Utrecht is the fastest-growing city in the Netherlands. Central government and Utrecht itself expect that by between 2025 and 2030, the city’s population will have grown to more than 400 thousand, an increase of about 17% compared to 2017. The number of jobs and visitors is expected to grow accordingly. In line with the National Policy Strategy for Infrastructure and Spatial Planning and Utrecht’s 2016 Spatial Policy, the city has chosen to absorb this growth through urbanisation within the existing urban area.
The Merwede Canal Area (Merwedekanaalzone) has been designated an inner-urban development location for 6000 to 9000 new homes. The area is intended to become a complete neighbourhood and a showpiece of healthy and sustainable living, with innovative applications of re‑use, energy generation, climate adaptation, and mobility solutions. It will not only become a pleasant place to live, but will also function as a new connecting link between the surrounding neighbourhoods.
In February 2018, Utrecht City Council adopted the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and Spatial Agenda of the Merwede Canal Area Environmental Strategy. The EIA allows for the construction of 6000 homes in the area. The Spatial Agenda includes questions aimed at determining whether in the longer term 9000 homes can be constructed in the area in a responsible and healthy way.
Some of the studies concern mobility. To that end, the City, together with the various developers, has commissioned two studies, with Goudappel Coffeng being involved in both. The results of these mobility studies will be utilised when drawing up part 2 of the Environmental Strategy, namely the Implementation Plan.
Mobility: insights from research
The first study of mobility in the Merwede Canal Area focuses on the strategic mobility issues identified in the Environmental Strategy for the Merwede Canal Area, into which the insights generated by research into the mobility concept have been incorporated.
The Utrecht transport model was used to investigate what will happen as regards accessibility and quality of life around the centrally located Europalaan road in the event of a complete transformation of the area, with 9000 homes in 2030. The analysis explored the limits of what is possible within the current policy frameworks, for example an average parking volume of 0.7 parking space per home.
The analysis showed that the area would then generate so much car traffic that the accessibility of its surroundings would be jeopardised. In addition, cyclists and pedestrians would no longer be able to cross safely. An increase in the number of residents, jobs, and visitors in Utrecht will be accompanied by an increase in the number of people moving around. Precisely in the case of inner-urban densification in the existing city, it is desirable for this growth in mobility to be absorbed without that being at the expense of the physical space within the city. This requires a shift from car use to walking, cycling, public transport, and shared mobility which goes beyond the city’s current aims.
The total amount of space devoted to mobility results from the combination of the number of people in Utrecht, their distribution across the various modes of transport, and the use of space per person for each of those modes. In order to keep the total space used for mobility at the same level despite the increasing population, it is necessary for people to opt more for space-efficient forms of mobility (walking, cycling, and public transport). The City of Utrecht wants inner-city densification to contribute to a healthy future, in which economic vitality, tourist appeal, cultural vitality, quality of life, safety, and sustainability in districts and neighbourhoods are interlinked (“Healthy Urban Living”). Walking and cycling for shopping, commuting, and recreation will contribute to this.
Multimodal shared hubs
The second study concerns the Mobility Concept for Merwede (on which Goudappel Coffeng worked in collaboration with Rebel). This worked out the concept of multimodal mobility hubs as an innovative solution for Merwede (the area between the Utrechtse Wilhelminalaan and Beneluxlaan roads) and possibly for other inner-city densification areas. Among other things, these hubs focus on: