We have been in the Netherlands for 3 days now, 2 of which we have had our bikes. Despite already knowing that biking here is commonplace, I didn't really realize just how common it is until I experienced it. Perhaps common isn't the word to describe it, but natural. Just like in America where many people don't even think of using any mode besides a car, it seems these people will automatically choose bike. Some shared roads near the center of town can feel chaotic with bikers going all directions and pedestrians and scooters in the mix as well, but they appear to glide through it with ease. The reduced parking space needed allows for a density that we can't achieve in America. The transition from pedestrian to bike even seems more natural than that of pedestrian to car.
In general, biking here feels calm and pleasant. The upright bikes aid in this, but I think also that the infrastructure allows for the upright bikes. I would never ride this bike, even on a flat road in Atlanta because I don't feel capable of going fast enough to mix with the cars. Yesterday we biked to Rotterdam. We were able to bike almost all the way to Rotterdam on separated bike facilities, and when not separated, there was at least an obvious bike facility or we were on a shared road. The freedom from worrying about vehicles allowed me to look around and enjoy my trip. It was far less stressful than any other mode of transportation I have encountered.
I would guess that Forrester never visited the Netherlands. As someone who is on a racing team (although I'm not a hardcore racer), I think that those facilities would be far better to practice on than what we do in Atlanta. I'll concede that they would be unpleasant to try to practice on during peak hours in a crowded area, but it is totally reasonable to practice at off peak hours. Who would want to cycle during peak car hours on the road anyways? I think the small amount of slow down from other cyclists on the path would be worth the increased number of people willing to/capable of cycling. I'd take an easy bike commute that reduced stress, added happiness, improved health, and increased safety over being able to ride as fast as possible mixed in with traffic for a training ride. But you could do either here.
Furthermore, transportation simply seems more seamless here. It is like they really thought about it so that they never need to worry about it. It was so simple to walk off the plane and right into a train station with trains traveling all over the country. Our airport in Atlanta at least has MARTA to Atlanta, but perhaps a quick train to Charleston would be an improvement. After the train ride, we could have easily taken a bike the rest of the way to our hotel if we were Dutch citizens (the payment systems here are just so difficult). We also could have ridden our bikes right up to the ferry we took to kinderdijk. The transportation here is multimodal, interconnected, and allows one to travel without a bulky, expensive vehicle to lug everywhere. This brings a new level of freedom that Americans don't have.
Overall, I want America to be able to implement these concepts. Their whole transportation systems seems like the country cares more about it and that safety is prioritized over quickness. But this is a very timely country, so their transportation must be reliable. It would be interesting to know how the traffic flow was impacted by the switch to bike infrastructure and how long it took for any initial congestion to be reduced by people switching mode types. I think similar to when people can't "find the time" to do things, our inability to find the space for this infrastructure is a greater reflection of priorities than a true lack of space. Although space is clearly limited, we could change if we wanted to. But, I wonder, what message is sufficient to get people to change.
Some moments I can’t believe it’s already been over two days and others I feel like we’ve been here forever. After arriving in Amsterdam, we boarded the train to Delft in the station seamlessly connected to the airport. Upon arriving, we had some free time to check out the city before picking up our bikes. Picking out our bicycles made me feel even shorter than usual. The Dutch are statistically the tallest people in the world so the fit of the uprights is a bit different than back home. I was just glad to get one with hand brakes and a couple of gears.
Our first full day in the Netherlands, we took on the adventure of inter-city biking. Winding through Delft, we used a cycle track to continue on to Rotterdam. While the infrastructure changed once or twice to accommodate cars through small towns, we remained on this straight-shot track all the way to Rotterdam. Rotterdam, famous for being the largest port in Europe, is the Netherlands’ second largest city and much larger than Delft. It was in Rotterdam that we experienced our first large protected intersection as well as many more forms of cycling infrastructure. A notable contrast to the US, we were able to make our journey with relatively little interaction with cars except in the city centers.
