Houten’s approach to their transportation design is that the residents should be able to bike everywhere and if they cannot they can bike to the train. Each of the neighborhoods have their own network bike network for the necessities like schools and grocery shopping, any area that they would run short errands. However, they still have the availability to the easy access car routes that perimeter the city. It is about 2 kilometers to get across Houten so it is an easy commute to get anywhere in the city. They designed the city to almost completely take cars out of the equation, they wanted to the bike and train together so their people can reach everywhere they need without using a car.
I can imagine this approach in the U.S. but it would have to be in a very small town, and the town would have to be designed from the ground up. I can’t imagine anywhere in the U.S. would redesign their entire city in order to make it as completely bike centric as Houten. I think it could be a cool social experiment if some planners, architects, and engineers get together on private land and attempt something similar. It would be interesting to see who would move their and how they would assimilate to the new system.
I thought overall that Houten was a really nice suburb and it seemed like a beautiful place to raise kids and it’s not too far away from Utrect when they want a bigger city feel. Each neighborhood had their own personality and that was really cool to see how each area is connected. It was definitely something I had never seen before but I really enjoyed riding around and observing.
By Jordan Hunt, 11 June 2017
The city of Houten is an anomaly even by Dutch standards. The major differentiator between Houten and other cities is that Houten started from scratch and developed a city fully focused around cycling. They never had to retrofit or redesign corridors in order to accommodate cyclists. Because Houten expanded from a very small town, they had the opportunity to create a safe, high functioning transportation network that encouraged cycling and train travel and restricted vehicle mobility.
The mindset taken by the developers during the design of Houten was that cities are meant for living, not for vehicles. This resulted in vehicles being restricted to the outskirts of the city. In order to travel across Houten in a vehicle, they must travel to the ring road that borders the city and travel around the city centers; there are no vehicular roads that travel directly through the city. This design creates a city center that is highly accessible for pedestrians and cyclists, as well as reduces the noise pollution from vehicles resulting in a very quiet and comfortable city center. One interesting concept that was used was the idea that developed areas within the city should be surrounded and interconnected by a network of green space. This is contrary to the typical method for developing cities, which is to have green spaces scattered throughout with developed urban areas surrounding and connecting these green spaces. The major bike routes through the city were located along these green spaces which created a wonderful experience for cyclists.
There are several difficulties that would prevent this type of approach from being applied within the states. Firstly, most cities already have significant vehicle infrastructure in place which would make it harder to implement this type of cycling and transit focused system. A second difficulty would be that American culture does not view cycling as a dominant mode of transportation. Developing an entire city around cycling infrastructure would be difficult to do, solely because automobile use is so high. The only way I could see this approach being implemented is within a very small town or just a small neighborhood within a larger city. It would almost be experimental, implementing a significant network of cycle tracks and eliminating most vehicle access. Houten is the poster-child of cycle oriented cities and I believe the US has a long way to go before this type of development would be feasible.
Houten is a city built around slow moving traffic. It was required to grow 2 times. The first time, they built a new city center around the train station and a ring road for the vehicles, but the city center was only accessible by foot or bike.The second extended the ring road, but did not have any housing until the train station was built so people wouldn't be used to traveling by car. They very much prioritized reducing noise and air pollution. It felt very safe and like the perfect place to raise a family. The guy leading us was clearly passionate about bike as a mode of transportation stating that the infrastructure to protect bikes was not expensive because of the bikes, but because of the cars. Overall, they seemed very proud of their way of life.
However, Houten has some problems with commuting. Although built around train stations, over 60% of citizens drive elsewhere to work. Although their planning was great for infrastructure, they did not attract the companies that would keep people employed in the city. Additionally, they actually have enough jobs for everyone which means people commute from elsewhere to work in Houten.
Atlanta seems to have the opposite problems, poor infrastructure for slow traffic and everyone commuting to it for work. But, this is really a suburban sort of city, so it may be more applicable in a suburban setting. Houten was built from nothing and carefully planned. It could be possible to build new areas copying this method, but I think focusing on our existing infrastructure is important. Some of the concepts could be applied, such as protected bike lanes or closing the city center to vehicular traffic. The double roundabout would be a very cool thing to add, but very expensive. I think that the most important thing that we could take from Houten is a mentality of the importance of infrastructure for slower, more sustainable modes of transportation. Although cars still need to be able to exist, we could make it so they are not always the most important mode with the others as a forethought. Biking, walking, and public transit are safer, create less pollution (both air and noise), and healthier for the public, so it is reasonable to prioritize these modes. But I think we could find a middle point with a balanced approach where we could prioritize these modes and still allow for cars.
