Our class’s first of many cycling tours took place on a cold Friday through the parts of Atlanta depicted in Figure 1 below. I wish I had worn more than just a t-shirt!
Figure 1: Bike Tour of Atlanta Route (Source: Google Maps)
As one can see from the route map, our group traveled quite far and touched on some of the most important areas of Atlanta’s existing and incoming bike infrastructure. The Beltline, 10th Street’s protected cycle path, downtown’s protected bike paths, and new bike infrastructure around Centennial Park were all used. My favorite facility of the tour, however, was definitely the Beltline. Since we toured the route during a cold Friday afternoon there was enough space to truly enjoy all of the sights that the path has to offer without dealing with the large groups of pedestrians that typically use the facility during the weekend.
Getting out of the classroom was especially helpful for my understanding of certain elements of bike infrastructure and their effect on perceived danger to cyclists. Some of the most notable ones will be described further such as sharrows, painted bike lanes, protected bike lanes, shared walk/bike paths, and bikeshare.
Sharrows are markings on pavements built and designed for car travel. They are without a doubt the scariest pieces of bike “infrastructure” that I have used in Atlanta. The limited speed of a bicycle, the greater speed that a car can travel, the discrepancy in safety features, and the poor state of many of Atlanta’s roads all contribute to the feeling of danger that I and presumably others experience while traveling in these lanes. Even a sharrow going downhill, where cyclists can travel at greater speeds, feels much more unsafe than other parts of the cycling network Atlanta has to offer. Figure 2 below shows a typical sharrow.
Figure 2: Typical Sharrow Example (Source: Silicon Valley Cycle Coalition)
Another of these elements are painted cycle lanes. Painted cycle lanes are marking on the same pavement used for car travel, but in this case, they denote a specific area where only cyclists can theoretically travel. Of course in Atlanta, one of America’s most car-centric cities, drivers are very keen to ignore the purpose of this space and use it for whatever means they deem necessary. It’s not uncommon for a driver to temporarily stop in the space, for parked cars to open their doors into the cycle lanes with approaching users, or even for bus drivers to stop in the lanes. Additionally, turning left (these lanes are typically on the right side of flowing traffic) pose danger as the bike must leave allocated space and enter the space allocated for cars. For these reasons, I ‘m not entirely comfortable using a painted bike lane, but I prefer them to sharrows and a lack of infrastructure. I would say that others would feel similarly. Figure 3 below shows an example from Google Maps of the Tech Trolley on the campus of Georgia Tech cutting into the painted bike lane.
Figure 3: Painted Bike Lane Intrusion (Source: Google Maps)
Protected bike paths and lanes are better in my opinion than both painted bike lanes and sharrows. They offer a true physical barrier between humans operating a small device and other people driving multi-ton devices of power. In Atlanta, there is variation between the types of protection that occurs, whether it be plants with a concrete pot, a small curb (as seen just east of Centennial Park), or the white pylons that can easily be knocked down by a car. However, any of these devices do more than prevent a car from using space allocated for bikes. They create a feeling of separation, so that bikers feel as if cars are no longer a threat or worry (aside from intersections) and car drivers feel as if they do not have to worry about the bikes (which is unfortunate when the two modes intersect and this causes an accident). Figure 4 below shows the 10th street cycle path, which is protected with the interspersed white pylons.
Figure 4: Tenth Street in Atlanta, Georgia (Source: Google Maps)
The next key element of Atlanta’s bicycle infrastructure are the shared bike/walk paths. These paths are car-free but have no delineation of where bicycles and pedestrians should travel, but rather, one path where bicycles can maneuver around pedestrians. Sometimes there is a marking or feature in the middle that signals where the directions of travel should separate, so that a head-on collision is avoided. During non-peak use hours, these paths work well, feel safe, and safe space. However, during peak hours of pedestrian use, cycling on these paths is almost impossible. For this reason, I enjoy using these features sometimes but cannot depend on them. I would think that other feel similarly, although the most fearless and unforgiving of cyclists may take on the challenge of fighting for space on these paths during peak hours. Figure 5 below shows the Beltline in use during a time where a skateboarder (and presumably cyclists as well) can maneuver around pedestrians.
Figure 5: The Beltline Trail in Use (Source: Atlanta Magazine)
The final key element of Atlanta’s bicycle infrastructure is the bikeshare that has sprouted up in the pat few years. Both Relay Bike Share and Jump are companies that have placed hundreds of rentable bicycles around the city for temporary use by a number of people per day. By downloading an app and paying a relatively small fee, anyone in the city can get on a bicycle in a matter of minutes despite not owning one at all! These bicycles are certainly not as easy to use as a road bike that is commonly privately owned, but they still feel safe and convenient to use. I would assume that others would have potential problems with the fees, weight of the bicycles, and the small numbers of gears which make cycling harder on these bikes. Figure 6 below shows a dock for Relay Bikeshare.
Oh, where do I start? Given that the purpose of this class is to open my eyes on the discrepancies between the Netherlands’ world-class bicycle infrastructure and Atlanta’s bicycle infrastructure, it’s understandable that our system is currently inferior. Two main differences that planners and engineers need to take note of are intersection design and perception.
Intersections in the United States typically follow the idea that cars come first, and that car throughput is the priority in design. Therefore, keeping space for vehicles and giving as much time as possible during a traffic signal are more important than designing for what is usually only a few cyclists day anyway. While I disagree with this idea, it is important to understand that the measures of performance that road designers are judged upon in America are almost exclusively car-based, so design for cycling will understandably always come after until this is changed. Figure 7 below shows a street view of the intersection of Edgewood Avenue and Jackson Street, where space and quality pavement are allocated to vehicles.
Figure 7: Edgewood Avenue and Jackson Street in Atlanta, Georgia (Source: Google Maps)
It is also notable that the Dutch more heavily promote the use of roundabouts than Americans, who typically stick to intersections and ninety-degree angles with either traffic signals or stop signs. While roundabouts are growing in popularity in America for safety and sometimes traffic flow reasons, it is undoubtable that the expansive use of this feature improves safety for cyclists and motorists by slowing down cars. Additionally, the fact that the Dutch design roundabouts with space for a car to wait for a crossing bicycle or pedestrian undoubtedly improves the safety of all parties involved.
