Upon arriving to the Netherlands and retrieving our bicycles, it quickly became clear how prevalent cycling is in Delft. However, on our first day of real biking, I was surprised by how difficult biking was. In Atlanta, biking is difficult because of a lack of infrastructure and awareness, and the resulting lack of safety. On the way to Maeslantkering, the sights were beautiful, the infrastructure varied in design but was consistent in that it provided a safe spot for bikes, but the wind was brutal. This made it tough to adopt the Dutch mindset that cycling is always a viable option for realistic distances. Passing through tunnels and riding primarily on cycle tracks and paths dedicated to biking in the countryside, your next move as a cyclist was never a serious thought. This sentiment continued throughout the next day, and I expect it to continue throughout the week. This is a new feeling for me: not having to question if your security as a cyclist is going to suddenly disappear and you’re going to be stuck on a freeway.
Dutch Design & Pavement Priorities
Monday focused on Delft cycling infrastructure and different types of pavement and road design. We saw roundabouts that gave cyclists the right-of-way, advisory lanes, bike lanes and cycle tracks, all pictured below in the respective order.
Figure 1. Roundabout featuring 2-way cycle track
Figure 2. Advisory lane
Figure 3. Bike lanes sharing the road with cars
Figure 4. Separated 2-way cycle tracks
The main feature that I believe contributes to the cyclist culture is the slow vehicular speeds. There were plenty of roads where cars came uncomfortably (by Atlanta standards) close to me, but I was not afraid because they were driving cautiously. While cyclists are prioritized in that they are given the right-of-way at an uncontrolled intersection with vehicles, I would not say bikes are always the top dog. Plenty of times during the bike rides we had to unexpectedly brake for pedestrians. Equally as often, we would not be given much time to pass through the intersections, as the bike signal seemed to pass very quickly. I can see a proud American cyclist becoming frustrated with the inability to travel right alongside vehicles rather than opposing them at certain intersections with the 2-part turns. This type of design can be seen in the following figure.
Figure 5. Intersection with 2-part turns
Especially in Delft, cycling is seen as second nature. All types of people bike on all types of bikes. We’ve seen older women biking with dogs in their front baskets, two young girls biking separately while holding hands, young men biking with no hands, and plenty of people biking with flowers in hand. My main takeaway from these last few days is that while cycling here seems so easy, our group is definitely not apt yet. While we understand and appreciate the seamless transitions from advisory lane to cycle track, we lack the awareness the Dutch have that is so crucial to their successful commutes. At intersections, locals seem to have a second sense about who goes first if both bikers arrive simultaneously, and what to do in the case that a pedestrian, cyclist, and car all arrive together. I hope that throughout the rest of the trip we improve in our awareness and can begin to really bike Dutch style.
After two days in the program, I’ve noticed that dedicated bike infrastructure is more prevalent in the Netherlands. It feels as if the entire town of Delft has a connected bike network that is widely used and people of all ages cycle. Paths are shared with both pedestrians and vehicles at times without much conflict or stress. In my experiences so far, traveling by bicycle has been pleasant, effective, and safe in Delft.
Difference in Design
The Dutch approach to cycling infrastructure is more cognizant of the safety of cyclists. Separation from motor vehicles is present where possible, and road sharing only occurs on low traffic and slow-moving streets. Traffic calming measures are taken in neighborhoods so that cars are forced to travel slowly and check their surroundings. Cyclists also move through signalized intersections on their own. In the United States, bikes often lack separation from cars and travel alongside fast-moving roads. Traffic calming measures are rare and cyclists are forced to travel through signalized intersections alongside turning cars. These differences in design are reason for the safe-nature of Dutch cycling compared to that of the United States. Figure 1 below shows a cycle track that is incorporated into a roundabout with priority over vehicles.
Figure 1: Roundabout in Delft
In most scenarios, cyclists are the priority. Dedicated two-way paths ensure that cyclists can travel among other bikes at realistic speeds, and road sharing only occurs where vehicles are required to travel slowly. Figure 2 below shows a shared road with a speed limit of ten kilometers per hour. The geometry of this traffic-calmed street also forces vehicles to abide by the speed limit.
Figure 2: Traffic-calmed shared neighborhood road in Delft
When there isn’t enough space for a two-way road and separated cycle track, advisory roads exist. These roads are shared by both vehicles and bikes, but the painting of the roads prioritize cyclists. When vehicles need to pass, they can enter unused cycle lanes to do so. Even pedestrians give priority to bikes, making their use more effective. Figure 3 below shows a very thin advisory road.