Houten approached their city design in an unique way. When the city was expanding, ring roads were built around the city center enclosing the city. The goal was to ensure the use of bike and transit rather than car. Access roads were built within the city, but neighborhoods were cut off from one another. To travel to neighborhood to neighborhood the easiest way is by bike. Otherwise you must take the ring road out and drive around to the access road rather than cutting across the city.
Building the ring roads around the city allowed for growth to grow with a limited area. This limit ensured that the city would not continue to sprawl and sprawl outward. Houten design also used an inverted system. Instead of greenspace being trapped by development, the developments are enclosed within the greenspace. Riding in Houten was different than riding in other cities because it provides a much greener route.
Could the US mimic Houten's design? Possibly. The United States faces greater challenges to mimic the design that the Netherlands already solved. For example, one reason why the system works so well in Houten is the readily available mass transit. People do not need their cars to get to larger cities such as Utrecht and den Haag, but can bike to a train station and ride a train there. Houten also benefits from the biking culture the Netherlands possesses. A culture shift in one city would be difficult to achieve. The United States could mimic Houten's design, but for it to work as well we need the transit systems and culture in place. While listening to the presentation, I thought of my own neighborhood's design. The subdivisions are put on the outside of the main circle rather than inside creating easy access for cars and unfriendly conditions for bikes and pedestrians. A design similar to Houten, on a smaller scale, would have allowed for more greenspace, discourage car travel, and promoted biking and walking even more throughout the area. New small developments could mimic Houten's design, but it would be difficult for already built ones to retrofit it.
The more I learn about the Netherlands infrastructure, the more I realize the importance of the culture. The expectations really shapes design, and the United States must break expectations to break the cycle (pun intended) of car jungles.
If the United States wants to get more people biking, we need to embrace the Dutch philosophy and build separated facilities for bicycles.
Prior to embarking on our bike adventure in the Netherlands, we read several books and articles that compared the cycling in Europe to other counties across the world. The Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, Belgium, and the Scandinavian countries embrace the philosophy that the safest and most efficient transportation system is one where bikes and pedestrians, for the most part, are separated from vehicular traffic. Contrary to that, the United States’ transportation system was built on the idea that all modes of transportation should share the same roadway. Both philosophies have resulted in extreme differences in bicycle mode share and bicycle and pedestrian fatalities.
The Netherlands and the surrounding counties have embraced cycle tracks as their standard bicycle facility. A cycle track can be either a one or two way bike lane that is separated from vehicular traffic by a physical barrier. The type of physical barrier varies depending upon the roadway and neighborhood needs. Parked cars or concrete curbs can be used to distinguish the bike lane from the vehicular lane. In some cases, when there is enough space, the bike lane is completely separated by landscaped median. These type of facilities have attracted a wide range of cyclist and provoked people to embrace cycling as a mode of transportation. In 2008, 28% of all trips in the Netherlands were made by bike (Buehler and Pucher, 2012). The ratio of women to men using a bike for transportation is one to one, for all age groups in counties with high bike mode shares. In comparison, as of 2008, the United States and Australia have a bike mode share of about 1% and the majority of cyclist are men. This statistic alone suggests that the physical layout of cities and the bicycle infrastructure, in the Netherlands, appeals to a larger number cyclists.
In the book City Cycling, Peter Furth attributes the drastic difference in mode share to the different infrastructure models. The United States has actively opposed separated facilities since the 1970s and, instead, built a system where bicycles and cars are forced to share a lane with motor vehicles. John Forester used his vehicular cycling theory to lead the opposition against Dutch separated facilities. The primary argument is that separated path make it difficult for drivers to see cyclist and increase the risk of fatal crashes at intersections. Forester believes that a vehicle is more aware of bicycles if they are in front of them in the roadway. This theory disregards perceived safety and comfort, which are major factors in getting a wide range of people to ride. If people feel comfortable, they are more likely to bike. Today, the majority of cyclist in America are men, who ride for recreation. The on-street facilities work for them because they are usually traveling at fast pace. However, they are not suited for anyone who is afraid to ride next to vehicles traveling at least 40 mph.
In summary, through these readings, I’ve learned that the character of bicycle infrastructure impacts the culture of cycling and shapes the type of cyclists you will see around town. If you separate bikes from vehicles traveling at speeds greater than 15 mph, you are more likely to see a balance between men and women biking.
