Dutch bicycle infrastructure was incredibly impressive, especially from someone who lives in America with very limited bicycle design. Even though I was prepared to be impressed by all the learning we had done before the trip, it was still amazing to actually see the design elements and all of the little touches they’ve done to take the designs to an even higher level. One of the most interesting things that I’ll remember is how you can take the smallest details such as the rotation of bricks in a square and use that to effectively influence how people drive. In a square in Utretcht, the engineers marked out a car “lane” by outlining a part of the square in bricks that were rotated 90 degrees in relation to the surrounding bricks. This was enough to keep the cars out of the pedestrians’ way yet still slow the cars down enough to make it even safer for the pedestrians. The Dutch seem to have these small touches figured out.
Something else that I seemed to notice was that each area in the Netherlands seemed to have the freedom to make these small changes. In the United States, it’s often the case that we are just following the standards and guidelines set by the government. There isn’t much room for design decisions that are specific to each project. In the Netherlands, they seem to embrace these differences in each project and use them to their advantage. The freedom to do this seems like it would never make its way to the United States; we are too much of a litigious society. If we started making decisions differently for each project, people would start complaining that guidelines were being ignored and probably start suing.
Another reason I’m not so sure this scale of bike infrastructure will work in America is that the Dutch society has evolved with alongside the evolution of bike infrastructure. The infrastructure and society seem to influence each other. For example, the country is extremely flat which is very conducive to a biking culture. When we were biking around, I never felt physically exhausted. Even when we went long distances. Another example is seen in the way cities are laid out; all of the destinations are closer together. Looking at a view of Amsterdam from above, it’s only about 5 miles from the city center to the outskirts of the city. Beyond that is farmland. This means the distances people will be required to bike are all much shorter. One can contrast this to Atlanta where suburbs extend over 30 miles from the city center.