Figure 3: Dutch advisory road
Traveling by bicycle is the norm in the Netherlands. People of all ages, genders, and classes cycle. Pedestrians look for cyclists when crossing dedicated paths, and think nothing of navigating around cyclists. And when both modes share a space, cars are willing to drive slowly until an opportunity arises to pass (advisory lanes, shared lanes, low traffic and slow roads).
Bike shops are prevalent, and bike parking facilities are widely used. And in the Netherlands, developing a complete cycling network is treated as a legitimate priority benefiting the whole of society, and not just a way to quell an interest group’s call to action. This positive outlook on the development of cycling infrastructure creates a feedback loop in favor of more cycling.
Well, unsurprisingly, cycling is great. First of all, the contour of the Netherlands is incredibly flat. It’s so flat, in fact, that the steepest hill we have yet to hit is right before going over a bridge. The piedmont has really cursed Atlanta in the hill department. Second, I have felt extremely safe, for a number of reasons that I’ll discuss in the following sections. Overall, throughout Holland, bikers are much more respected, and the Dutch actually put an emphasis on those who are the most vulnerable, which is refreshing. Lastly, I have had so much fun! Our ride through the Dutch countryside yesterday was wonderful, and exploring the intricacies of Delft today was eye-opening. I’ve loved getting to experience the beautiful landscape, staring at the pristine architecture, and feeling the sun on my face (even with the freezing wind!).
Figure 1: The gang on our way to tour the giant storm surge protection system. Check out those wind turbines!
How's the design?
As we have been learning for the whole semester, the Dutch really nail it with design, inside and out. In terms of the bike lanes themselves, there are a few examples that come to mind that we’ve been constantly observing. One is simply separation. Bike lanes are, for the most part, a few feet away from where traffic is coming. If the lanes are in the road with cars passing, as they almost always are back in the States, then the cars go very slow, and often yield to ensure the safety of the cyclists. Intersections are another physical triumph for bikers in the Netherlands. Some intersections are protected, meaning bikers and pedestrians can safely cross to get to any direction, and they’re guaranteed to be protected by some curb or other physical buffer to the oncoming traffic. Other intersections use roundabouts to deposit cars into different arterial roads. At this kind of intersection, cyclists essentially have free reign. As a group, we circled around a roundabout and every single motorist automatically yielded to us. What’s best about the roundabouts is that they even have small cutouts where cars can wait for cyclists without blocking the other traffic from continuing around. Check out the picture for an example!
Figure 2: An example of a roundabout in the Netherlands. Hey Jenna!
Aside from the lanes themselves, great design is also on display at the Delft train station. It has a parking lot with over 500 spots for bikes! Check out the picture below to get lost in the bike maze like I did. That kind of infrastructure allows people to make long trips using transit and bike, rather than taking a car all that way. Another example in great design you might not expect? Their traffic signaling! I’ve noticed that the traffic signals are much more intricate than those in the US, and they’re much more efficient! They’re quicker, and they have different ones for bikes and cars. It helps to keep bikers safe while also keeping traffic moving at a reasonable rate.
Figure 3: Look at all those bikes! Believe it or not, it was actually a little difficult to find a parking space.
How's the culture?
Anyone with at least one functioning eyeball can tell that cycling is a pivotal part of Dutch culture. The Dutch love their cycling, and they know that the safer and more abundant cycling infrastructure is, the more it will be used. It’s evident that biking shapes how Dutch people live: bikes scatter the streets; pedestrians and motorists never fail to look for cyclists to make sure the coast is clear; there are places to park bikes outside of every commercial building; there are bike lanes everywhere; the list goes on and on. They really get the whole sustainable transport thing. But, even overall, I think the Dutch really see the benefits of good civil engineering (maybe I’m biased?). They have an abundance of windmills and solar panels; the government invests in large-scale civil projects to benefit the people; public transit is a fantastic option to get around; and so much more. This group of CE dorks is definitely enjoying it, and you can bet I’m nerding out along with them.
The first day biking in the Netherlands was surprisingly difficult. I think part of that had to do with the wind we experienced in the morning and it being the first day faced with 25 miles of biking, but a lot of the intersections were not what I had expected. I found that the intersections we went through did have vehicular traffic prioritized, whether it be that bikes were yielding to cars or that the bike signal was shorter than the car signal. That being said, we were in rural areas and there were bike signals. That’s not anything you’d experience in the U.S. We barely have bike signals in the United States, much less in less populated areas.