The final consideration to be made in the future by American planners and engineers is the grade of cycle paths with respect to vehicles. Cycle paths are slightly above the grade of vehicle paths, meaning that when cars wish to cross a cycle path, their elevation is raised. This can in turn notify the driver that they are crossing into space allocated for a more vulnerable mode of travel. The same concept is also applied to pedestrian paths, which are a slight grade above cycle paths. During some crossings, even, cars are made to drive over or under cycle paths since they have plenty of horsepower available to do so. This makes cycling even easier since crossing paths and changing elevation are both avoided.
Perception of on-car travel in the United States is very poor. The car is a status symbol and a cultural requirement to many Americans, most of whom fell in love with the devices during or because of the spark in urban sprawl that occurred during the 1950s. Therefore, those who use bicycles for travel are often perceived as less affluent than those with cars. When this is not the case, however, cyclists can be seen as an annoyance to drivers because of the aggressive nature of those who dare to share space with cars on American streets which don’t allocate separate space for them.
In the Netherlands, however, cycling is a common aspect of life. The bicycle is a preferred mode of transportation because of its ease, cost, and benefits. What widespread bike use in place of automobile use has done for the Netherlands is pridefully shared by those who fought for the current system. As a response to planning changes to accommodate increasing traffic that destroyed parts of cities, a large number of casualties, and a dependence on foreign countries for basic transportation, many Dutch citizens protested their government in favor of more bicycle infrastructure. Now that we are a few decades into the future, presumably most citizens of the Netherlands have a positive perception of cycling and land use dedicated to the transportation mode. Given that the United States is still relatively dependent on foreign countries for oil (the type we use in our vehicles, that is), the large number of traffic accidents that still occur, and the detriment that vehicle land-use has caused to our cities, the chance to change public perception on biking in here and should be taken.
There are a few reasons why I think that biking developed differently in the United States than in the Netherlands. They are listed below.
The creation of massive interstates during the Cold War opened up new land for residential development with easy access to job centers when using a vehicle
Assembly-line car production began in the United States with the Model T, so cars were already relatively widespread throughout the country. This may have added to the positive perception that Americans had of the devices because of its convenience, symbol of status, and national pride (especially after a victory in World War II).
Much of the Dutch cycle infrastructure was built after much of the country was destroyed by fighting in World War II. The United States has not fought a war on its own soil in a long time, so constructing new bicycle facilities where they are needed would require the demolition of existing infrastructure.
The government structure of the United States and the Netherlands are different, with interest groups and the car lobby holding considerably more power than in the Netherlands
While there are certainly more reasons as to why the development of bicycle infrastructure occurred so differently in the Netherlands than in the United States, these are the main reasons that I would assume played the biggest roles in this phenomenon.
Google. (n.d.). [Google Map of CEE4660 Bike Tour in Atlanta, Georgia]. Retrieved February 15, 2019, from https://www.google.com/maps/dir/33.7768505,-84.3892889/Myrtle+St+NE+%26+5th+St+NE,+Atlanta,+GA+30308/Park+Tavern,+10th+Street+Northeast,+Atlanta,+GA/Roll+ATL,+Edgewood+Avenue+Southeast+%23122,+Atlanta,+GA/GRTA,+Peachtree+Center+Avenue+Northeast+%23400,+Atlanta,+GA/Luckie+Street+Grocery+Store,+Luckie+Street+Northwest,+Atlanta,+GA/Georgia+Tech+Student+Center,+Ferst+Drive+Northwest,+Atlanta,+GA
Google. (n.d.). [Google Street View of Ferst Drive in Atlanta, Georgia]. Retrieved February 15, 2019, from https://email@example.com,-84.3953731,3a,75y,332.84h,75.56t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sNWu4HWw5iX1oTUZYHWiPjw!2e0!7i16384!8i8192!5m1!1e3
Google. (n.d.). [Google Street View of 10th Street in Atlanta, Georgia]. Retrieved February 15, 2019, from https://firstname.lastname@example.org,-84.3704218,3a,50.6y,94.91h,78.35t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sCtwHy2OaVJquZy7QkJ5Qww!2e0!7i13312!8i6656!5m1!1e3
50 Best Things to Do in Atlanta: Walk, bike, run, or skate down the BeltLine. https://www.atlantamagazine.com/50bestthingstodo/walk-bike-run-or-skate-down-the-beltline/. Accessed Feb. 15, 2019.
Google. (n.d.). [Google Street View of Edgewood Avenue in Atlanta, Georgia]. Retrieved February 15, 2019, from https://email@example.com,-84.3741294,3a,80.8y,257.96h,82.35t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1s5JNLlU2wmcJQfWTLojprsA!2e0!7i13312!8i6656
Wagenbuur, M. [BicycleDutch]. (2010, April 28). Bicycle Rush Hour Utrecht (Netherlands) III [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n-AbPav5E5M
Wagenbuur, M. [BicycleDutch]. (2011, October 9). How the Dutch Got Their Cycle Paths [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XuBdf9jYj7o
Wagenbuur, M. [BicycleDutch]. (2013, June 19). Cycling in the US from a Dutch Perspective [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m2THe_10dYs&feature=youtu.be
Wagenbuur, M. [BicycleDutch]. (2014, February 23). Junction Design in the Netherlands [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XpQMgbDJPok
Wagenbuur, M. [BicycleDutch]. (2009, August 8). Cycling Amsterdamsestraatweg, Utrecht [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FOkbz4tm324
Wagenbuur, M. [BicycleDutch]. (2011, April 3). Junction design the Dutch – cycle friendly – way [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FlApbxLz6pA
The Atlanta cycling tour was an amazing learning experience to prepare for the Netherlands.
