By Jordan Hunt, 6 June 2017
After spending the past few days cycling around Delft and Rotterdam, I’ve come to a better understanding of the vastness of the differences between cycling in the Netherlands and cycling in the States. Everything from the perception of cycling to the bicycles themselves are very different. The first thing that struck me was the sense of security I had while cycling. When cycling in Atlanta, I do not really feel unsafe per say, but I often feel fairly tense, especially when cycling in heavy traffic and narrow streets. This sense of security while cycling in the Netherlands translates to a much more casual cycling experience. Back in the States, anytime I cycle anywhere it’s always a race to the finish line. As soon as my tires touch the pavement, I’m completely focused on getting to my destination as efficiently as possible. Here, I’m more than able to reduce my pace and take in the surroundings as I cruise through the city or along a rural cycle path.
The prioritization of cyclists within Dutch transportation planning is also astonishing. There are numerous streets within Delft where cars are guests giving cyclists the priority. It is also very common for cars to be required to yield to cyclists at intersections. This idea of the prioritization of cyclists has also made its way into the drivers in the Netherlands. I’ve noticed several times during our explorations that vehicles will yield to cyclists even when they are not required to, showing that there is an innate awareness of the priority of cyclists within the minds of the Dutch people. This concept is unheard of in the States where the car is king.
Because the Dutch perceive cycling as a valid mode of transportation, the way in which they cycle is different. The type of bikes that they prefer are therefore much different than those preferred by Americans. The typical Dutch bike places the rider in an upright, relaxed position, usually has a single speed, and has plenty of room in saddle bags and baskets to store things while riding. The typical American bike usually has the rider in a forward leaning, more aggressive position, has multiple gears, and rarely has any place for storing items. This variance in perception from the US is also a main driver behind their transportation design. The cyclist is always accounted for in every aspect of Dutch design, from route selection to traffic circles to parking allocation at transit stations. Cycling has been fully integrated into the fabric of Dutch culture, and this integration has thereby altered infrastructure design. This raises the question that as planners attempt to design better cycling infrastructure in the US, will this lead to an increased perception of cycling as a valid mode of transportation. I guess we will just have to wait and see.