On the roads themselves, most of what we experienced was pavement with no markings and enough space for a car and bike to pass each other with little other space (imagine about 8 feet of plain pavement). Vehicle speeds were much slower that in the United States, and vehicles always had to wait to pass bikes, giving the bicyclists the right of way. We also biked on multi-use paths, which were very similar to the BeltLine in Atlanta, except there were more bikes and less pedestrians. Below shows a picture I took on our way out of Delft on a road with one-way bike and vehicular traffic with no centerline.
Figure 1. Low Vehicular Traffic Road
Today, our second day biking in the Netherlands, I realized that the biggest difference in Dutch bike infrastructure versus American is that there is always a dedicated place for bikes or there are very slow vehicular speeds (think 6-10 mph). Every street in Delft has some sort of bike accommodations or alternative route for bicycles, even if it is just a regular, American-like bike lane. One aspect of the Dutch design that stood out to me was that every street was different based on the available space, needs of the nearby housing or businesses, and goals for the road. In some places, there were two-way cycle tracks, other areas had advisory bike lanes or bike boulevards, and still other areas had other designs. The Dutch also did this with intersections, as we saw protected intersections, roundabouts, two-step left-turns, bridges, tunnels, and other solutions. Here are some pictures of the designs we saw.
Figure 2. Grade-Separated Two-Way Cycle Track
Figure 3. One-Way Lane with Brick Pavers for Vehicles and Asphalt for Bikes
Figure 4. Bike Tunnel Under Major Roadway
Figure 5. Roundabout with a Two-Way Cycle Track
Figure 6. Protected Intersection
Overall, it was easier to bike in the Netherlands compared to in the United States because your brain didn’t need to always be “on.” What I mean by that is that in the Unites States, when you bike you always have to be looking around, checking for traffic, making sure a car doesn’t hit you when it turns right, and generally thinking more about your route. In the Netherlands, it was much easier to carry on conversation and relax when biking because there are less stressors and you can turn at almost any intersection and bike infrastructure will be present. The only time you really have to pay attention is at intersections.
As a culture, you can tell that biking is integral for the Dutch. Bike parking is everywhere and you see all ages biking… young, old, and everything in between. The Dutch also bike in much more comfortable and normal clothing compared to in the United States. While we saw people in exercise gear on racing bikes biking Sunday morning (which I think was for exercise on their day off from biking to work), in Delft, I saw many people on their bikes wearing their everyday clothing.
When comparing cycling statistics in the U.S. cities to Dutch cities, it is clear that the culture and infrastructure built around transportation must be very different. For example, 26% of trips are made by bicycle in the Netherlands, whereas only 0.5% are made by bicycle in the U.S. (1). Additionally, while there are 1.6 cyclists injured per 10 million kilometers in the Netherlands, 33.5 are injured in the U.S. That means that cyclists in the U.S. are more than 20 times as likely to get injured than cyclists in the Netherlands! What is causing such a large discrepancy of ridership and safety in the U.S. and the Netherlands? Does it almost seem like a chicken and the egg scenario: is there adequate infrastructure in place in Dutch cities because there is such a high volume of cyclists or did the amount of cyclists create the need for such strong cycling infrastructure?
The Netherlands didn’t always have such robust cycling infrastructure in place. It wasn’t till small Dutch cities became overcrowded by vehicles and too many people were injured by cars that Dutch society started to call for more bicycle use. Stemming from a mass social movement in the 1970s protesting the injuries caused by cars on children, the government made a conscious effort to increase cycling nationwide. Cities were designed to promote bike safety. In the Netherlands, this means as much separation of cars and bikes as possible. Bicycle lanes are separated from traffic either by physical barriers or preferably they have their own path. Measures were also taken to calm roads in whole neighborhoods, with speed limits ranging from 7-30 km/hour (2). Additionally, bike safety is taught in Dutch schools, and when getting their driver’s license, the Dutch are taught to respect bikers and pedestrians as they are more vulnerable. Finally, the Dutch are also purposeful about designating a considerable amount of responsibility for bike safety and infrastructure to the municipalities rather than tackle it on a national level (3). This helps decentralize decision-making and allows communities to have more of a stake in the planning process.
On the other hand, in the U.S., cyclists are often sharing space with cars to increase speed for both parties. This, however, often discourages all but the “highly-tolerant”, or the most confident cyclists (1). Additionally, it is proven to be less safe, as discussed above. While there is national funding for pedestrian and bike safety, it is still up to the cities to implement strategies and as of now that funding still loops pedestrians and bikes together (1). Additionally, there is no nationwide cycling education and drivers are not taught to mind for cyclists when getting their licenses. Overall, it is mainly seen as a recreational activity and only a motivated handful use it as an everyday mode of transportation.