I was surprised at how comfortable I felt bicycling on the Atlanta roads; I imagined mass chaos trying to weave through traffic on major streets, but was taken aback at the amount of infrastructure already in place that separated cyclists – whether it be the cycling tracks downtown, or the completely bike-friendly Beltline (ironically, I was less comfortable with my actual bike than the paths – shoutout to Liston and Nick for fixing it multiple times on the trip). My favorite portion was the cycle track on 10thStreet, seen in Figure 1 – the strategic placement on the Piedmont Park side, integration by lane reduction, and barrier protection all attributed to this. My least favorite section was along Edgewood Avenue, as shown in Figure 2, where the bike lane felt more like an afterthought. It would appear that the automobile lanes were just made more narrow to fit a bike lane, but this offers no protection or real benefits to cyclists.
Figure 1: 10th Street Cycle Track (Google Maps)
Figure 2: Edgewood Avenue Dedicated Bike Lane (Google Maps)
Though I felt fine, I am assuming this is not the case for most. One reason I believe bicycling has not taken off in Atlanta is the lack of uniformity in already present infrastructure – in a short stretch of about 1.5 miles downtown, the infrastructure quickly shifted from dedicated bike lane to cycle track to a trail on sidewalk, then back to dedicated bike lane (seen in Figure 3). I am highly doubtful of my success without the aid from more experienced cyclists in the group who were aware of the changes and how to interact with the different roadway elements. If the infrastructure had a more uniform design, less experienced cyclists would have more confidence in navigating through the city. As the Beltline continues to form and branch out into other paths, I do believe that Atlanta will be able to develop a unique and fluid infrastructure style.
Figure 3: Changes in Downtown Infrastructure (Adapted from Google Maps)
Dutch Cycling Infrastructure
Cycling in the Netherlands is a completely different story compared to Atlanta and the US. While cycling in America is expressly for the brave and bold, or simply as an activity, Dutch bicycling is for all and means to serve a purpose – to actually get from point A to B.
For one, the demographic of cyclists is quite diverse – both young and old, and of very different social types; this is very different than in Atlanta, where there has become a bike-to-work stereotype. Dutch bikers dress in normal/work clothes and this biking is clearly for purpose, not leisure. The style of bike used complements well to the city environment – no speeds, or mountain biking styles – just a simple design that matches the flat terrain of the country (Wagenburr, 2010).
In the traditional Dutch intersection, the use of the all green signal timing phase for bikers gives bikers the ability to make left turns without intersecting with the flow of automobiles. This gives motorists incentive to switch to biking – for a shorter waiting time at intersections. Giving cyclists priority over motorists at roundabouts increases safety, and allows for cyclists to get through the roundabout as quickly as possible. I think the space between motor lane and bike lane, where a car can wait out of traffic, is especially intuitive, as it maintains the ease of travel for cyclists without sacrificing the experience for the motorists (Wagenburr, 2014).
I can attribute the differences in cycling infrastructure to three major reasons:
History and Terrain
The Dutch terrain is notoriously flat, due to the rich history of dredging in the country. Paired with the fairly mild climate, Dutch cycling is both comfortable and enjoyable. There are many locations in America where city cycling is not evidently practical – more innovative solutions will be required to popularize cycling. The Netherlands and US handled the oil and economic crisis quite differently – while the Dutch seeked out alternate modes of transportation (cycling), the US focused more heavily on automobile usage and efficiency; thus the Dutch developed a more extensive non-automobile network (Wagenburr, 2011).
Cycling in the US is not taken seriously, more for fast-paced leisure and sport. This has to do with the culture of the US, being mainly car based, and their inability yet to view biking as an equally efficient mode of transportation, to actually get from point A to B. This lack of seriousness towards biking corresponded to the Dutch narrator’s frustration in the deficiency of proper biking infrastructure. Instead of catering to the needs and requirements of bicyclists, bike lanes in the US generally give the impression that bikers in the US are a secondary class road user, which should not be true. The narrator remained hopeful for the future of US biking, seeing infrastructure improvements like more curbs, bike racks, and bike shops, as well as bike sharing options, that will allow for the greater universality of biking in the US. Beyond infrastructure improvements however, cultural improvements are needed to ensure road users understand that cycling is meant for purpose, much more than just sport (Wagenburr, 2013).
Bike-related deaths seemed to not be at the forefront of US news and opinions; the Dutch really valued life and safety in this situation, and for the 1970s, I find this extremely revolutionary (Wagenburr, 2011). Conversely though, it has been evident in all of the videos that the Dutch do not wear helmets while biking – while this is completely understandable for adults, there is concern for young children. It feels very dangerous not giving them helmets, or some other form of protection; based on their location on the bicycles, if a crash were to occur, the child would be in a zone of particular concern for injury (Wagenburr, 2015).
Figure 4: Children on Bicycles
Handmade Charlotte (2012, August 8). A Bicyle Built for School. https://www.handmadecharlotte.com/carpooling-on-a-bicycle/
Last Friday (2/8/19), the class went on a tour of cycling infrastructure that has been developed in the city of Atlanta. Observing domestic infrastructure in a course designed to study Dutch cycling infrastructure was something I looked forward to in the previous weeks when it was scheduled on the calendar. This is because a hope for the course is that I grow in familiarity with both systems, so that helpful comparisons and contrasts can be made such that American infrastructure can develop – and commuter cycling flourish.
Atlanta's Cycling Infrastructure
Below is a list of infrastructure features the group encountered:
Unprotected bike lanes
Mixed traffic roads
By Dutch standards, Atlanta must seem like a wasteland of bike infrastructure. In light of the recent history for the “Dogwood City”, however, the attention to bikes in recent planning and design is a revolutionary departure from that yesteryear when car culture was the near exclusive consideration.
Below are some comparison photos I was able to piece together in order to illustrate the changes happening all over the city!
Comparison of Fifth and Spring, now and then (credit: AtlantaTimeMachine.com left, Georgia State University Library right)
Comparison of Tech Parkway, now and then (credit: Google left, Georgia Tech right)
Comparison of Five Points (credit: Google left, Georgia State University Library right)
In addition to urban bike lanes and cycle tracks, Atlanta is the home of the famous BeltLine, a multi-use path allowing walking and cycling. After a graduate thesis in 1999, the first section of the trail opened in 2008 and has been adopted into the culture of the city, where it has given vision for a sustainable, multimodal, and fun transportation network.
