In August 2007 we moved from Cambridge in the UK to Assen in the Netherlands. We came here because we're very enthusiastic cyclists and were looking for a great place to live with our children.
Shortly after we arrived, the book "Assen Verandert - Oude en Nieuwe Stadsgezichten" was published (this translates as "Assen Changes - old and new city sights"). The authors are Martin Hiemink and Bernd Otter, it is published by Noordboek and has ISBN 978 90 330 0652 4.
The front cover gives a glimpse of what you will find inside the rest of the book. Two startlingly different views of the same street.
The book is divided up into sections which are roughly themed, there is an index and an introduction and then you have 50 pairs of opposing pages which contain a well sized photo of Assen from the 1960s through to the 1980s with a current day photo of the same location.
The index explains how between 1955 and 2007 the population of Assen grew from 25000 to 65000 people, yet the emphasis seems to have been on making the centre a much more pleasant place for people, not for their cars.
Such is the pace of change that a few of the photos are already outdated as there are major works going on right now (March 2008). However, this does not detract from the book, but just gives three views of the same place if you take into account the current (or future).
I think the city has done a very good job. The changes have resulted in 41% of all journeys being made by bicycle in the city. If it looked like the older photos that would not be the case, and I very much doubt we would have moved here. The authors have also done a very good job of showing just how Assen has been improved over time.
Nieuwe Huizen in the 1960s vs. 2007. Sidewalks are wider, the road now only allows one-way access by cars but is not a through route. It is a through route in both directions for cyclists. This was the busiest street in the city for motor vehicles. Now (however deserted it looks in this photo) it's the busiest for cyclists with nearly 9000 per day.
Brinkstraat in the 1960s vs. 2007. In the old we have plenty of car parking, traffic lights, wide road junctions. Now it's a virtually traffic free area with very wide cycle lanes, pleasant terraces and more trees.
The Koopmansplein in 1972 vs. 2007. Again, a scene which used to be dominated by cars, traffic lights etc. is now a very pleasant open space free of vehicles except at particular times for access. It is now the host to many open air events through the year, has enormous amounts of cycle parking, and again more trees. There is another photo and video of this area on our photos page and a video here which ends in this area.
Gedempte Singel in the 1960s vs 2007. Much more space for pedestrians and bikes in the middle, motor vehicles only allowed for access at particular times. The shops do need deliveries, after all. There is another photo of this location on our photos page.
All these streets feature in a blog post and video which shows how they prioritize cyclists and pedestrians.
I won't reproduce any more photos from the book. You'll have to buy your own copy to see the rest and those I've shown above in more detail. The changes are startling. Page after page of transformations to make the city a more pleasant place to live. The book documents it very well. It is a lesson to cities worldwide that it is possible to thrive by transforming themselves into cycle and pedestrian friendly spaces.
I think it's quite easy to imagine that the Netherlands has always been cycle friendly, and that it arrived where it is today by a different route to that which other countries followed. However, the reality is that many Dutch cities encouraged driving right up to the late 1960s and that the change to the cycle friendly infrastructure we see now came after that date. By the standards of most countries, progress has been rapid. This is documented by some of the articles that we link to.
Having moved to this marvellous location we'd like to share it with other cyclists and we run a series of cycling holidays through the year.
In addition to the holidays we are also running study tours for English speaking planners and campaigners so that they too can experience the quality of the infrastructure in this area. We would be very pleased to see lessons learnt in the Netherlands begin to be applied in the English speaking world.
We also have a set of our own photos of Dutch cycling infrastructure, most of which are taken in and around Assen, and also articles about the design of cycle friendly infrastructure and a blog about cycling in the Netherlands.
We have a set of comparison photos showing similar situations in the Netherlands the UK and how the road layouts differ. The "before" photos above look a lot like the UK does now.
We also have many blog posts about Assen.