Hi, my name is Katharine Brand. I am a fourth-year Civil Engineering major, pursuing the Global Engineering Leadership minor at Georgia Tech. My family is from Boston, but I grew up in New York, and was born in California. As you can guess my family loves to road-trip around the country. With all our coast to coast traveling, one of our biggest accomplishments was making it to all 50 states sometime before I started high school. This just fueled my desire to travel even more. In high school I took a school trip to China, my first overseas adventure. And then, while at college I studied abroad for a semester at GTL, taking in as much of Europe as I could by setting off to a new country almost every weekend. If I wasn’t an engineering student, I would be studying international affairs because I love learning about different cultures, histories, and languages. That’s why I am very excited to tour the Netherlands by bike with Dr. Watkins’ Sustainable Transportation class, where I can combine my interests in civil engineering with my love for traveling.
Biking in the Suburbs
Growing up, I lived in a small town right outside of New York City. Even though New Yorkers are known for their terrible, aggressive driving, that isn’t the case in my small, suburban town. People are generally friendly, and not always in a rush, so I was always comfortable biking around. Although I wasn’t a religious biker growing up, I do vividly remember my trips to work during the summer before I had my driver’s license. It was an exhausting but enjoyable twenty-minute ride to my waitressing job all the way across town. I biked through streets, through trails, and sometimes on sidewalks when I would slow down the cars behind me. It was quite the adventure because I rode through my hilly town on a beach cruiser (from when I lived in California), which doesn't have any gears
At the time I wasn’t aware of the biking conditions; however, now I realize my town was far from bike-friendly. There were many streets without sidewalks or bike lanes. And many sharp turns along these paths where drivers would have difficulty seeing pedestrians or bicyclists around the corner. On top of that, the residents in my town didn’t bike around often, so cars wouldn’t slow down around these corners because they didn’t expect to see any bicyclists or pedestrians. Although I enjoyed my bike rides, there are many elements that should be changed for the safety of the people in my hometown.
Thoughts about Transportation Abroad
My experiences abroad, especially while traveling through Europe, opened my eyes to a whole different world of transportation. While Americans are reliant on automobiles, Europeans depend on train travel. At least from my experience, I used trains much more often than cars or airplanes. In America, aside from the occasional subway ride, I can’t remember the last time I was on a train. While American streets and highways are interconnected and well maintained, Europe’s train systems are highly sophisticated and very useful to the residents and tourists. There are high speed trains between several different countries or local trains that stop at nearby towns. The system that they use is efficient and mostly on schedule. I realized that there are many alternatives to America’s automobile heavy transportation system. There is a lot to learn about useful transportation systems by studying and understanding how people travel in other countries.
Goals for the course
The Netherlands is a great example to the rest of the world about how to create bicycle and pedestrian friendly streets. I am really interested to learn about effective and safe designs of multimodal transportation in big cities. While American cities and suburbs are heavily reliant on automobiles, road networks should also benefit pedestrians and bicyclists, even in highly dense cities. Allowing space for more pedestrians and bicyclists is not only more environmentally friendly, but also safer for the community. I hope to gain a better understanding of necessary roadway infrastructure that can be improved in Atlanta after gaining perspective from the Dutch system. And more importantly, I hope to improve my endurance and bike skills while abroad.
Hi, I am Becca Kiriazes! I am a first-year Ph.D. transportation engineering student at Georgia Tech. I recently graduated from the University of Florida in Gainesville with a degree in civil engineering. Through study abroad and personal travel, I have explored life and traveled on the different transportation systems around the world. Some of my favorite transportation travel memories are
Riding the precarious shared mini buses in South Africa
Navigating the elaborate commuter bus system in Mexico
Walking home on the Minuteman Greenway in Boston
Driving on the “wrong side” of the road in Ireland
Singing for hours on cross-country road trips around the USA
Adventuring through the underground metros in Paris and London
Cruising around the Mediterranean
Exploring the tourism transportation bus network all around Peru
Taking the train between cities in France and Germany
Transportation has the ability to connect people around the world and I love discovering how different transportation networks support unique communities. I have also learned that developing safe roadways is a health issue affecting the entire world. I keep a blog of my experiences for my family and friends to stay in the loop of my adventures.