The tour began in hectic Tech Square with our group of cyclists, ranging from battle-hardened commuters to some who had assembled their bike just a few days prior. My experience falls towards the more experienced end, and this is important to keep in mind when considering my interpretation of facilities encountered on the ride, as people would typically find situations less comfortable than I do.
The initial mile or so through Midtown was defined by unprotected bike lanes and quiet residential roads with mixed traffic. The bike lane seemed to promote an awareness that cycling traffic should be expected, but from a functional standpoint did not protect the group. I still found myself cautious, wary of car doors and weaving traffic, despite the dedicated facility. The slow residential roads provided a fun and leisurely experience in contrast. The group was able to fill the lane and didn’t feel out of place at all despite the lack of design features. Setting and type of traffic certainly made a difference in this situation. And through it all, traveling as a group gave a feeling of safety and even a sense of belonging.
The Atlanta BeltLine!
At 10th Street, we encountered our first cycle track. Grouping together before heading down the track, our guide and professor, Dr. Kari Watkins, noted that this was the first segment that separated bike and car traffic in the city, opening in 2013. This has become the first of a few cycle tracks in the city, many sponsored by the City of Atlanta and PATH Foundation. While I had ridden this segment quite a few times, I’ve always found it to be quite fun (at least when going east, downhill!). While the bollards may not be the prettiest, they give me enough of a sense of separation and protection to enjoy the ride. Similar to the cycle track in that it separates from motor traffic, but different in that pedestrians make up the majority of traffic, the BeltLine was encountered next. This path had a noticeably lower design speed, and the group slowed down to not bother those walking. Our guide explained that pedestrians often will not keep to the right side of the path, which can lead to a hazard for those passing by bike. This is due to the unwillingness of the authority to paint guide stripes for aesthetic reasons. As a result, cyclists learn to slow down and to pass warily.
Beyond this, the facilities encountered were similar to those already covered. Downtown has a new smattering of cycle tracks, which have likely been easier to install when compared to the Midtown counterpart due to an under-capacity road network. Biking back to campus from Downtown truly gave a sense of the connectivity and integration beginning to arise concerning the cycling network. Beyond the roads traversed on the tour, however, many roads in Atlanta remain inhospitable to cycling. Memorial, the road to be studied and redesigned by my project group, is a truly harrowing experience at most times of day. This is just one such example of a vital route that practically only allows motor traffic.
Memorial Dr - imagine biking with cars shooting past at 40 mph or more (credit: Google)
Dutch Cycling Infrastructure
For this blog post, 6 YouTube videos from Mark Wagenbuur (YouTube handle = Markenlei; web page bicycledutch.wordpress.com) were watched to help contrast what was experienced on the tour. While the Netherlands had their own bout with car-centric culture, the 70s saw a shift away from motor vehicles and towards cycling. This was done for multiple reasons, notably safety and environmentalism. Social protests brought political and culture change, creating the transportation approach enjoyed today.
The Dutch focus on separating cyclists and motorists (credit: Robert Isemi)
From a design standpoint, the Dutch focused on separating bikes and cars. This is a fundamental shift from the philosophy of the Americans, who pushed for the integration of bike and motor traffic. On the Dutch side this has led to leisurely, safe, and approachable cycling options, while the American mentality created a system only available to the lean and mean road warriors that are comfortable taking the risk. When thinking of a cyclist in the States, legends such as Chris Froome or Greg LeMond (let’s not bring up that Lance fellow) come to mind, with their aerodynamic bikes and lycra clad outfits. From the Dutch perspective, it seems that the outlook is shifted more towards upright bicycles with the rider being far more relatable to the average person like me and (most likely) you.
The Dutch employ numerous design strategies to create a safe and functional system for bikes and pedestrians. Grade separation, roundabouts, and yielding to the most vulnerable are all core design features used by transportation engineers in the Netherlands. Decades of experience also lends to the correct application of different design features, often a mistake of US engineers implementing a system with no prior expertise.
With all this in mind, it is quite clear that cycling in the US is remarkably different than in the Netherlands. This is likely due to a variety of reasons. In the States, gas is cheap, space is available, distances are large. Safety is often sacrificed for speed and throughput, a departure from the ideals of the Dutch. Additionally, the sport cyclist is idealized, a user better suited to mixed traffic than the average (potential) user. Fortunately, as illustrated in Atlanta, dedicated bike facilities are becoming more common in the States, especially heading into the future.
Our tour of Atlanta’s bicycle infrastructure was along some of the most common bike routes in the City. I have ridden all the segments of the ride several times. We rode from Tech Square through the Midtown neighborhoods, along the 10th Street cycle track, through the East Side Belt Line Trail to the Edgewood Ave bike lane, onto the Peachtree Center Ave NE cycle track, through the John Portman Blvd protected cycle track, and finally along the Luckie Street protected cycle track back to the Georgia Tech campus. The route is shown in Figure 1. The entire ride was about seven miles in total and we experienced a variety of bike infrastructure.
Atlanta is not known for its stellar bikeability, and I think much of that has to do with the driving culture within the city. We are a car-centric city, which correlates to the lack of safety felt by bikers and disincentivizes bike travel. Our class rode in a large group, which likely increased our perceived safety on the roads. However, I have ridden this exact route many times, and while I consider myself a confident rider, I am very cautious when riding on most of Atlanta’s on road bike facilities. Figure 2 shows the cycle track on 10th Street that the class used, and the thin bollard barrier between the contraflow vehicle traffic. Figure 3 shows the Peachtree Center cycle track, which has a similar treatment, but with significantly more turning vehicle conflict points. Figure 4 shows the Edgewood Avenue bike lane, which has no separation at all from vehicle traffic.
Overall, these portions of the ride made up most of the trip. I feel that the unsafe nature of the on-road facilities contributes to the lack of bike travel in Atlanta. Research shows that people feel much safer with separated infrastructure and with the exception of the Belt Line, Atlanta mostly misses the mark when it comes to serving its potential biking community.
Dutch Cycling Infrastructure
The Dutch emphasize biking as a competent mode of transportation, a stark contrast to the United States. In fact, Mark Wagenbuur, Dutch cycling reporter, compares biking in the United States to a chase between bike riders and vehicles. He indicates that there is no trust between modes and that biking is seen as an activity for children. He goes as far as describing sharrows, a commonly used bike facility marker, as “useless paint” .
The Dutch design of roadways shows a clear prioritization of bicyclists over cars, and that is manifested in the figure of 1.3 bicycles per person in The Netherlands . From the initial steps of the roadway planning process, Dutch designers make the roadway as narrow as possible and always plan for cycle tracks on both sides. This ensures protected infrastructure as much as possible, which is always unless at junctions. Even at junction points, the Dutch design intersections in a way that eliminates the need for bicyclists to mix with vehicle traffic unless a left turn is necessary. As Wagenbuur notes, the most important design element of bike/car conflict points is the space necessary for cars to wait for bicyclists to pass while also not blocking vehicle traffic . In contrast, U.S. design almost always mixes bikes in in with the flow of vehicle traffic. After viewing Wagenbuur’s videos, it seems that not only is the Dutch roadway design significantly more bike friendly than U.S. facilities, but the bike etiquette of riders is also better. Watching the videos of bike traffic in The Netherlands makes it apparent that educating the bike population is an additional need for the United States .
As I stated before, clearly there is a significant difference in bike facility design in the United States and The Netherlands. I believe that historically the United States has bought into the notion that our main goal is to push cars through a space as fast as possible, and that we can always build our way out of congestion. Since the conception Interstate Highway System in 1956, we have been focused on making it easier to drive, and I think we are only recently trying to plan for other modes. It is more difficult to plan for bikes in the United States due to the hilly and sprawled nature of our landscape. In contrast, The Netherlands is significantly less expansive, making active modes more preferred. Finally, the Dutch transit system between cities is much more complete, making it feasible to travel by bike within the city and by transit in between cities. Often in the United States, traveling between cities is not possible without using a single occupant vehicle.
In my opinion, bike facilities in Atlanta range in terms of level of comfort. This level of comfort obviously depends on the skill of the rider, but the bike facilities in Atlanta definitely range in terms of separation/protection from vehicles, speeds of vehicles, and other factors. We witnessed this range during our bike tour of the city last week, which is shown in the figure and described below:
Source: City of Dunwoody, GA
Separated Multi-use Path
The most comfortable facility along our route was the Eastside BeltLine—a multi-use path that cuts through the city along a repurposed rail line. What made this the most comfortable facility is the fact that it is completely separated from traffic, which means bicyclists don’t have to worry about cars zipping by within a few feet of them, and they rarely have to worry about the any intersections with cars. I think that most people in Atlanta, regardless of age or ability, would feel safe riding on the BeltLine.
Source: Google Maps
Mixed-traffic on Streets with Low Traffic Stress
The second most comfortable segments of our ride took place streets with low levels of traffic stress. Traffic stress refers to the amount and speed of cars on a roadway. Generally, streets with low levels of traffic stress have speeds of less than 25 mph and volumes under 1000 vehicles per hour. On these streets, even though the bicycles aren’t separated from the vehicles, bicyclists feel safe, as cars aren’t common, and they are slow if they are present. I think a majority of people would feel safe biking on this type of street.
Source: Google Maps
Two-way Cycle Tracks
On our tour, we also rode on a couple two-way cycle tracks. These facilities offer some protection from vehicles, but a hesitant rider might not feel comfortable on them. This is due to the fact that the protection (at least in our case) is plastic bollards, which doesn’t stand much of a chance against the vehicles that are only a couple of feet away. Additionally, at intersections, the cycle track ceases to exist, which may make the rider feel vulnerable.
The last type of bike infrastructure we rode on was the traditional bike lane. Even though the bike lanes segregate bikes from vehicles, using one can still make a bicyclist feel vulnerable. There is no protection from vehicles, and they are driving very close to you, which can be intimidating. Additionally, vehicles don’t always respect the bike lane, as oftentimes you will encounter a driver using the lane as a temporary parking spot. Therefore, bike lanes are probably the least comfortable type of bike facility that we encountered.
Source: Google Maps
Bicycling in the U.S. vs. the Netherlands
The Dutch view bicycling differently than we do here. In the Netherlands, bicycling is a mode of transport that should be used by all, rather than just those who are brave enough. This is why their infrastructure separates bicycles from other modes of transport, and the relaxed culture of bicycling leads to people of all ages, genders, fitness level, and even clothing type to utilize the bicycle as a means of transport. In contrast, here in the U.S, bicycles are seen as a vehicle, and therefore should be put in the same right-of-way as cars; sometimes bikes are mixed into car traffic and sometimes they’re right alongside it. This makes biking a more serious activity, forcing riders to try to keep pace with traffic, which reserves it for people who are physically fit and brave enough to ride. This juxtaposition is exemplified at intersections. In the U.S, bike infrastructure tends to stop at the intersection, which leaves bicyclists in a vulnerable position. In the Netherlands, however, bikes are given protected areas to wait at intersections, and they have designated lanes at the intersection, which are usually colored to make motorists aware of their presences.
Source: Mark Wagenbuur
Chamblee-Dunwoody Gateway Recommendations. (2015, May 29). Retrieved February 14, 2019, from http://bikewalkdunwoody.org/initatives-2/chamblee-dunwoody-gateway-recommendations/
Google. (n.d.). Atlanta. Retrieved from maps.google.com
The cycling infrastructure of Atlanta is, in my opinion, more robust than most non-bike riders give it credit for. In Midtown, we rode through some neighborhoods. Although these roads in them didn’t have explicit bike infrastructure, it was still very comfortable to ride on them, as there really wasn’t much traffic coming through. Then, when we got to the cycle track on Piedmont, I hardly thought about the traffic to my right. The city has done a very good job with that lane by putting space between cyclists and automobiles.
Figure 1: The cycle track by Piedmont Park that feeds into the BiltLine. (Source: Google Maps.)
