By April Gadsby
We have been in the Netherlands for 3 days now, 2 of which we have had our bikes. Despite already knowing that biking here is commonplace, I didn't really realize just how common it is until I experienced it. Perhaps common isn't the word to describe it, but natural. Just like in America where many people don't even think of using any mode besides a car, it seems these people will automatically choose bike. Some shared roads near the center of town can feel chaotic with bikers going all directions and pedestrians and scooters in the mix as well, but they appear to glide through it with ease. The reduced parking space needed allows for a density that we can't achieve in America. The transition from pedestrian to bike even seems more natural than that of pedestrian to car.
In general, biking here feels calm and pleasant. The upright bikes aid in this, but I think also that the infrastructure allows for the upright bikes. I would never ride this bike, even on a flat road in Atlanta because I don't feel capable of going fast enough to mix with the cars. Yesterday we biked to Rotterdam. We were able to bike almost all the way to Rotterdam on separated bike facilities, and when not separated, there was at least an obvious bike facility or we were on a shared road. The freedom from worrying about vehicles allowed me to look around and enjoy my trip. It was far less stressful than any other mode of transportation I have encountered.
I would guess that Forrester never visited the Netherlands. As someone who is on a racing team (although I'm not a hardcore racer), I think that those facilities would be far better to practice on than what we do in Atlanta. I'll concede that they would be unpleasant to try to practice on during peak hours in a crowded area, but it is totally reasonable to practice at off peak hours. Who would want to cycle during peak car hours on the road anyways? I think the small amount of slow down from other cyclists on the path would be worth the increased number of people willing to/capable of cycling. I'd take an easy bike commute that reduced stress, added happiness, improved health, and increased safety over being able to ride as fast as possible mixed in with traffic for a training ride. But you could do either here.
Furthermore, transportation simply seems more seamless here. It is like they really thought about it so that they never need to worry about it. It was so simple to walk off the plane and right into a train station with trains traveling all over the country. Our airport in Atlanta at least has MARTA to Atlanta, but perhaps a quick train to Charleston would be an improvement. After the train ride, we could have easily taken a bike the rest of the way to our hotel if we were Dutch citizens (the payment systems here are just so difficult). We also could have ridden our bikes right up to the ferry we took to kinderdijk. The transportation here is multimodal, interconnected, and allows one to travel without a bulky, expensive vehicle to lug everywhere. This brings a new level of freedom that Americans don't have.
Overall, I want America to be able to implement these concepts. Their whole transportation systems seems like the country cares more about it and that safety is prioritized over quickness. But this is a very timely country, so their transportation must be reliable. It would be interesting to know how the traffic flow was impacted by the switch to bike infrastructure and how long it took for any initial congestion to be reduced by people switching mode types. I think similar to when people can't "find the time" to do things, our inability to find the space for this infrastructure is a greater reflection of priorities than a true lack of space. Although space is clearly limited, we could change if we wanted to. But, I wonder, what message is sufficient to get people to change.