Here’s a sobering fact. The conurbation of Randstad comprising Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht, is roughly the same size as Dallas-Fort Worth and has roughly the same population. This explains how my publisher who works in Rotterdam and lives in The Hague came to hear me speak in Amsterdam. It explains why Rotterdam has no red light district—their johns can use Amsterdam’s. It explains how residents of Dutch “cities” that are only the size of regional towns have the access to specialised jobs and educations that you would associate with cities of a few million. It explains why every major train station has 4 times more bikes chained outside than are coming and going throughout the day: basically every Dutch person has a bike at every train station. As conurbations go, it is relatively non-reliant on cars, having lots of train services to make up for a patchy network of roads (red lines indicate all of their 4 lane divided expressways)…
with frequent traffic jams (as represented by the next set of red lines).
I once spent 4 days in Dallas-Fort Worth, where they’ve said “to hell with great trains” and gone crazy with divided expressways.
As for 2×2 divided highways, forget it. In Texas they build highways like these:
In terms of connecting markets (labour markets especially) how can the Randstad conurbation ever compete? It tries to by swapping the inconvenience of buying and maintaing a car, for the inconvenience of inter-city trains and chaining a bike in each city. But after my 4 days in Fort Worth with a hire car in 2004, I have to say that connection speeds to the six millionth Texan in the Dallas Fort Worth metroplex is a lot faster than it is to the six millionth Dutchman in Randstad. You don’t have to go to a train station, buy a ticket then wait for a train. You just point and shoot.
There are two other urban areas of 6-7 million people where I have lived: Singapore and New York. Reaching the six millionth farthest person in either of these could take nearly two hours on local trains (that is, once you factor in walking, waiting and transfers). However, due to their compactness, both are small enough that I have criss-crossed them by bike (I happen as well to have ridden from Amsterdam to Rotterdam, but it took me all day). New York is especially manageable on a bike due to its super compactness. Riding at 15kph (the speed a bike goes with no more effort than walking) it takes one hour to ride from 156th Street to the Southern tip of Manhattan, a distance of 15km. At the same speed you could go from one side of the following map to the other in an hour as well.
What is interesting about this map is that if all of Brooklyn and Queens had Manhattan’s average population density (30K per square kilometre), it would be home to six million people. If it were as dense as the Upper West Side where I lived (up to 80K per square kilometre), it would be home to fifteen million people!
Imagine the access to markets if such a city were completely car free and had a permeable street grid more suited to bicycle transport! You will gather from this blog post that what fascinates me more than bike friendly medieval town centres, is the idea of a compact, car-free, manually operated, mega-size city. It provides a far stronger basis for arguing the merits of bicycle transport.