To make it even better, it flows smoothly into the BeltLine, the most robust piece of bike infrastructure in Atlanta. It has become clear to me that the BeltLine has helped serve as a catalyst for better bike infrastructure in Atlanta, and riding along it only made that clearer. I imagine riding on the BeltLine is how the Dutch must always feel while riding a bike: safe, at ease, and without the worry of cars being extremely close to you. The BeltLine is very exciting to me; it’s one of the projects that made me interested in Civil Engineering in the first place. I continue to be amazed and inspired by how such a simple idea can improve the standard of living in an area so drastically.
Figure 2: The full BeltLine project, in all its glory. (Note: the creation of some parts of the loop remain in progress.) (Source: https://beltline-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/Get-Connected-Map-2016)
Riding Downtown was admittedly not as comfortable as riding in Midtown, but I was still pleasantly surprised that there were some well-designed cycle tracks. Most of the riding was smooth, but it is obvious that some of the intersections aren’t that safe and could use a better design.
Figure 3: The cycle track is a good start, but it’s clear that turning at this intersection would be a little difficult. (Source: Google Maps)
What’s most surprising to me about all of this infrastructure is something that Dr. Watkins mentioned at the end of our tour: Atlanta really only started actively trying to integrate bikes in the last few years. To me, that’s very exciting, as it shows that there is plenty of potential to continue to vastly improve the city’s transportation system.
Dutch Cycling Infrastructure
For all the praise we could heap onto the City of Atlanta for taking important steps towards bike integration in the past few years, our infrastructure is the little league compared to that of the Dutch. A statistic from one of Mark Wagenbuur’s videos on Dutch biking infrastructure is perfectly illustrative of this: bikers are thirty times more likely to suffer an injury while riding a bike (Wagenbuur, 2011). Thirty! The reasons why are obvious, though. Primarily, the change towards bike transportation started from the top. When it became clear that people were fed up with cars ruling the roads, the Dutch government sprang into action. “Build it and they will come,” was their mindset beginning in the 1970s (Wagenbuur 2014). They started to change their policy on transportation to one that prioritized people on bikes. Automobile traffic is an afterthought to them in the same way that bike traffic is an afterthought to planners in the United States. Now, bikes are an integral part of Dutch culture. It’s eye-opening to me that such a drastic change can take place because of the actions of some protesters, leading to large scale changes in transportation that have revolutionized the country.
The Dutch have become experts in bike design. While we in the US see bike lanes with protective barriers as extremely progressive transportation infrastructure, the Dutch would see it as laughably unsafe and unadvanced. Their roadway design begins with automobile lanes, but they allow the bare minimum in terms of lane space. That way, they can provide as much space for cyclists as possible. Lanes for cyclists are separated by automobile traffic with buffers, which help maximize safety. Figure 4 below depicts the Dutch model.
Source: Junction Design in the Netherlands (Wagenburr, 2014)
Additionally, the Dutch have perfected one of the hardest parts of bike integration: intersections. In the US, intersections can be a very dangerous place for cyclists. Turning left, and even right, can pose a threat to anyone attempting to avoid being hit by a car (everyone, probably). However, in the Netherlands, planners use a design for intersections that, like the rest of their transportation infrastructure, prioritizes bikes. Turning right is very easy; the signature traffic protection island ensures a safe turn. Turning left, which is one of the most difficult challenges for cyclists in the US, is made simple by protected lanes and well-timed signals. Figure 6 shows the Dutch model (in red), as well as a similar one that bike-savvy planners can use in the US.
Figure 5: On the right, the typical Dutch design for junctions. On the left, a template for application in the US. (Source: https://bicycledutch.wordpress.com/2011/05/05/state-of-the-art-bikeway-design-a-further-look/)
The tour we took of Atlanta was eye-opening for me, and it has gotten me thinking a lot about bike transportation every time I’m walking around the city. We have a lot of work to do, though. After watching the videos about Dutch infrastructure, I’m even more eager to learn about proper bike design on our trip. In order to revolutionize the American transportation system, civil engineers like us need to work with city planners to design safe bike roadways that people actually feel comfortable riding on. I think that if the change starts from a policy standpoint, American culture can start to embrace sustainable transportation. The Dutch did it in a matter of decades, and they’re now the paragon for bike design. So, while the US has its work cut out for it, it’s never too late to rethink how we get around.
Wagenbuur , M. . [Markenlei]. (2011, October 9). How the Dutch Got their cycle paths [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XuBdf9jYj7o
Wagenbuur , M. . [Markenlei]. (2014, February 23). Junction design in the Netherlands.[Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XpQMgbDJPok
Hello! My name is Nick Padula; I am a first-year Master’s student studying Civil Engineering here at Tech! I am originally from Atlanta, and have lived here almost my whole life. Atlanta is a car-oriented city, due to a large amount of urban sprawl—many of the people who work in the city actually live and commute from the suburbs. There is a transit system here, called MARTA, which operates trains and buses throughout the city. We also have a streetcar downtown, and some regional buses that run from the city to the suburbs. While there are many options, the system does not completely cover our large urban area, and the times between trains or buses can be long. In terms of cycling, Atlanta has improved greatly in recent years in terms of the amount of bicycle infrastructure.
Why I Love Transportation
I believe that transportation is important for two main reasons: environmental sustainability and socioeconomic equity. I believe that good transportation systems can help address problems in these two areas, and I hope to be able to make a difference in these areas while working in the transportation industry.
My travels have played a big role in shaping my ideas about transportation. I also completed my undergraduate studies here at Tech, and during that time I was able to study abroad twice. My first experience was in Valencia, Spain, the home, in my opinion of one of the most amazing urban feats. The Green River is a 5-mile long park that runs right through the heart of the city. It was formerly a river, but due to flooding issues, the city diverted the river around the city, and in turn put a park in its place. The park contains soccer fields, gardens, museums, stages, and separate paths for walkers, runners, and bicyclists. What makes the park so amazing is the fact that, since it used to be a river, it is situated around 50 feet below the rest of the city, with bridges crisscrossing over it. This makes the park ideal for biking or walking across town, as you are in a vehicle-free area don’t have to cross any roadways. It also offers a green space that, even though it is situated the middle of the city, feels separated from the bustle of day-to-day life.