Today, our second full day, included morning discussions of our City Cycling readings followed by an afternoon bike tour of notable infrastructure around Delft. While traveling along a main thoroughfare, the cyclists have priority over all forms of transportation from cross roads. Vehicles, cyclists or pedestrians from side roads must yield to the through traffic including the bicycles making traveling much more seamless and limiting stops and startups on main thoroughfares Through the roundabouts, the pedestrians and cyclists get true priority over any vehicle. We also reviewed the protected intersection in more detail. The Dutch roundabout and protected intersection provide much safer solutions to intersections involving multiple modes of transportation while still maintaining efficiency.
The protected intersections may impose more stops/starts but it utilizes much shorter cycle times to accommodate all forms of transportation through the intersection in a timely manner. A very important feature is the controlled right turn lane for vehicles. “Right on red” is illegal in the Netherlands and cars can only perform right turns when given a green arrow. This is frequently accommodated by allowing pedestrians and bikes to have a green simultaneously to the through traffic. These greens may seem short but are enough time for the wave of waiting bikes to get through. Still during the same through traffic green, the bike and pedestrian lights turns red and the right turn vehicles are allowed to go. This all occurs over a relatively short cycle time. On the other hand, the roundabout includes no signaling but uses yields to signify right-of-way. Cars are the fastest of the modes and therefore yield to the bicycles and pedestrians as they can easily make up any momentary delay and are the least vulnerable.
Cycling in the Netherlands is such a standard means of transportation that it stands out to look hesitant around cars. Markings and signage are very simple, standard, and clear as to the proper movements and priorities at intersections. The Dutch also are expert cyclists, usually learning at a much younger age, and can take on most obstacles with comfort. It’s harder to tell riding in a group of 14 Americans, but from past experiences, when riding with the Dutch, they bike with such art that yet again makes American methods look so unsafe, inefficient, and not intuitive.
After a few days in the Netherlands, biking here is much easier than the United States. Biking in the Netherlands is like taking a stroll in a park in the United States. It is peaceful and calm. If someone is faster than you (a runner in a park), they simply pass you on the left when possible. Many, many, many (and this is an understatement) more people bike in Delft than in the United States. The design assists greatly in accomplishing this.
The Dutch design prioritizes bikes. While biking to Rotterdam, we biked on a protected cycle track for most of the trip. We could go as fast or as slow as we wanted and never had to stop until we reached signalized intersections. When we did have to share a road through a bike lane or simply shared street, it was clear that bikes had the priority and cars always had to yield to them. Never did I feel unsafe or uncomfortable and never did a car zoom by me.
In the United States, cycle tracks are not widespread. The lack of cycle tracks forces cyclists to act as vehicles or ride in unprotected bike lines. From biking in Atlanta, the lack of cycle tracks is incredibly stressful, and I was thankful that I had a break from biking without one on the BeltLine. The most dangerous part of biking is an intersection, but even at Dutch intersection cyclists maintain priority.
The Dutch design provides signals for bikes separate from car signals. This major difference creates a two phase left turn. This left turn may take longer than a left turn if a bike was in the left turn lane, but is much safer. Bikers do not have to switch multiple lanes to make the left and also never have to stop for a right turn. The United States design values pure speed over safety, but the Dutch design maintains both and allows for users of all ages.
Figure 1: Signalized Intersection in the Netherlands
Biking through the Netherlands, I've seen people of all age biking and biking comfortably. The ages range from as low as 3 to as old as about 80. Only the track cyclists or young children wear helmets. Everyone is comfortable while riding and people of all cultures ride bikes. The culture definitely helps promote cycling and the infrastructure helps maintain the cycling culture. It seems to have created a positive feedback loop: as the culture would grow, so would the infrastructure and as the infrastructure grow the cycling culture becomes stronger and stronger. America is nowhere near the level of possessing a positive feedback loop for cycling, but hopefully one day it will be there.
There is a reason that the bike share of trips is 1% in the United States and 26% in the Netherlands (Pucher 2012). In the Netherlands, the highest percent of trips by cycling are made by those younger than 17. Also notable is that the third highest percent of trips by cycling are made by those older than 65. There are many differences between the US and Netherlands- including terrain, travel distance, and density- that present challenges to bicycling in the US; however, when studying cities, where density and trip distance limit deterrents, the challenge becomes more related to the infrastructure design.
Designing infrastructure for safety is imperative for encouraging cycling. This is particularly true for children, women, and the elderly. From 2004 to 2008, cycling fatality rates in the Netherlands were one-fifth of those in the US. Injury rates in the Netherlands were one-twentieth of those of the US during the same time. Many components are important to cycling safety including education, signage, speed limits, and separation. In the Netherlands, separation is the foundation for bicycle infrastructure. Cars and bicycles can share roads with low speed limits but once this exceeds 20 mph, it is deemed unsafe to combine the two and there will be dedicated infrastructure for bicycles.
In the US, the concept of separation is in stark contrast to the vehicular cycling theory. This theory supports that bicyclists are safer when acting as cars than if separated. This cycling theory only seems to stand ground when intersections are not designed safely for all users. US cyclists see separated infrastructure as a threat to their right to the road. However, I argue that these cyclists are very experienced and comfortable with riding alongside vehicles and that this mentality is not representative of the larger pool of would-be cyclists. Since American standards are developed using American data, the deterrence from separated cycling infrastructure has become a self-fulfilling prophecy in that we discount the data available and proven in Europe for our scarce or unideal local data. Thankfully, cities have pushed back on this theory in recent years and are implementing more and more protected infrastructure.
Policy is another important driver to cycling use. While national policies can encourage cycling, the most effective strategies occur at the local level. In successful cycling countries like the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany, most households own a car; however, policies deter the excessive use of one. In the Netherlands, there are high taxes on fuel and new car purchases. When cars began to dominate the Dutch culture in the 1950s and 1960s, the increasing pollution, congestion and number of accidents spurred the population to demand restrictions on driving. Thus began car-free Sundays. Removing the car for even just one day let people experience the safe roads before fully committing to an infrastructure change. This “pop-up” mentality has increased in popularity in the US and could be a key to easing shifts in public support for better bicycle infrastructure and pro-bicycle policy.
To take the potential success of bike infrastructure and truly grow its impact, the logical connection is the integration of bicycles and public transportation. This connection particularly assists with the challenges of American terrain and travel distances. Public transport can be an alternative for inclement weather or for attacking the longer, hillier portions of trips while still providing access to your bicycle for local portions. For non-transit-oriented developments, bicycles connect homes and offices to trains without the use of vehicles. In the Netherlands, it is common to see bicycle markings on the doors to the trains for designated bike cars. This system makes it easy to bike from your home to the train, take the train to the next city and continue your journey by bike to your destination. The Netherlands also concentrates its bike parking and bike share stations at train stations for those that prefer this trip continuity without bringing their own bike aboard.
Having safer, separated, and well-designed infrastructure for cyclists promotes the use of this infrastructure by a much larger portion of the population than with vehicular cycling theory. With better infrastructure will come the masses, as continuously seen in the US. With the masses comes safer cycling in numbers and the safety factor will continue to grow. This active transport culture also promotes a healthier lifestyle through ingrained exercise and time spent outdoors. These health benefits have been seen to far outweigh the cost of the infrastructure itself. Policies should be made to encourage alternate means of transportation and to ensure safer design of intersections. With increasing passage of local transportation funding programs, trust is beginning to grow between the people and their officials when it comes to infrastructure. I believe the people within cities will be willing to pay more as long as the city is successfully bringing safe, valuable opportunities for active transportation.
Over the past few weeks I've been reading over Buehler's City Cycling book. Early on, it is established that there are fundamentally different schools of thought on bike infra: traffic integration and separate. With North America touting the former, the Netherlands stresses the latter.This fundamental difference has led to different infrastructure, cycling populations, cycling fatality/injury rates, and public policies.
US cycling infra, keeping in line with vehicular cycling, is pretty limited. Most of it consists of cycle lanes and sharrows. Separated paths are said to be dangerous; riding on the sidewalk is often illegal. The few paths that exist, exist for recreational use. Bikes can pretty much be on any road so long as it's not an interstate, meaning cyclists are expected to act as a car in a 35+ mph zone.
Because of low effort cycling infra, cities don't have to spend lots of money on cycling infra. Because of the low concentration of bikes, cyclists can usually put their bikes on busses or on trains. Because cyclists are already on fast roads, they can pretty much go as fast as they please. However, the above are both reasons and results of there being a low percentage of cyclists in the US. And by cyclists I mean commuters/general public. NOT sport cyclists.
The Dutch way looks at every type of interaction bikes can have with cars and systematically eliminates it. Cities in the Netherlands will pay over $20 per person for cycling infra. Instead of integrating bikes with traffic, every effort is made to separate bikes from traffic. This includes cycletracks, paths, and cycle lanes. Roads on which there are cycle lanes or bikes have to share with cars, are engineered to be slow. This can mean chicanes, raised road, speed bumps, etc.
As a result, cycling is embraced by the general public. Even with so many cyclists, the Netherlands still has parking facilities and allows bikes to be taken on trains. Dutch public policy is also very explicit when it comes to bike because of their prominence.
At first, some of the statistics presented in City Cycling aren’t too surprising. The percentage of commutes cycled in the US is dwarfed by that of some northern European countries. The one statistic that did catch me off guard was the number of cycling related injuries in the US. When compared to other countries. The stat was literally off the chart and had to be shown by a discontinuous line. This spoke volumes for the current state of cycling infrastructure within the United States; the current system is broken and needs to be fixed.
Discovering how the US cycling infrastructure got to its current state was interesting. In the past, the predominant voice in providing direction for cycling infrastructure in the US was that of John Forester, and he did not lead planners down the right path. He believed that separating bicycle and vehicle traffic was actually more dangerous than to have them share lanes. It was quite frustrating reading some of his opinions on the cycling infrastructure in place in Europe and his justifications for not promoting separated cycle tracks. Facts are facts, and it is a fact that European countries that have promoted segregated cycling infrastructure experience an increased use of cycling across all ages for all types of commutes with drastically higher safety ratings.
From the readings, I do believe that the US is taking steps in the proper direction, though. The first sign of this is that federal funding of bicycling facilities has increased from $5 million in the late 1980s to over $1 billion in 2009 (Rails-to-Trails Conservancy). This shows the governments increased commitment to develop cycling facilities. Also, the implementation of European style cycle tracks within major US cities such as New York City and Seattle are great signs that policy makers have realized that separation is key to safe cycling facilities.
Bicycle infrastructure in the United States lags far behind European countries like the Netherlands. Pucher gives statistics showing how a tiny share of trips in the US are done on bicycles whereas the cycling comes close to rivaling motor vehicles for trip share in the Netherlands. The idea that the Dutch cycle more because of their culture, landscape, or any feature inherent to the Netherlands is refuted by the fact that some cities in the United States have cycle shares comparable to European cities. Davis Colorado has a cycle share of 15 percent, which is 30 times the national average and matches European cities like Rotterdam or Berlin. I think what Pucher is trying to prove with these statistics is that bicycling increases in cities that produce good cycling infrastructure.
The Dutch method of infrastructure design tends to separate cyclists from vehicles anywhere where vehicles are moving above a comfortable cycling speed. US designers have historically treated bicycles the same as vehicles and encouraged both to use the same roads without any formal separation. John Forester claimed this policy of ‘Vehicular Cycling’ was safer than separation of bikes and cars. According to him, separation led motorists to be less aware of bicycles and therefore more likely to get into accidents at intersections. He tended to ignore studies showing lower accident rates where bikes were separated from cars and when he could no longer ignore the statistics, he claimed that the increased safety came at the cost of inconvenience for cyclists at intersections. I think Forest’s ideas focus too much on the most confident cyclists at the expense of the majority of people who want to cycle but aren’t confortable riding in the same lane as cars. Separated cycling lanes are provably safer and usable by a much wider demographic of people.