Transportation in Orlando
I grew up in Orlando, FL close to the University of Central Florida (UCF). Orlando is a car-centric city and number 1 in the nation for pedestrian deaths. Growing up within walking distance from a college, I have had slightly different transportation experiences than most Orlando natives. It was fairly safe to walk and bike around campus, so I was able to travel recreationally to libraries and coffee shops. Besides those fun afternoons on campus, driving around Orlando is necessary to get to school, shops, and pretty much anywhere else. My only transit experiences before college were at Disney. Disney transportation is really efficient and clean, so I grew up with a pretty positive association with buses (buses = Disney magic).
Goals for Course
I am very excited to explore the Netherlands and learn about sustainable transportation infrastructure! After graduation, I would like to be a professor who inspires students to make a change in the world. As a professor, I would like to lead study abroad programs to help students get out of their comfort zones and become exposed to new ways of thinking. I can't wait to participate in this course, so I can learn all about hosting a great study abroad course from experience!
Enjoying the Disney Monorail, buses, and people mover!
I consider myself American, but feel my home is in Singapore. When my family moved to Singapore when I was 8 years old, we had one car which my dad would take to work. At an early age I was taking public transportation and taxis independently. I enjoyed the freedom given by the public bus network, but I wish it was extended further across the city, so I wouldn't have to take taxis by myself and send my mom the license plate and drivers ID for safety. While there I went to an international school for elementary grades with people from all over the world. I learned new languages, experienced different cultures, and traveled Asia and Oceania. This is home where I grew most surrounded by diversity.
How have my travels influenced my thinking on transportation?
There were two different driving exams in Singapore depending on your occupation. My parents both took different exams as my mom stayed at home and my dad worked. My dad’s test was extremely difficult and took a couple hours to complete, and my mom finished hers in 30 minutes. This seems crazy to me that drivers are not held to the same standards. I learned how culture can guide transportation rules solely on my parent’s experience that it seemed as though certain people are expected to be on the road more often and those people are held to higher driving standards.
I traveled to several different cities growing up from developing to developed countries and noticed drastic differences in infrastructure. This inequality inspired me to become a civil engineer to improve public infrastructure. Developed countries like Hong Kong, have a huge network of trains, buses and taxis, while developing countries like Cambodia have sand roads where most people bike or motorcycle, and vans are provided for tourist groups and wealthier individuals. Infrastructure affects people’s everyday life including where they live, how they travel and the people they interact with. I realize how fortunate I am to have lived in Singapore in an interconnected city with opportunities I wouldn't have had without great transportation services and other infrastructure.
One of the most compelling places I traveled is Sydney while studying abroad. I had a card that allowed me on public ferries, trains, and buses. This was amazing to me that all three modes were joined together to connect the community, and even that locals could pass by the Sydney Opera House every day via ferries. I included an image below of a ferry passing by the Opera House taken by the NSW Government. This influenced my thinking that if cities like Sydney can successfully adopt multi modal transportation, so can cities in the United States.
Goals for the course
This is my first transportation course. I biked for internships in both Atlanta and Orlando and have noticed driver’s intolerance to bikes. The American culture seems to view bikes as recreational rather than for commutes. My goal is to learn about patterns in transit networks and how they are influenced by popular opinion and state goals. I’m interested in biking as a form of independence and how cities are designed to promote a healthy lifestyle with access to people’s needs within a biking distance.
In their never-ending pursuit to engineer a seamless cycling experience, the Dutch have built an comprehensive system of intermodal connections extremely conducive to the use of alternative transportation. Whether it be the incredible bicycle parking facilities and repair stations found scattered throughout cities and at every major train station, or the extremely integrated bicycle rental system OV-Fiets, the ease with which modal shifts can occur throughout the Netherlands is unparalleled.
The incredible attention to detail paid by the Dutch to almost every facet of their infrastructure clearly extends to making these intermodal shifts as painless as possible, enabling cyclists to effortlessly use train and metro facilities to ensure that any trip, whether across the city or across the country, can be completed partially by cycle.
The system simultaneously makes possible and discourages the onboarding of cycles, offering space for cycles albeit at an increased (and probably unsustainable) rate. However, the ubiquity of public transit and rental cycle facilities means that bikes need not be taken with their owners on trips, instead providing other modes or temporary cycle ownership to encourage bicycling to the origin station.
With transit, the Dutch understand that infrequent, unreliable service is no better than no service at all. With that in mind, utmost effort is put into ensuring that transit arrives and leaves on time, with payments to contractors set to incentivize moving people, not time involved. As a result, the systems are optimized to provide the most efficient service possible.
As with other facets of the cycling experience, the Dutch have built their system to provide as effortless an experience as possible. There is a fundamental understanding that to incentivize cycling, a system must be put in place to optimize intermodal transitions and last-mile travel. As a result, cycling facilities are provided at every transportation hub, and a national rental system has been put in place to remove every barrier for use of cycling as a origin-to-destination transportation method.
I am extremely thankful for the week in the Netherlands and the incredible opportunities we had to experience and learn about Dutch infrastructure and design. This trip will benefit me for the rest of my career, as I will always be inspired by their transportation systems and city planning efforts. It was amazing to see the design elements that we have discussed in class in person, and the way they transform the character of the cities and shape city life. Transportation in the Netherlands is not a burden. The Dutch do not have to plan their life around traffic like we do in Atlanta. While the reasons for this are complex, there were several key planning and design principles that we saw in each city we visited. I am confident that we can begin implementing some of these principles in the US and Atlanta.
While Dutch culture probably had some influence on their ability to initially create such impressive transportation systems, it is important to remember that they were at a place similar to the US just 50 years ago. I believe that the Dutch culture has grown to support, maintain and improve the transportation infrastructure, and that it has shaped their culture to some extent rather than the other way around. This makes me hopeful that a similar process is also possible for American culture. Once a certain amount of quality transportation infrastructure is in place, I believe American culture can also grow to have a greater appreciation for active transportation, which will result in greater use, support and funding of these projects.
I am still in awe with just how the Dutch have woven cycling into their everyday life; not as a lifestyle they choose but it is fully embedded in their culture. It is everyday life for them to ride a bike to get lunch or go shopping, where in the US it is not the first choice for many if a choice at all. In the Netherlands there is plenty of bike parking everywhere, such as the grocery store, Hema, and train stations. Here in the US there are five spots to park at my local grocery store, about eight at Target, and there are two racks at Marta station.
Cycling infrastructure is not part of design here in the States. It is slowly changing, but why would anyone ride anywhere if there is nowhere to park their bike at the destination. The Dutch make it so easy for someone to bike anywhere. On Sunday, we biked to The Keringhuis which is in the middle of nowhere and there was bike infrastructure the whole way there. We were adjacent to a highway at some points and felt completely safe, we rode through small towns and the infrastructure continued flawlessly. Wayfinding was easy and convenient if traveling to a new area and if you knew where you were going. One cultural aspect that has influenced their design is to protect the cyclist more than cars. They see that the cyclist is so much more vulnerable to injury than someone traveling in a car. This has influenced design by keeping the cyclists away from high speed cars and when they are mixed together it is at low speeds and often the cyclist has priority.
An example of how design has influenced culture is they have put thought into their system as a whole and have connected it all together. For me to get from GA Tech to Atlantic Station the ride is 95% on roads shared with cars. For me to get from my house to GA Tech I am on the road with cars 40% of the time. Our design lacks the connectivity which makes people feel secure therefore it influences the culture not to think twice about cycling. Their design is built to where a child in grade school could navigate whereas in the US you must have the mindset of a fearless cyclist at times to get from point A to point B.
