Dutch Infrastructure Design
Going into our class trip to the Netherlands, I honestly expected the cycling infrastructure to be perfect. I expected to see red asphalt in every cycle path, raised crossings at every intersection, and absolutely no bike lanes. I was quite surprised to find so many instances where the Dutch standards weren’t followed.
After our conversation with a retired planner in the Delft region, however, the Dutch psyche was revealed to be far more similar to the American one than I thought. This retired planner, Jan, said that its always better to have something than nothing, even if that something isn’t ideal. I think this is my greatest takeaway from our class trip to the Netherlands. Despite having a culture that is rigid with schedule and policy, the Dutch admit that even their own glorified network isn’t always perfect, and that in some areas it may never be perfect. The next time someone in America says that what is done in the Netherlands (or any other country for that matter) “just can’t or won’t work in America,” I’ll be very prepared to rebuke with evidence to back me up.
Difference in Design between the US and the Netherlands
Most Dutch city designs (maybe with the exception of Rotterdam) prioritize people above all else. This is most evident in transportation networks where car-free zones, separated bike pathways, and traffic-controlled neighborhood streets are commonplace. The Netherlands has run rampant with transportation design that puts the needs and experiences of a human above the needs of a car. Unfortunately, most of America follows an opposite trend.
Dutch Cultural Influence on Design
Typical Dutch culture values time and consensus. This is evident in the way that Dutch people speak with each other and their government structure.
In considering time in transportation design, the Dutch often give cyclists the easiest, quickest, and most direct route to a destination. This is evident in many cases, whether it be a tunnel that adds speed useful for returning to surface level or the creation of a bike-based suburb with only one ring road for car access to everything. Given the importance of time and the import benefits of cycling, planners have shaped the built environment to favor use of the bicycle for its timeliness.
The Dutch value of a group decision where most people benefit or agree is also evident in the way that plans come about. Many larger metropolitan areas in the Netherlands have the equivalent of America’s city council-people. However, in order to prevent one group of people from halting the improvement of most of everyone else’s lives, city council members do not represent a district. Rather, a group of city council members are elected by the governed citizens and decisions are made considering everyone in the voting region.
Design’s Influence on Culture.
As I mentioned before, sometimes there aren’t any good options. However, the Dutch have shaped their planning culture to accept what isn’t done up to standard by seeing the benefit that having something is over having nothing brings. Also, the prevalence of bike infrastructure and safety associated with it brings bicycle use to people’s lives outside of the traditional commute or shopping trip. Many kids bike to school alone or with parents, teenagers can interact with each other, and the elderly can live more active and healthy lives. This is very different than the isolation and stagnation caused by the American suburbs.