Pucher lists numerous ways that public transportation can act in conjunction with cycling infrastructure. Light rail or busses can greatly extend a cyclists range or act as a replacement on days when weather prevents biking. Of course, cyclists are much more likely to take advantage of public transport if there is adequate bike parking at public transport stops and if cycling paths link these stops with the rest of the cycling infrastructure in a city. Many European cities fulfill these needs for cyclists. Another amenity that can help cyclists is allowing them to take their bikes on busses and trains. Pucher notes that this is one place where American cites tend to outperform European cites. Most American busses provide free bike rack usage and many trains allow bikes onboard for free. In Europe it is not as common to allow bikes on busses and taking a bike on a train tends to require a fee. I disagree that this is a real win for American cities because free bike passage on trains and busses is only possible because hardly anyone uses the service. Buses can only accommodate 2 or 3 bikes, and trains don’t tend to have specific spaces for bikes. If as many bikes were taken on Marta trains as there are on European trains with dedicated bike storage cars, American bikers would be banned or required to pay a fee just like Europeans. There are exceptions, like San Franscisco, but I suspect that in general these benefits rely on limited usage to be sustainable.
Cycling in the United States is much more stressful and much less safe than in the Netherlands, based on what we have learned so far. This is a result of culture and national priorities. In our car-oriented society, the focus is often on expediency. This is fitting of a culture where we often brag/complain about how busy we are. When focusing on expediency, it is easy to let safety be forgotten.
On the other hand, the Dutch mobilized to make cycling a common mode there due to its increase in safety and a desire for independence from oil. This focus on safety leads to separated facilities that are well marked (with red pavement). They have also recognized the other needs that a cyclist has. For example, decreasing intersections and conflicts both increases safety and makes for a smoother ride. They are cognizant that a cyclist is propelling themselves by their own power, so starts and needless elevation change should be minimized. I was very impressed by how dedicated the Dutch are to cyclist separation. They require it at much lower speeds than it is required here such that if there are lane markings, the cyclist spot will be demarcated and separate from drivers. They don't have such things as "sharrows" like we have here. They have shared roads, but never shared lanes. They also have excellent bike parking that I'm excited to experience.
Perhaps more surprising is that the US policies that support shared lanes come from cyclists. As someone on the Georgia Tech Cycling Team, I understand the desire to bike at a faster speed. We do need to train after all. But it is clearly unreasonable to think an average American, or an older or younger American, should ride with traffic. I am especially confused because our readings cited many papers showing that separated facilities are significantly safer, especially when intersections are handled well. As an engineer, I believe we could have countered concerns about intersections by designing them better (or adapting Dutch practices to our cities).
At least it is getting better in the US. More bike facilities are popping up. Bike parking is becoming more common. People are thinking about biking as a solution to the last mile problem. It will take creativity and drive to change our infrastructure and our funding mechanisms, but at least we have good role models in the Dutch. I'm excited to go experience it and not just read about it.
The Netherlands bike infrastructure makes the United States look like it's in Dark Ages for cycling. In every aspect, the Netherlands crushes the United States's cycling infrastructure. Whether it be in amount of dedicated cycle infrastructure, parking, public transportation, and fewer accidents and fatalities. Differences in culture and transportation design cause the disparity between the US and the Netherlands.
The main design difference between the US and Netherlands is how cyclists are divided or integrated within the traffic stream. In the Netherlands and most of Europe, cyclists, for the most part, are separated through protected bike lanes or cycle tracks. Providing a dedicated lane removes the cyclists from the traffic stream and reduces the risks of accidents. It also reduces stress of the cyclists since they have their own dedicated path. I am excited to see this first hand in the Netherlands the next couple weeks.
In the United States, the design and policy is the opposite of the Netherlands. Bikes are asked to be on the same lane through sharrows or separated with unprotected bike lanes. While this policy does not affect the fearless cyclists, it drives the younger and older cyclists off the road altogether. Recently, there's been a greater push towards separated facilities in the United States, but it will take time to get the user base to grow. A good example of success with separated infrastructure is Portland.
