Leaving Amsterdam and arriving in Atlanta was a complete 180. It was almost comical leaving the bike and train utopia of the Netherlands and arriving in the Atlanta airport, waiting to be picked up in a sea of cars, then driving 20 miles on I-285 with a higher than normal level of erratic driving behavior. What I would have done to be back on a bike in the Netherlands... Since coming home, I have been lost in thought about what it would take to introduce Dutch bike infrastructure in America.
The most fundamental way in which bike infrastructure design is different in the Netherlands is that the Dutch share streets, not lanes. Mixing bicycle and vehicular traffic is not a design that is employed by the Dutch except for on streets with very low vehicle speeds. In the US, sharrows are a quick fix alternative to bike lanes that provide little added safety for cyclists. One of the things that impressed me the most was the bike infrastructure in the rural parts of the country. Even when were among farming fields, we still had a dedicated lane to cycle in. In rural areas of the US, bicycling infrastructure is typically a low priority, which could be due to lower vehicle volumes relative to more urban areas.
The Dutch culture and infrastructure design reinforce one another. Their way of life is certainly reflected in the way their streets are designed, in terms of human interaction, sustainability, and safety. Dutch streets, bounded by canals and historic buildings, are narrow and intimate, which encourages human interaction and engages the traveler with the built environment. One of my first and most lasting impressions about biking in the Netherlands is that bicyclists rode in groups and interacted with each other while riding. People tend to interact more kindly and gently with one another on bikes as compared to in vehicles because they aren’t hiding behind two tons of metal. The country’s focus on sustainability is also reflected in the street network design. A focus on a greener environment has influenced the types of facilities the Dutch put on their streets. Since they want to encourage cycling as a sustainable form or transportation, they are sure to provide safe and comfortable facilities for bicyclists. All of these elements help to support a culture of cycling, of which the Dutch are very proud.