20 more things I loved about Groningen (+ TONS of bike photos)

CC BY-SA 3.0 Zachary Shahan

I'm going to be a lot more concise in this article, but I'm also going to share a lot more pictures. If you missed my previous article, be sure to check it out for some background and my broader commentary about Groningen. Once you've done that, here are 20 more things I loved about living in Groningen (in no particular order):

1. Bike boxes at traffic lights.

In a number of places in Groningen, as well as other cities in the Netherlands, there are big bike boxes for bicyclists in the middle of car lanes at traffic lights. These are great for giving bicyclists more space at busy intersections, but they're much more than that. These bike boxes show to everyone on the road that bicyclists are important – super important. Bicyclists go first. They have priority. After studying bicycle infrastructure extensively, I'd say that my three favorite types of bicycle infrastructure, in order, are: 1) off-road bike paths and bike roads, 2) these bike boxes, 3) colored bike lanes.

2. Bike paths & bike roads in the suburbs.

Bike paths, or even what I would call bike roads in some cases, go all the way out into the suburbs of Groningen. In the case of bike roads, they are even built so that two people can bike side-by-side in each direction. That's quite nice since a lot of friends, families, and co-workers commute together and can then easily chat while bicycling.

3. Bike tunnels.

There were a few places in Groningen were bike paths crossed rather busy streets. In such cases, the city was great about building bike tunnels under the roadway or finding other creative ways to avoid the unpleasantness.

4. How casual or even classy bicyclists dress.

For the most part, Groningen bicyclists don't wear any special clothes or gear while bicycling – they just wear what they would normally wear. And if they are going to some fancy event, it's the same story – that's what they wear while bicycling.

When I got to Groningen, I used a poncho when it was raining. However, I soon realized how ridiculous that was. It rains quite a lot in the Netherlands, but the rain is fairly light, the distance you have to bike is generally short, and the rain comes and goes sporadically – there's really no point in bothering with a poncho.

5. Awesome cargo bikes.

I remember seeing people moving a huge sofa on a cargo bike in Groningen. Unfortunately, it seems that I didn't have my camera available at that time, as I can't find a photo of that. Actually, other than the photo I shared yesterday of the toddlers in a cargo bike, I'm not finding any cargo bike photos in my archives. Luckily, the internet can deliver that for you. Here's one from flickr:

6. Riding over a musical instrument in the park.

Unfortunately, I also don't have a picture of this one, but in that park that I mentioned yesterday, there were these sort of square bell things in the ground. You'd generally step on them to play them. Some people were really good at that. If I remember correctly, there were three or four in a row that played different notes. I formed the habit of riding over them with my bike whenever I rode through the park. The sound was very nice. I loved it. I can't wait to go back and do it again.

7. "Academia"

Bikes and fun biking activities aren't the only wonderful things about Groningen. There's also some beautiful architecture. The main university library was in the city center, and I went there often in order to check email and work a bit (while I still had some work to do). Across from this library was one of the university's oldest buildings. Pretty much every time I left the library, I was struck by how impressive and pretty the building looked, and I was often inspired to snap a picture of it.

The building is called "Academia."

The inside of the building is also very pretty.

Frankly, I'm not sure if there is anything green about this building. Perhaps someone with more knowledge about the building or about architecture in general can help me out here and find something environmentally positive about it.

8. This guy:

Yep, he's carrying a ladder on his shoulder while biking down the street.

Probably not advisable in any other city, but didn't seem problematic in Groningen.

9. Awesome alleys.

Some of the small alleys in the center of Groningen are fun to bike down and explore. I ran across a number of nice views and plenty of interesting buildings while walking and riding down different alleys in Groningen. Here are a few pics of some of these super walkable, bikeable, and human places:

10. Canals, ponds, & daffodils that improve the biking and walking view.

One of the wonderful things about biking and walking is that you have a lot of opportunity to take in the sights and enjoy them. Of course, if the sights are highways and large parking lots, that's not really the case, but in the case of Groningen, they're often canals, ponds, and nice plantings along the road. It seems I wasn't taking pictures much anymore when the daffodils came out, but below are some pics of some of the canals and ponds I regularly biked past.

One of the key, unique findings of my master's thesis was that the quality of the urban and natural scenery along bicycle travel routes (where they are located) was significantly and positively related to the proportion of times a person traveled to work via bicycle. It was also significantly and positively related to the number of times they traveled in or from their home neighborhood. This was even true in the Netherlands, where the least pleasant bicycle routes are better than many of the best routes in North America. I think it is one of the most important yet overlooked factors influencing bicycle transportation.