Cultural differences also help aid the Netherlands possess a large amount of cyclists. Many children have bikes by 4 and classes are taught to teach children how to bike and be comfortable biking. Policies also encourage cycling such as higher gas and car taxes than the United States.
The effect of all these design, cultural, and policy differences is a stark contrast in bike infrastructure between the Netherlands and the United States. While all hope is not lost for the US, we need to continue improving bike infrastructure and policies that encourage cycling.
On a completely different note, I cannot believe the trip leaves tomorrow. It came by so quickly. Although we've only had 3 classes, I feel like I've already learned a lot about the Dutch bike infrastructure. I cannot wait to experience first hand myself. Here's my last blog post from stateside. To paraphrase Ron Burgundy, Stay Classy America, I'll see you again in 2 weeks.
Learning how to read maps at the Boulder Journey School
The ability to give and receive feedback is the essence of sustainability.
The natural world is constantly changing. An organism that continues to flourish and live in harmony with its surround ecosystem, despite ongoing transformations, embodies sustainability. Like other organism in nature, humans are able to adapt and respond to change by giving and receiving feedback (Herzlich 2016). Feedback is a dynamic dialog between yourself, other people, and the environment.
Self-awareness and emotional intelligence: Internal Feedback
Open and honest communication with yourself is the first step in building trust with others. Today, it's common to use the phase emotional intelligence to describe a person's ability to understand what triggers different feelings, to be aware of those situations, and to respond accordingly. A person, who is in tune with their own emotions, is aware of their vulnerabilities, as well as their strengths. This consciousness supports an internal feedback loop and allows them to change their behavior and adapt to different circumstances. Tanmay Vora believes that self-awareness is ubiquitous amongst all collaborative leaders. It builds confidence and helps leaders communicate common goals and inspire the collective (Vora 2014).
Mentorship and Management: External Feedback
The success and sustainability of group is contingent upon everyone's ability to communicate clearly with each other. Communication can often breakdown when giving or receiving feedback. It's common for people to misinterpret feedback and mistake it for criticism, especially when communicating across cultures. Different cultures use different tones and language when giving feedback. Some cultures like the Dutch are direct and to the point and other cultures sugar coat their feedback and dilute the message (Meyer 2015). When givingfeedback, it's important to be culturally sensitive and focus on behavior and not the person (Petersen 2013).
The ability to receive feedback is sometimes more difficult than sharing your opinion with others. If you take it personally, it can feel like the other person is attacking you. However, feedback from others is what helps us work collaboratively with others to achieve our own goals. One of the best ways to get feedback is to build a trusting relationship with a mentor. A does not have to be older than you. Mentorship is about respect, trust and inspiration. Finding a mentor, who you feel comfortable sharing your vulnerabilities with, can be difficult, but that relationship is very beneficial in self growth.
Herzlich, Toby. "Life's Best Practice: Use Feedback Loops." Biomimicry for Social Innovation, 13 April 2016, https://bio-sis.net/use-feedback-loops-2/ . Accessed May 30, 2017
Meyer, Erin. "Giving Negative Feedback Across Cultures." INSEAD Leadership and Organisations -Blog, 16 Sept. 2015, https://knowledge.insead.edu/blog/insead-blog/giving-negative-feedback-across-cultures-4259. Accessed May 30, 2017
Petersen, Deborah. "Carole Robin: Feedback is a Gift: Seven tips for giving feedback to others." Standford Graduate School of Business, Career & Success, Leadership, Managment, 27 Nov, 2013, https://www.gsb.stanford.edu/insights/carole-robin-feedback-gift . Accessed May 30, 2017
Vora, Tanmay. " Indespensible Traits of a Collaborative Leader: Part 3." Insights and Sktechnotes on Leadership, Learning, ad Change!, 11 May 2014, http://qaspire.com/2014/05/11/indispensable-traits-of-a-collaborative-leader-part-3/ . Accessed May 30, 2017