The countdown has begun until we leave for the Netherlands! We depart exactly one week from today. If I wasn’t already excited enough, reading through City Cycling has definitely hyped up all the cool things we will be experiencing on our trip. There are so many differences between transportation design and planning in the Netherlands and the United States. The differences can be summarized into who bikes, how and why they bike, and how design and policy are implemented.
I think a better question is “who doesn’t bike in the Netherlands?” The Netherlands and cycling are synonymous with each other. There are facilities designed for all abilities and age groups. Cycling doesn’t discriminate either! Women are equally as likely to cycle as men for pleasure and utilitarian purposes. You can find a cyclist of any age, gender, or ability riding along Dutch streets. In the United States, cyclists are majority male and a lot of trips are exclusive to strong and fearless riders.
HOW & WHY THEY BIKE?
One of my earliest memories of biking is when my whole family used to pack our bikes in the car and drive to a nearby trail along the river. I can imagine the Dutch might find this memory a little silly given we used to put our cycling vehicles into another vehicle to get where it was safe to bike. It kind of seems like it defeats the purpose of hopping on a bike in the first place. But cycling is truly limitless in the Netherlands! Biking is even coordinated with public transit. So if you need to take a longer trip, you can park your bike safely at a train station or easily bring it on the bus with you. There is seamless integration between multiple modes of transportation in the Netherlands. This is very different than trip planning in the United States. Even with the threat of parking fees and tickets, driving is almost always the most convenient way to get places in the U.S.
Cycling trips are shorter and more frequent in the Netherlands. There are a lot of reasons to ditch the car for a bike like environmental impacts, safety, alleviation from sitting in traffic, and just for the fun of doing activity. The Dutch mostly use a bike in place of using a car to tend to their daily errands or get to and from work. However, car ownership in the Netherlands isn’t significantly less than car ownership in the U.S. Americans rarely commute on bike. Cycling trips in the U.S. are more likely to be for exercise, leisure, or tourism.
DESIGN & POLICY
The most surprising chapter of City Cycling was Chapter 6: Bicycling Infrastructure for Mass Cycling. This chapter outlined a lot of design practices in the Netherlands and there’s some pretty striking differences between transportation design in the United States. The best way to describe the Dutch design approach is separating cyclists from traffic stress. If there are more than two lanes of traffic, a cycle track is expected. There’s no mixed traffic on multilane roads! For bikes to operate with mixed traffic in the Netherlands, the speed limit has to be less than 30 kilometers per hour (19 mph), traffic volume has to be less than 5000 vehicles per day, and there can’t be any marked car lanes including no centerline. Wow. Even just typing out this criteria made me think how differently Atlanta would look if we tried to implement these design practices. A lot of bike infrastructure in the United States seems like an afterthought. I kind of imagine a lot of it is, simply checking off a box, knowing a bike lane could fit or trying to meet some requirement for funding. On the other hand, the Dutch are very intentional with their space. Step one of their design process is thinking about the cyclist.
Extremely thankful for the opportunity to not only read about these designs, but also to experience them in person next week! Stay tune for adventure and lots of pictures.
If you want to learn more about bicycle infrastructure design you can bike to your local library and borrow a copy of City Cycling (reference shown below).
Buehler, Ralph, and John R. Pucher. City Cycling (Urban and Industrial Environments). MIT Press, 2012.