Source: Brian Phelps
I was also able to study in Seoul, South Korea for a semester. There, I was able to witness how a city of 10 million people was able to move its residents around efficiently. I was extremely impressed by some distinguishing features of their subway system and the hierarchical nature of their bus system.
Source: Getty Images
Goals for the Sustainable Transport Abroad Course
My goals for this course are to learn about the much-storied transportation system in the Netherlands, and evaluate how we can apply a similar system here in Atlanta and other cities around the country. I am especially excited for the opportunity to experience the Dutch transportation system firsthand, as I feel this will enhance our knowledge exponentially. I hope to be able to use my knowledge from this course to bring new ideas to the transportation engineering field, ideas which could be implemented here and around the world!
Getty Images (n.d.). Shot of Subway Train Platform at Seoul station. Retrieved from https://www.gettyimages.com/detail/video/shot-of-subway-train-platform-at-seoul-station-stock-video-footage/497051612
Phelps, B. (2018, January 11). How Valencia Turned A Crisis (And a River) Into a Transformative Park. Retrieved January 24, 2019, from https://www.metropolismag.com/cities/landscape/how-valencia-turned-crisis-river-into-park/
Biking through Atlanta has always been a daunting feat to me. In fact, I’ve rarely biked past Midtown. My main hesitations were that I didn’t know where there would be bike paths along my route and I didn’t feel comfortable sharing big streets with the cars. However, the bike tour last Friday surpassed my expectations of what cycling in Atlanta could be. The first surprise to me was the bike paths that were so close to where I live and never fully registered were there. The bike path on 10th street was especially one that I wish I knew about and now that I do, would feel a lot more comfortable biking to the Beltline. I appreciated having two bike lanes together because that allowed for more space most of the time and the bollards (small poles separating the bike lanes from the car lanes) also helped me feel a bit more secure. As I had already biked on the Beltline, it wasn’t a new experience for me, however, I’ve never made it all the way up to Krog St. Market. The portion after the Krog St. Market, on Edgewood, was a bit more stressful than the Beltline and even 10th. Though we had our own bike lane, it wasn’t protected and there were a lot of cars around. After leaving downtown, biking on Luckie Street was more comfortable again; there was even a raised barrier at one point. The barrier definitely helped in giving a strong physical sense of separation from the cars. This lane connecting all the way down to the Marietta separated path would be a good place for a new city biker to start as it was both physically separated from cars and specifically for bikes, unlike the Beltline which is multiuse.
Luckie St. Bike Path
Dutch Cycling Infrastructure
What was not seen on the Atlanta bike tour that is featured in BicycleDutch videos such as Junction Design in the Netherlands are the protected intersections for cyclists. The bike path goes along the outside of the junction so that the bikes don’t interfere with the car traffic (1). This design can be used for a four-way intersection or a roundabout. Keeping the bike path separate even at the intersection helps keep bikers safe from turning cars and helps give bikes the right of way. Another very noticeable difference from bike paths in Atlanta is that all the bike paths in the BicycleDutch videos were red. This is an obvious signal for cars and pedestrians that bicycles belong there.
Bicycling is incredibly integrated into the daily lives of the Dutch. According to the video Cycling in the US from a Dutch Perspective, 25% of total trips made in the Netherlands are made by bike. It is perceived as a way to get from one destination to another, rather than just for leisure (2). Additionally, the Dutch approach to cycling infrastructure is that separation is the key to safety, whereas in the U.S., sharing the road is the common methodology (3).
I thought the video How the Dutch Got Their Cycling Paths gave an interesting account for how the Dutch developed such a strong cycling culture (4). Some reasons for this cycling culture are ones I would expect like the lack of space in old, Dutch cities, as bikes take up much less space than cars and don’t create pollution. However, the social movement around bike safety in the 1970s was also a key factor in prioritizing bicycling infrastructure. Additionally, the Dutch wanted to be more independent from energy after the oil crisis, which also helped contribute to the emphasis on cycling.
On the other hand, in the U.S. we have big sprawling urban areas that can/grew to accommodate cars. Additionally, there was never a big societal push for bike safety or to transition away from energy-dependent transportation. Though biking culture here is still mostly recreational, the mindset of biking to your day-to-day destinations is growing, and so is the available infrastructure to do so.
To get a taste of the bike infrastructure in a big American city, our class set out on a bicycle tour of Atlanta. We first headed North, riding through some neighborhoods to get to Piedmont Park. It was a rocky start with a lot of stop and go movement from all the traffic signals along 5th Street. But once we got to Myrtle Street, the quiet neighborhood atmosphere was very bike friendly. Then down 10th Street, we rode along the first cycle track created in Atlanta in 2013. This nicely connected onto the Beltline, which took us to our destination at Krog Street Market. Since it was a chilly Friday afternoon, there were very few people out, making it even easier for our large class to stay together. This was my favorite part not only because of the flat, smooth ride but also because of the beautiful artistic atmosphere along the Beltline. It felt like an escape from the traffic and commotion of the city. More infrastructure like the Beltline is needed in Atlanta, because everyone would enjoy their ride and feel safe. After reaching Krog Street, we biked through streets of downtown Atlanta to Centennial Olympic Park. The last stretch of our journey was to ride along Luckie Street, back to Georgia Tech. I was really surprised to see several streets with protected bike lanes, especially along Luckie Street as seen in the picture below. Those segments made the journey feel pleasant and safe. However, in the absence of this infrastructure it wasn’t as nice, especially between the Beltline and Centennial Olympic Park, where the bike lanes along major roads felt unsafe at times. Overall, I think there’s been great progress in Atlanta’s bike system. This trip showed me that there is a focus on increasing its safe bike network, like the developments of protected cycle tracks along 10th Street and Luckie Street. But it would be even better if more bicyclists were out on the streets. Cars would be more aware of them, as well as the fact that less vehicles would be out on the roads. For this to happen, even more bicycle networks, especially protected bike infrastructure, need to be put in place to connect all areas and neighborhoods within the metropolitan area.
