RIPPL #050: Trouble in paradise: the cargo bike comes to the rescue in Groningen, “The World’s Cycling City”

This is the first in a series of RIPPL articles supported by Gemeente Groningen. In the run up to the International Cargo Bike Festival, which takes place in the city this coming June, we’re taking a deep-dive and focussing on how cycle-logistics works in this city of bikes.

Towards the end of 2018, the Municipality (or Gemeente in Dutch) of Groningen, along with a group of local stakeholders, made an ambitious pledge. They committed to making logistics in the city centre as emission-free as possible by 2025.

Groningen in context

More on that pledge later though. First, let’s take a step back and look at the context. Groningen is a university city in the north-east of the Netherlands. Around a quarter of the population of 200,000 are students. Situated as it is around 200km by road from the hustle and bustle of Amsterdam and the other large Dutch ‘Randstad’ cities, and around 50km from the German border, Groningen is relatively isolated. For much of it’s history the Hanseatic trading city has relied on walls to defend against marauding invaders, and these city walls have lead to the development of a vibrant and relatively compact city centre with minimal ‘sprawl’.

The compact, historic city centre of Groningen.
Photo credit: Gemeente Groningen

Groningen is widely accepted to be one of the most bike-friendly places on earth. The cycling modal share – a measure of how many trips are taken by bike, is 60% (rising to over 70% for students). With a 36% share, cars occupy a distant second place whilst public transport brings up the rear with only 3%. The reasons for this are well documented; there’s an excellent explanation in Melissa and Chris Bruntlett’s new book Building the Cycling City.

In short, a combination geographical and demographic factors have combined with several decades of intense, foresighted pro-bicycle and pedestrian urban planning and policy making on local and national scales. The result is an urban environment in which world-class cycling infrastructure is omnipresent and cycling has become second-nature to the population. In other words, it’s an environment in which such impressive statistics are not only possible, but inevitable.

Trouble in paradise…

An enviable situation by the standards of most onlookers then; and you’d be forgiven for thinking that all is well in this city of bikes. Job done. Unfortunately it is not so because even in Groningen, things are not perfect. The narrow, compact streets of the historic inner-city, teeming with bicycles and pedestrians, are regularly chock-full of delivery trucks and vans – not a good combination.

Delivery vehicles clog the streets of Groningen.
Photo credit: Gemeente Groningen

“If current policies remain unchanged, the status quo: growing numbers of delivery vehicles clogging up narrow streets, will remain. We know that this is likely to be at the expense of the accessibility, quality of life and safety in the city.”

Gemeente Groningen, International Cargo Bike Festival Magazine 2018

Streets are regularly blocked by vehicles stopping to make deliveries. And many of these vehicles are simply out of scale with the urban environment in which they operate. The results are at best inconvenient, and at worst actively dangerous, especially in cases where vulnerable pedestrians and people on bikes come into contact with large vehicles, or are forced to compete for the remaining space. Not to mention the decrease in air quality caused by the emissions of mostly diesel exhaust fumes. A question then, of both public health and quality of public space.

The Gemeente steps in

This brings us back to the pledge made by Gemeente Groningen. Despite the fact that their city tops the charts of bike-friendly world cities, they realised that they needed to do even better. The status-quo was not an option. Back in 2014 this lead the Gemeente to decide that something had to be done to alleviate the situation.

In 2014, 54 parties signed the landmark “Green Deal ZES” at the Prinsenhof Hotel in Groningen.
Photo credit: Groningen City Club

They were one of 54 parties, including representatives from national government, municipalities, transporters, shippers, car manufacturers, research institutes, industry and interest groups, which gathered in the Prinsenhof Hotel in Groningen. There they signed the Green Deal Zero Emission City Logistics (Green Deal ZES), and agreed to investigate how emission-free city logistics could be put into practice.

Following on from this, the Gemeente announced a new, more detailed plan of action in 2018. The so-called ‘Groningen Covenant for Sustainable City Logistics’ (Convenant Duurzame Stadslogistiek Groningen) introduced a 10-point plan designed to deliver what the Gemeente calls a ‘paradigm shift’ in how deliveries to the city centre are handled, and therefore achieve the 2025 goal of minimised emissions.