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.
The cycling in The Netherlands has been pretty nice for the most part. I find myself keeping up with the group and not getting as physically exhausted as I would biking around Atlanta. It is also really nice that the bike lanes are away from the cars so it all feels a lot safer. One of my biggest concerns with biking around the city of Atlanta is being an inconvenience to cars and riding too slow for traffic since I am a newbie, but here I don’t have that concern at all. Even in the bike lane, if I am going too slow or slower than one of the residents they just go around and it’s not big deal. Road rage is definitely NOT a thing here.
The design here is different from the U.S. in that it makes the safety and efficiency of bikers and pedestrians the priority. Obviously having the bike lanes and the separated bike paths adjacent to the street is a big difference, but even the car yield signs and having the cars stop when the bikes are passing is completely different from the U.S. Today we biked around Delft looking at some of the bike infrastructure that has been implemented, and I was definitely that American that stopped at the bike yield to let a car go even though the bike had the right of way. It’s just so different and I am not used to feeling this safe while riding around the city.
As a novice bike rider, I have never ridden a bike around a metropolitan city before. I’ve only used multi-use trails such as the silver comet trail, or going around the Rose Bowl in California. This first day experience was very uncomfortable for me the entire time because I am not as comfortable riding a bike in traffic as the others in this class. The ride allowed me to try different riding facilities around Atlanta, I was definitely most comfortable along the Beltline because it was secluded and the landscape was flat. I was indifferent about riding on the bike lanes in midtown; the cars made me nervous but the bike lanes are very distinct and the other drivers seem to respect the bike lane. Also, on 10th street they had the protected bike lane so I did not feel like I was an inconvenience to cars on the road. The portion of the ride that caused me the most stress was riding on Edgewood and riding back to GT. Edgewood’s biking facilities were rundown, they had potholes, and the paint seemed to be fading in around so the lane itself was warn and not as distinct. Since the lane was less distinct, riding next to the cars made me feel very unsafe because I thought that I could get hit or could fall (I did fall), and had to be overall significantly more cautious about the cars around me.
I read the four given videos plus “Utrecht Summer Cycling 2014” and “Women Cycling in The Netherlands.” Impression of the videos is that the Dutch have a greater respect for their cyclists and their safety than in the United States. The video “How the Dutch got their cycle paths” also shows that the environment and land preservation is a priority for the Dutch and that they were ahead of the curve when they pushed for the bike paths in the 1970s. The intersection design segments differ from the U.S. because they allow more space for pedestrians and cyclists to cross in their own paths without integrating with the car traffic. They implement a secure path separating all the modes of transportation allow safe crossing for all parties involved. They designed their intersection so that drivers can visually know where the cyclists are and see them before proceeding and the cars are also in the direct site of the cyclist.
Mentoring and feedback are important aspects to the success of any group. Mentoring allows students to have a professional to learn from and collaborate with, however, I believe that mentoring is always a two-way street. Mentoring exemplifies productive collaboration of shared ideas while also adding the teaching component that will allow the mentee to grow professionally. Demonstrating good leadership skills and giving useful feedback are important components of a great mentor. The Mentor should be able to teach without being condescending or belittling the mentee for their possible ignorance in a field but rather give useful and direct criticism that doesn’t put down the mentee and still allows them to grow.
During previous internships I have encountered both useful and poor mentorship experiences. My biggest takeaway from my positive mentoring experiences is that there are some practices that I have that I should become aware of and should begin work on. I also learned of positive habits that I should continue to enhance. The poor mentoring experiences have only left me feeling defeated as a person and made me question my intelligence as well as my professional and social interactions. It did not give me any specifics on what to work on and I left the experience not having a clear understanding about what went well, what went wrong, or what could have been done better. These experiences showed me what useful feedback is and how it needs to be clear and direct, not sugar-coated, and not just thrown out with negative intent and no regard for the person it is being given to.
My first two days in the Netherlands have been incredible and mind–opening. The difference in the cycling experience is so great that even after two days of riding, I still find myself following habits formed in the US that aren’t useful in the Netherlands. That isn’t to say that I’ve had difficulty with the Dutch system; I felt comfortable from the start and I had filled the gaps in my knowledge by the end of my first day of riding. Once I knew which signs meant I had to yield, everything straightforward. The most difficult piece of infrastructure understand is the signalized intersection, but there are fewer of these than I expected and every step is dictated. Understanding the full measure of these intersections isn’t necessary to cross them safely as long as I follow the signals.