The US is so car centric with the mentality that I need to get there right now, that to have another mode of transportation such as cycling is unheard off. The US is slowing coming around I believe that if we keep on making connections to expand the network we will get there. I don’t think this can be done overnight, but slowly it is possible. In Atlanta it is going to come to a point where a cyclist and transit rider will make it home before a car on a constant basis. Hopefully it doesn't get to that point, but if it does maybe eyes will open to other modes of transportation.
Two weeks ago we left for the Netherlands. Little did I know it would be such an eye-opening experience interacting with their transportation systems and infrastructure. The fundamental difference that makes Dutch transportation infrastructure so amazing and so much better than Atlanta’s is that they design for more than just vehicles. They design for each mode so well that some intersections are completely traffic signal-less! The Dutch share roads, not lanes. Sharrows, America’s easy and quick after-thought fix to accommodating bicycles on a road designed for vehicles is unheard of in the Netherlands. Bicycles are given priority when space restrictions limit the design from completely separating bicycles and vehicles. Every mode of transportation from walking to biking to light rail to vehicles all have their own opportunity to cross at intersections.
Dutch culture is not possible without their innovative design and their innovative design would not be possible without their forward thinking and community growth focused culture. Their mission to prioritize safety and sustainability from water to energy to transportation is remarkable. Their culture is highly motivated by problem solving and are quick to put their actions where their words are. When the disastrous storms flooded the Netherlands in 1953 they vowed to never let something like that happen again and created a water control system that keeps a country 50% below sea level without flooding and with the highest water safety levels of any other country in the world. When they witnessed the number of dangerous and deadly incidents with vehicles increasing they changed how they fundamentally used transportation. It seems like every month a new social or environmental tragedy hits America but we do not ever have such a forward and change driven reaction.
Returning to Atlanta made our trip to the Netherlands seem all the more like a dream. But it has motivated me with a vision of the sustainable and multimodal utopia Atlanta and cities all across the States could be! I want to take this opportunity to thank the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Dr. Watkins in particular for making this course and trip possible. The friends I made and everyone I had the opportunity to learn from made this an adventure I will remember for not only the rest of my transportation career but my life!
Looking back, the Netherlands seemed like a dream. I’ve spent the last week telling anyone who would listen how good the Dutch infrastructure is. Anyone who has asked me how my spring break was has been subjected to more photos of bike lanes than they were ever interested in seeing. After all the weeks of learning about the Dutch system on paper, being able to actually use it was an incredible experience. The infrastructure (and stroopwaffles) really lived up the hype.
The differences between the Dutch and US design are drastic. The Dutch prioritize cyclists at almost every opportunity, while the US often opts of the easiest, and cheapest solution. You will never find a shared lane in the Netherlands, while that is usually all that is done in the United States. The Dutch keep both safety and comfort of cyclists in very high regard. Whenever possible, the bikes are completely separated from the traffic, and when they aren’t signage is clear and vehicle speeds are very low. Everyone has their own spaces and everyone knows exactly where they are supposed to be. And the success of their policies is evident. When we were in Utrect, the bicycles were lining up down an entire block to cross at a bike signal, also in almost every city the bike parking near the train station was full. The fact that The Netherlands has such a high bike share shows that these protection policies are working.
Figure 1 - Bikes waiting to cross the street
While the polices are wonderful, that is not the only thing that contributes to the prominent Dutch bike usage. They culture there supports it as well. Children in the Netherlands wait in anticipation for their first bikes as we do our first cars. The US it currently too car centric for any Dutch infrastructure to be successfully integrated. The last thing most Americans want is to lower speed limits and take away lanes to add cycle tracks. We are trapped in a negative feedback loop – people don’t want to cycle because there is no infrastructure to protect them, but no one is willing to fund the infrastructure because there are no cyclists. But this is why we went to the Netherlands. We now have the firsthand knowledge and experience to start breaking this cycle and I cannot wait to start!
Wow! What a week it was! Having the privilege of traveling to the Netherlands to observe their cycling culture and infrastructure has been one of the highlights of my whole academic career here at Georgia Tech. It has been a humbling experience seeing how the Dutch create sustainable communities.
