by Annie Blissit, May 21, 2017
Part I – Cycling in Atlanta
Cycling through Atlanta last week was a great experience, especially since it was during the workday on a Tuesday where there was not much traffic. While I tend to feel comfortable cycling, I do not feel comfortable riding in the same domain as vehicle traffic in Atlanta. Many vehicles are frustrated by sharing the road which breeds a dangerous environment for the bikes. Even on dedicated infrastructure, when a cycle path crosses an intersection, there is confusion for unfamiliar drivers and it never feels totally safe. And that’s to an experienced, mid-twenties rider. Think about all the other target demographics… from seven to seventy year olds. For all people to feel safe, I think Atlanta would need great improvements to its infrastructure regarding physical separation from vehicles, separation from pedestrians, and clarity at points of right of way or yielding.
Part II – Mark Wagenbuur Videos
The origin and regrowth of bicycle infrastructure in the Netherlands is quite interesting. For a country that had given up parts of its bicycle infrastructure for the car as it developed wealth to actively return to the bicycle system gives me hope for US cities. My biggest struggle with the future of bicycles in America is our car-centric culture, so it was refreshing to see that culture in the Netherlands after WWI as well. When the gas crisis hit, the country realized it could not continue its dependency on gas and began the shift in infrastructure back to highlighting bicycles. This movement was spurred along by activists protesting the amount of road deaths caused by vehicles. Nowadays, bicycling is a common means of transportation for local travel in the Netherlands. It is seen as a standard rather than an exception.
Two keys to Netherlands infrastructure are clarity and separation. Each of the six categories of transportation – pedestrian, bikes, light motor vehicles, cars, trucks and trams - have their designated rules and spaces. There are even entire sections of towns exclusively for pedestrian and/or bike traffic. They also control the design speed of roads using space, road materials and bringing cars up to bike/pedestrian levels using raised crosswalks which act as speed bumps. One of the videos I watched was on signage and signals. The Dutch method for signage uses very simple symbols and color code: blue for allowed and red for forbidden.
To me, a large difference between the design of intersections in the Netherlands and in Atlanta is that there are specific signals for pedestrians, bikes, vehicles and trams. Another large difference is that in the Netherlands it is illegal to turn right at a red light. To them, that is a no-brainer because pedestrian and cycle traffic might be crossing or a tram may be turning. In other words, the signal is red for a reason and will be green as soon as it is safe for the vehicles to go. I cannot tell you the number of times I have almost been hit walking or biking by a car turning right that only looked left (towards it’s threats) and never checked the crosswalk it was turning through.