Dutch Cycling Infrastructure
It’s impressive to see how the Netherlands created such a safe and efficient bicycle network, while accommodating high densities of cyclists. With the world’s largest number of cyclists, it is also one of the safest places to ride because of their successful infrastructure. Dutch street designers believe that there is always room for cyclists. They incorporate cycle tracks along the side of the roads to separate motorized vehicles from bicyclists. And they find safe routes for cyclists at junctions without hindering the flow of cars. For instance, along roundabouts bicycles have priority over cars, so vehicles are given space outside of the inner circle to stop for cyclists if needed. This allows cars to be cautious for cyclists and pedestrians without stopping the flow of traffic in the roundabout (Wagenburr, 2014). However, safe junction designs are not seen in America. Even though several major cities have incorporated some measures of safe bike lanes, all protection for cyclists is lost at the junction of intersections, where it is needed the most. Cyclists have to merge with cars to turn. They have to be aggressive at times and must often sprint to keep pace with the vehicles. That is why cycling is not often used as a means of transportation, like it is in the Netherlands. In America it is often perceived as a leisure activity, where people will ride around in safer parks and neighborhoods in their free (Wagenbuur, 2013). Whereas in the Netherlands, bicycles are seen as a necessary form of transportation to get to local destinations. They will use it to get to work, to run errands, and even to take their children to school.
The safe bicycle infrastructure in the Netherlands evolved from their cultural needs at the time. While both the U.S. and the Netherlands saw a drastic rise in cars following World War II, cities in the Netherlands could not cope with the traffic. A very high number of bicycle and pedestrian causalities exponentially increased with the presence of more cars on the road, which caused public outrage throughout the country. On top of that the oil crisis of 1973 led to gas shortages and high prices for oil. Both of these problems greatly impacted the country. And the Prime Minister at the time realized the need for change. From there several policies were put in place to encourage alternative transportation. And local communities began to develop complete and safe cycle routes (Wagenbuur, 2011). However, in the United States, our country is heavily reliant on cars because of there is so much sprawl. Cities are expanding, and suburbs are even farther away, making it unrealistic to encourage commuters over 40 miles away to bike to work.
Wagenbuur, M. [BicycleDutch]. (2014, February 23). Junction Design in the Netherlands [Video file]. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XpQMgbDJPok
Wagenbuur, M. [BicycleDutch]. (2013, June 19). Cycling in the US from a Dutch Perspective [Video file]. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m2THe_10dYs&feature=youtu.be
Wagenbuur, M. [BicycleDutch]. (2011, October 9). How the Dutch got their Cycle Paths [Video file]. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XuBdf9jYj7o
To prepare for the Netherlands trip, our class biked 7.2 miles around Atlanta on Friday, February 8, 2019. We took a tour of Atlanta’s bicycle infrastructure and saw a variety of path types and multiple routes connecting Midtown, Piedmont Park, Inman Park, Edgewood, Downtown, and Georgia Tech Campus.
During our ride, we rode first throughbike lanes around Tech Campus and 5th Street. Bike lanes are a dedicated lane without protection or divider between cars and bikes. Vehicles turning left, people parking and opening their door, and buses pulling in to drop off passengers were all concerns and points of conflict while using the bike lane. Later during the tour, we also rode on a bike lane on Edgewood Ave. Unlike the bike lane in Midtown, there was more traffic so it was a more stressful section. Whenever a car or truck buzzed by, I became hyper-aware of my surroundings even though I was in a dedicated space.
Riding throughresidential neighborhood streets was very pleasant because of the slow vehicles, wide streets, and canopy of trees. Bikes didn’t have dedicated lane but I felt very comfortable because we were pretty much the only ones on the road. There were a few rough patches in the pavement but there was plenty of room to maneuver around each pothole.
My favorite portion of the route was riding on the Beltline. The Beltline is a multi-use path that will eventually connect all of Atlanta with 33-miles of trails. There were lots of pedestrians, roller skaters, and other bikers on the path but it was not a stressful environment because most people on the path were traveling around the same speed. Murals and art along the Beltline make the trail a fun experience and adventure!
We traveled on a two-way cycle trackon10th Street by Piedmont Park, John Portman , Luckie Street (Figure 1), and the PATH trail (Figure 2). A cycle track is a protected lane which means there is a buffer in between vehicles and bikes. Although tall grasses were visually appealing dividers, they were overgrown and impeded bike visibility.
Throughout the ride, either right off the beltline or downtown, I felt uncomfortable at most intersections. When I was stopped at a light, I felt the hum of cars behind me and could feel their power. It was difficult communicating with cars on which direction I wanted to travel because I was used to turning on a blinker. A lot of the infrastructure ended at the intersection.
Figure 1: PATH Trail by Tech Campus
Figure 2: Luckie Street Cycle Track between Downtown and Campus
Dutch Cycling Infrastructure
Unlike roads in the US that focus on the movement of vehicles, Dutch roads give the priority to vulnerable bicyclists and pedestrians. Intersections are raised to the level of the bicyclist and vehicles are forced to slow down. Cycling infrastructure and vehicle infrastructure work together to emphasize the importance of bikes; car lanes are narrow and slow to protect cyclists. Cycling is a way of life for all people, young and old, in the Netherlands. A fancy bike, latex clothing, and helmet is not norm in the Netherland; a bike, not a set of car keys, is freedom to the dutch.
The Dutch built their cycle paths in response to the oil crisis, economic crisis, car-related deaths, and large traffic volumes in a limited space. The US faced many of these same issues during the 70s. Instead of banning cars from city centers, US cities cut themselves in half with freeways. The US chose the car, instead of the bike, to connect itswide-open spaces. Today, cycling infrastructure in the US is developed piecemeal, one bike lane at a time, with disappearing lanes and scary intersections.
Another key takeaway from the Atlanta bike tour was an improved sense of spatial awareness. Although I have biked between midtown and campus for my commute, most of my recreational travel has been in a car (and the occasional scooter). Before the bike tour, my mind compartmentalized neighborhoods and I didn’t realize that many were close and well connected. Some of my favorite spots on Edgewood Avenue (Chrome Yellow Coffee and Our Lady of Lourdes) are an easy bike ride from my house!