Cargo bikes as a solution
Groninger and pro-cyclist Bauke Mollema opens a DHL city logistics hub in Groningen, Aug 2018.
Photo credit: DHL

The 10-point plan included items such as placing restrictions on delivery hours but is most notable as an example of municipal-level stimulation for cargo bikes and zero-emission transport. Carrot and stick. Whilst it’s not unique for a municipality to take such cargo bike-specific measures, few have ever put cargo bikes at the very heart of their plans in such a comprehensive way. Indeed, they want to facilitate and promote the opportunities of pedal-powered logistics to their fullest potential:

“Groningen is already a cycling city, and we believe that using bicycles for last-mile delivery can cut emissions without compromising on efficiency. For example, pedal-powered logistics via a network of local delivery hubs or centralised facilities could provide a way to improve the overall efficiency of logistics in Groningen.”

Gemeente Groningen, International Cargo Bike Festival Magazine 2018

The next steps; big plans

2019 is a big year for Gemeente Groningen’s plans in this area. They’re holding a number of events and participating in projects that showcase and support their 2025 zero-emissions goal;

The International Cargo Bike Festival

Supported this year by Gemeente Groningen and taking place between 14-16 June, the ICBF is in essence a celebration of the cargo bike. Exhibitors and participants come from around the globe to take part in a manufacturer’s exhibition, workshops, a cycle logistics conference, cargo bike test track, cargo bike racing and food. Check out the website or follow them on social media (hashtag #ICBF2019) for updates:
Twitter / Facebook / Instagram

SUMP Conference

Following on from the ICBF, The European Conference on Sustainable Urban Mobility Plans (SUMP) is being hosted by Gemeente Groningen on 17-18 June. The focus of the conference is on providing support to sustainable and active cities within the SUMP context, i.e. how to make cities more walkable and cycle-friendly. More info here:


In October 2018, six partners from four countries gathered as Gemeente Groningen hosted the start conference of EU project SURFLOGH (Smart Urban Freight LOGistics Hubs. The project which aims to optimise efficiency in urban logistics systems, is already setting up several pilot schemes across Europe.

A busy programme of events then, but we’ll leave the last word to Gemeente Groningen;

“As host city for the 2019 International Cargo Bike Festival we are delighted to invite you to our city as we explore and push the boundaries of what can be achieved with pedal-powered logistics.”

Stay tuned for the next in our series of articles, supported by Gemeente Groningen, about pedal-powered logistics in the city. The sharing economy and bike share are interesting trends for those interested in cycle logistics. In the next article we’ll be taking a closer look at Stadswerkplaats, a “cargo-bike sharing platform” that’s actually existed for years, before the phrase ‘sharing economy’ was even coined…


The 050 logo make an appearance on a bicycle traffic light in Groningen.
Photo credit: Groningen Fietsstad

p.s. an explainer on “050”

Something our non-Dutch readers may have missed is that this is RIPPL article #50. But we’ve named it RIPPL #050 – this is because the Dutch often use telephone area codes as shorthand for different cities. Amsterdam is 020, Rotterdam 010 and Groningen, 050. In fact “050” is such a part of the city’s identity that Gemeente’s own cycling promotion campaign is called “050 Groningen Fietsstad”. The campaign’s 050 bike logo features across literature, but also in on-street infrastructure such as cycle traffic lights and bike-parking places.

So now you know!


International Cargo Bike Festival: ICBF Magazine 2018
Melissa Bruntlett & Chris Bruntlett: “Building the Cycling City: The Dutch Blueprint for Urban Vitality” (Island Press) Chapter 3, Fortune Favors the Brave
Gemeente Groningen: “Wij Zijn Groningen Fietsstad: Fietsstrategie 2015-2025” (pdf)(Dutch)
Gemeente Groningen: Fietslogistiek”, presentation by Sjouke van der Vlugt and Flip Konings to “Mijn Stad in Beweging” conference, 26/09/2018 (pdf)(Dutch)
DailyHive / Modacity: “How Groningen gained (and hopes to retain) the title of “The World’s Cycling City”
Streetfilms: “Groningen: The World’s Cycling City” (video)
Groningen “Afspraken over Duurzame Stadslogistiek Groningen”(Dutch)
RTV Noord: “Fietscontainers moeten dieseluitstoot van pakketbezorging in Stad terugdringen” (Dutch)