The Dutch have solved most of the problems that plague bike in the US, as well as a whole other host of problems we don’t even need to contend with in most cities. I complained about several things in my past blogs, but the two problems that come to mind about Atlanta are the lack of connectivity and the danger cyclists face at intersections. In Atlanta, it is difficult to get from one side of the city to another without braving fast moving traffic, and I have never dared to bike from Georgia Tech to my 15 miles North. Despite having a bike available, there have many times when I have gone through huge trouble to get home by car. If I were making the same trip in the Netherlands, I wouldn’t be worrying about how to get a car. I would be deciding whether I want to ride my bike or ride the train. On my first day I had several hours of free time, and I spent it riding around aimlessly just for the fun of it. I found that I could go in any direction for as far as I wanted without any trouble. That level of freedom is intoxicating, and it makes me want to spend all day riding. The Dutch cycling infrastructure is simultaneously dense and ubiquitous. If I wanted to travel to a different city right now, all I would really need to know is what direction it is and about how far it is and I would be ready to go. I have enough faith in the cycling infrastructure to believe that I could get there efficiently by several independent routes.
The Dutch use public space more effectively than we do in many ways. Rotterdam feels so much more alive than downtown Atlanta because at street level, Atlanta is designed for cars to access parking decks and Rotterdam is designed for people walking and shopping. There are streets in downtown Atlanta that feel nothing short of oppressive to walk on. Blank concrete skyscrapers block the sky and garage entrances block the sidewalk every 10 feet. The streets of Rotterdam have space for cars, cyclists, and pedestrians, and there are stores lining the street.
I can’t wait to explore more of the Netherlands in the next two weeks. Despite the fact that we are touring important sites on bikes for hours each day, I expect to spend a few more hours each day riding just for fun.
Welcome to the Netherlands. The past few days, we have immersed ourselves in transportation utopia. Before I get too distracted, I have to remind myself what I hope to get out of this program. My goal is simply to take the 'feel' of Dutch infrastructure and translate it into something the US could use. Atlanta, unlike the Netherlands, is pretty devoid of bodies of water, and it is a lot hillier. The summers are also much more intense. Some Dutch solutions may not work for us. But the fundamental question is how do we get people comfortable enough to start considering a bike as a feasible alternative mode of transportation? Below I document some of my initial findings.
The bikes are not the greatest. But that's because no daily commuter needs to be going faster than 10mph. Additionally, there aren't any hills to climb. As a result, front brakes aren't really needed. Instead, lots of bikes opt for coaster brakes, which wouldn't actually help you much with stopping if you were going 20+mph. Most of the bikes also feature a step through frame, making them much easier to mount with movement restricting clothing. On the bike I'm currently riding, my back is completely straight, and I'm about a foot higher than normal. The handlebars and overall geometry of the bike are pretty effective speed reducers in addition to being very comfortable. Bike theft is a common problem in the Netherlands, so that might play into why the bikes aren't all that great.
As far as infrastructure goes, it's obviously top notch. The Dutch have truly accomplished something here. The red pavement is genius. The roads on which bikes share the road with cars are slow enough to be comfortable. All the cycletracks and intersections seem meticulously thought out. Everything seems in its right place, and it all looks like it has been there forever.
The switching of modes is seamless. From the airport we were able to get on a train, and, had we already had our bikes in Delft, we could have rode them from the train station to our hotel. Delft is a pretty and quiet city. It has lots of tile roads and plenty of canals that all make for some beautiful streets. There's a market that opens weekly.
It is difficult finding things that will translate over easily to the US, let alone Atlanta. Although the two way cycle roundabouts are cool, a lot of space needs to be devoted to build them. Plus some Dutch infrastructure wouldn't fly in the US, where our idea of efficiency is how many miles per hour we can go. Dutch infrastructure is clearly engineered to limit car speed. I'm still going through pictures of specific Dutch designs, but I'll be sure to post some when that happens.
So far I can tell how much of a vehicular cyclist I was in the US. There, I was concerned about going fast and getting away from traffic as quick as possible. It made for an incredibly aggressive form of biking. After cycling in the Netherlands I have found that my pace has slowed considerably. Also I've all sorts of different people cycling here. From the elderly all the way to teenagers biking and texting. I've even seen a couple of families all riding together, and also I've seen road cyclists. They're a lot more considerate than they are on the Silver Comet. More to come.