After weeks of posting about how the Dutch approach is different from the United States on paper, seeing it play out in real life and real time has cemented that thought. The simple fact of the matter is that the Dutch people stopped holding the motor vehicle on a high pedestal back in the 1970s. They literally have a whole generation that grew up accustomed to the bicycle as a standard and integral part of the transportation system. And this generation is now the one in charge of transportation and land use planning. With them at the helm, they’ve been able to preserve and protect the bicycle as the main form of transportation within the country through meaningful design that prioritized the two-wheeled tubes of steel.
Unfortunately, we did the same, but instead of enshrining the bicycle we lionized the car and gave it this untouchable status of ruler of the public space. Our nation’s land use planning gave into capitalism, and allowed uncontrollable markets to develop huge suburbs, creating spread out communities that we are now finding difficult to stitch together with a solid, reliable public transportation system. It doesn’t help that the political entities we depend on for smart planning have to deal with the other fact that they do not own the land they seek to improve (recall that Amsterdam owns ~80% of its land, and therefore it is easier to make planning decisions).
Nevertheless, I remain hopeful. What took one generation to shove suburbanism and car-dependency down a society’s throat will take another generation to pull us out of that unhealthy, unsustainable relationship. It can start in the dense city centers of Ted Turner Drive. It can start in the spread-out suburbs of Druid Hills or Brookhaven (heck, it can even start in Marietta). It can start with young adults reaching for the bicycle in order to get to work. It can start with homemakers shifting their errand trips away from cars. This week made me open my eyes to the many possibilities that await our amazing city of Atlanta. Truly now more than ever is Atlanta a city on the verge of cycling greatness!
P.S. The last sentence is a reference to Mark Pendergrast’s book “City on the Verge”, which focuses on the socio-economic and political implications of the Atlanta BeltLine on the neighborhoods it threatens to both destroy and renew. It is an excellent read and I highly recommend it!
With such enticing treats such as stroopwafels and pickled herring, of course the Dutch have the best bike infrastructure; biking provides minimal traffic between you and your beloved snacks! Bikes are made priority for good reason in the Netherlands. Leaving the Netherlands, I’m thankful for the opportunity to not just see the infrastructure but to actually interact with it by using the bike lanes and the public transportation network. As a user of the system I was able to gain even more appreciation for the country’s respect for multiple modes of transportation. It’s deeply engrained in their culture. I think this is a major difference from the US where bicycle infrastructure is often thought of as a side piece to the existing car infrastructure because of the car-centric growth of the country. In the Netherlands, bikes are a way of life and are treated as such.
In order to prioritize bikes, the Dutch provide the safest route possible to cyclists first and then give room for cars. Minimal design changes such as lower grades, separation from the high traffic areas, and pavement differences ensure that cyclists are safe and comfortable getting from point to point anywhere in the country. In the US, a country built by the automobile, this concept is difficult to implement. Their culture also was subject to the rise of the car, but revolted to ensure the safety of its children, whereas the US saw cars as a way to expand their horizons. After pushing for reform, cycling rose in the Netherlands and prevails today. Because of this cultural mentality of biking as a way of life, bike infrastructure has developed further today, being incorporated into traffic signalization and adapting at roundabouts. Vice versa, with safer roads, cycling increases and has multiple impacts on culture. One on the most promising, in my opinion, is the mobility cycling provides to all users; it’s a fairly cheap mode of transportation when compared to using a car, and thus allows all socio-economic backgrounds to use the system as well as all ages and all physical abilities. I love the cohesion this provides in a world that often has so many barriers for different types of people.
Although I’m disappointed to have left the beautiful, albeit windy, land of cheese and stroopwafels, I’m hopeful for the future that may come as we attempt to change America’s infrastructure practices and some of the mindset surrounding bike infrastructure as well. I’m glad for the things that I saw and the people I met on this trip and can’t wait to see how we bring pieces of the Netherlands back home! Below is a picture of two civil engineers wishing we could bring our cute bikes as well as the Dutch bike network home with us.