minutes – 4.7 km / 2.9 miles (assuming no congestion)
Cost: €0.91 / $1.31 (€0.47 for wear and tear and €0.44 for fuel.)
Time/Distance: 10 minutes – 2.9 km / 1.8 miles
Money ‘Gained’: €0.35 / $0.50
Comparison #4: Travel from your neighborhood within Houten to the neighboring city Utrecht. First use a car to get there, then, try it out by biking to the train station and then hop onto the train.By Car
Time/Distance: 22 minutes – 13.4 km / 8.3 miles (assuming no congestion)
Cost: €2.62 / $3.77 (€1.34 for wear and tear and €1.28 for fuel.)
Bike and Train
Time/Distance: 5 + 8 = 13 minutes / 1.3 km + 7.4 km = 8.7 km / 0.8 + 4.6 = 5.4 miles
Money ‘Gained’: €0.16 / $0.23 (minus €2 train ticket)
Hilbers, Brachtje. "The Influence of the Spatial Planning on bicycle Use and Health." (2008): 114.
Foletta, Nicole. “Summary of Results of Houten Travel Behavior Survey.” (2010): 6.
Tiemens Herbert. “Municipality Houten.” (2011): 36