When you take two semesters with a professor who is always hyping up “the Dutch way”, then you aren’t super surprised to find that the Dutch way works better than the American way on many different levels. I was expecting great design (note: not perfect design), and that’s exactly what I got. Every explanation Dr. Watkins gave for a particular feature of bike infrastructure was met with a “Oh, that makes so much sense!” For some reason, it seems difficult to believe that pragmatic and logical reasoning can guide decision-making and design choices. Tunnels are preferable to bridges because they require less headroom; roundabouts a lot enough space for cars to yield without blocking the intersection; roads are paved to clearly delineate the priority of cyclists; speeds on neighborhood roads are drastically cut to protect playing children.
The difference in design stems from the same statement being said by everyone on this trip: bicycles are given priority over motor vehicles. From this premise, roads and intersections are designed differently, and interaction between all people is also very different. I felt just as safe biking along a grade-separated cycle track along Schomakerstraat as I did on an advisory bike lane on Westplantsoen, even when a car went zooming by me. There is an enormous value in the safety one feels, not just as a result of the supportive and thoughtful design, but in the vehicular culture that defers to bike culture, as well as the sheer number of bikers which exert more influence and demands more recognition on the road. In the United States, signalization for bicycles is becoming more and more prevalent, but I have yet to see a protected intersection or roundabout. Perhaps by the time we return in six days one will be built.
The culture helps further influence this great design as well. It was particularly interesting to me to find out during our tour of the train station that the parking deck allows you to store your bicycle for up to four weeks for free. Yet, nowhere in Delft has the government built motor vehicle parking decks that are free to use. The people are more inclined to bike, not just for fun but to accomplish their daily tasks. The people demand a bike-oriented society, and the government promotes bike-oriented design. It’s a beautiful cycle that feeds into itself and creates a continuous foundation for a sustainable community.