11. Amazing Belgian fries and delicious stroopwafels.

If you visit Groningen (or other parts of the Netherlands), be sure to get some Belgian fries and stroopwafels from the open market in the city center (the "Grote Markt"). They're vegetarian, so that makes them a relatively "green" snack! Below are some pictures from a Belgian fry stand in the Grote Markt that I visited a lot.

By the way, those benches on the right side of the picture were brought and put out there by the people running that booth – a good example of portable place-making.

I don't think I have any pictures of stroopwaffles, but if you click that link, you'll find plenty.

12. The organic produce stand in the Grote Markt, and Natuur Winkel.

Another great stand in the Grote Markt is the organic fruit and vegetable stand. That was the best place in Groningen to get organic produce when I lived there. I imagine it still is.

A health food store in the city center, Natuur Winkel, was another one of my favorite Groningen locations. It was one of the only places I could find tofu, soy yogurt, and other vegetarian and vegan staples.

13. Bike paths superbly separated from the roadway.

Back to the bikes! Bike paths are routinely separated from the roadway in Groningen. They are often buffered by planters, a lot of grass, bus stops, or parked cars (but in such a way that you don't risk getting doored). When those aren't possible or practical, the bike lanes sometimes have a concrete curb between them and the road. There were also several places where the bike paths were raised above the roadway a bit, as in the second picture below.

14. Bike-only shortcuts.

There are many intersections in Groningen where bikes (and small scooters) can get through but cars can't. These often offer shortcuts, and of course deter driving. These are particularly common in the city center, but there are other locations in the city where you can find these. The one below was on the way from my apartment to the city center, a little bit before the park that I discussed yesterday.

15. An intelligently planned & pleasant city center.

If you don't know better, when you walk or bike around the center of Groningen, you might think that cars are banned there. They aren't actually banned, but the city center is divided into quadrants and cars can't cross from one quadrant into another – they have to leave the center and drive around it in order to enter another quadrant.

Also, as noted in the video Mike shared a few months ago, roads in the city center are kept very smooth and clean in order to make bicycling as easy and safe as possible.

16. The fact that this is a traffic jam:

Imagine if each of those people was sitting in a big car of their own.

This was an intersection close to my apartment. Again, the quality of life on that street was very nice, but it would have been horrible if all or even most of the bicycle commuters going to the university were driving instead of bicycling.

17. The endless rows of bike parking at the Groningen train station.

This is impossible to capture. You really have to go through this train station parking garage on foot or by bike in order to get a feeling for the scale of this thing. But hopefully the pictures help to convey the experience a little bit.

Surprisingly, despite having several thousand bike parking spots, it could actually be difficult to find a free one when I lived there. The capacity of the bike parking garage is reportedly now up to 10,000, but I'd be surprised if it isn't still close to full much of the time.

Of course, other key destinations in the city also have impressive expanses of bike parking, such as the university library that I discussed in point #8.

18. Drunk bicyclists crashing their bikes into the snow next to my apartment in the middle of the night.

These crashes sometimes led to playful snowball fights, but they always ended a lot more pleasantly than drunk-driver accidents in cars.

19. The sun coming out after the rain.

The Netherlands is a very rainy place. However, it doesn't often rain for long, and the sun peeking out again from behind the clouds is a frequent and very pleasant sight while biking down the street.

20. It's where I met my wife.

It's a long story, naturally, but Groningen is where I met my wife. My wife is Polish (which is actually why I am now a blogger living in Poland, rather than a city planner or nonprofit exec). She was also doing part of her graduate studies there, and I can tell you that she loves the place as much as I do.

I could go on and on, but I think these 20 and my first 5 are the top things I love about Groningen.

The bottom line of it all is that bicycling – which I think is the most enjoyable mainstream mode of transport – is extremely pleasant and highly prioritized in Groningen. Aside from turning transportation into a pleasant part of daily life, this also results in the city having very clean air, being amazingly quiet, and feeling much more human and comfortable than any other city I've visited.

Bicycling in the city is also extremely safe, as I think you can tell from the pictures above. I actually took many of those pictures while I was bicycling. There aren't many cities where I could do that safely, but that doesn't mean more cities can't become like Groningen. Bikes haven't always been a central part of the city. Rather, city officials and city planners decided to make Groningen into an excellent bicycle city. Push your city officials and planners to do the same, and maybe one day we'll be writing about how great your city is!

Again, I have a lot more photos from Groningen that I won't share here (hundreds of them), but if you want to see them, feel free to friend me on Facebook. I'd be happy to make some new friends.

Also recommended:

20 more things I loved about Groningen (+ TONS of bike photos)
Here are 20 more things I loved about living and bicycling in Groningen, the Netherlands. Tons of pictures!

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