The city continues to stick to its principles of 'slow modes first', and is constantly trying to improve its sustainable transport traffic network. In an attempt to stimulate commuting by bicycle, the regional cycling network will be improved in the coming years.
Houten’s particular design and accompanying bicycle policy and measures directly translate to a high level of traffic safety for cyclists and pedestrians, as well as a large share of cycling and walking. The physical activity rate of the citizens of Houten is well above the Dutch national average: close to 80 per cent of residents are active for more than 2.5 hours per week, versus 55 per cent on average in the Netherlands. A case study performed by ITDP (2010) identified the following results:
- Traffic safety levels in Houten are twice as high compared to similar new towns in the Netherlands;
- The nearly three metres of cycle path per resident, and an extensive cycle network of 129km, have contributed to a higher rating for the quality and safety of bike paths than nearby city Veldhuizen, which was designed with a focus on cars;
- The residents of Houten use the bike more often for their home-to-work trips than the residents of Veldhuizen;
- In total 42 per cent of trips shorter than 7.5km are made by bike, with around 21 per cent completed by foot. According to another study performed for the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, this large share of cycling and walking has contributed to the fact that residents in Houten are more active, on average, than people in the Netherlands as a whole;
- Many non-work or school-related trips, such as grocery shopping (53 per cent), other shopping (70 per cent) and visiting family and friends in Houten (79 per cent) are carried out by bicycle.
Due to the success of the promotion of bicycle use in Houten, over-crowding of bicycle parking facilities became an issue. To overcome this, the city constructed a bicycle parking garage, combined with a bicycle repair shop, underneath the central train station. An additional 1 700 bicycle parking places have been added at the southern train station. Similarly, there was a larger demand than anticipated for trains going to and from Utrecht. The train tracks between Utrecht and Houten were doubled (from two to four tracks) and the frequency has been increased.
ITDP suggests that car parking facilities should be further restricted, through limiting space and raising prices, to encourage cycling as the main means of transport for shopping. 'Other cities that choose to replicate Houten’s model should limit or economically decouple residential parking in order to decrease car ownership. In addition, non-residential parking should be priced in order to encourage residents to use other forms of transportation besides driving to do their shopping,' suggested the study.
In 2011 Houten acted on this advice, pursuing ambitions to decrease the usage of cars within the city (e.g. to lower car dependency of commuters), and in 2012 the city included the ambition to 'increase cycling as a means to go shopping' in its mobility plans. Houten advises cities that aim to implement similar plans to prioritise cycling and walking, to make ambitions clear early on in the planning process and to continuously stress the advantages of the chosen approach.