When looking at the development of cycling infrastructure in the Netherlands and comparing it to the current state of its counterpart in the U.S., the differences in results are clear, and the chicken and egg question becomes clearer. The Dutch wanted to solve problems such as the high number of car accidents and injuries and declining air quality in cities. They decided that increasing cycling was a favorable solution and made active efforts to make it accessible and safe for everyone. They identified a need and addressed the concerns of the people. Meanwhile, Americans haven’t historically expressed a strong desire for increased accessibility to cycling. While it is improving, it's clear from the data presented that there is a long way to go before it is as integrated into our culture as it is in the Netherlands.
1. Pucher, J. R., & Buehler, R. (2012). City Cycling. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
2. Harms, L. and Kansen, M., (2018). Cycling Facts 2018. Retrieved from https://www.government.nl/ministries/ministry-of-infrastructure-and-water-management/documents/reports/2018/04/01/cycling-facts-2018
After completing the readings, I was constantly thinking of how I can implement policies similar to those in the Netherlands, Germany, and Denmark both in the U.S and in Kenya. I realized that even as a pedestrian, it is difficult to move around in the U.S. without a car. Numerous topics that were mentioned in the readings interested me. I was first surprised by the “Vehicular Cycling Theory” proposed by John Forester which opposes the separation of bicycles and motor vehicles. Additionally, I was impressed to learn that women account for the majority of cyclists in Copenhagen compared to men in the United States. It was also impressive that the Netherlands, Denmark, and Germany implement safe cycling courses in school. This way, starting from a young age, citizens are aware that pedestrians and cyclists are prioritized. Finally, it is interesting that there is really no correlation between wealth and cycling. In fact, the Dutch are affluent people and almost every household owns cars. I find that to be interesting because, in Kenya, there is a notion that cycling is for the working class, best explained by the quote “I’d rather cry at the back of your BMW than laugh at the back of your bike.” While the Dutch are more affluent and bike more than Kenyans, cycling is viewed as a symbol of poverty by many in Kenya.
EUROPE VS. UNITED STATES
It is evident that the importance of cycling is recognized in Western countries. Not only is cycling good for the environment but it is good for human health and is more economical and requires less space than motor vehicles. The two groups of countries differ in how they classify and portray the importance of cycling.
In Europe, driver’s training courses emphasize the importance of protecting the vulnerable, who are seniors and children. In Western Europe specifically, it is expensive to get a license which costs about €1000 to €2000. In the U.S., on the other hand, it is cheap to get a license and the importance of not endangering cyclists and pedestrians is not stressed. In North America and Australia, speed limits in residential areas are much higher and traffic calming is limited to a few streets. It is also important to note that in both regions, the national government is responsible for funding, traffic regulations, and roadway and bikeway design standards while most cycling safety policies that increase cycling and make it safer are implemented at the local level. The standards set by the national government vary in content, level of detail, legal status, and financial commitment, and provide a vision that can guide lower levels of governments in their own effort. I think these differences are why cycling is thriving in some countries and struggling in others. Some countries are not specific and do not state quantifiable goals, while others such as the Netherlands are specific and thriving as shown below.
In the 1950s and 1960s in Europe, with an increased urban sprawl and increased motorization levels, there was less cycling. There was a heavy focus on expanding roadway and parking, which favored car use and thus saw a rise in environmental pollution, roadway congestion, and traffic injuries and fatalities. Therefore, policies changed to minimize car use and promote public transport, walking, and cycling. To further restrict car use, there are traffic-calmed neighborhoods, car-free zones, and raised taxes on car ownership, use, and parking. To educate the general public, bike training and safe cycling courses are taught in school for children. There are also information and promotional programs such as free printed bike maps, some of which are interactive and available online, that permit trip planning.
To be more bike-friendly, the Dutch expect physical separations as follows.
A Cycle track is expected on:
Any street with more than two lanes
An urban street whose speed limit is 50 km/h + (31 mph)
A rural road whose speed limit is 60 km/h + (37 mph).
In mixed traffic, urban streets should have:
5000 motor vehicles/day or less
Speed limit should be 30 km/h (19 mph) or less
No car lanes marked, including no centerline
The biggest issue in the U.S. is that there lacks a separation criteria, which is what mostly defines Dutch cycling. There is no criteria for when cyclists should be separated and no limit to traffic speed or the number of lanes. In general, the government tends to prefer the lowest-cost solution. So the government would rather save money rather than make cycling safe so that more people may opt for cycling. This is probably why Forester proposed his theory, because if cyclists would not need lanes, then that means the government does not need to provide funding. According to his Vehicular Cycling Theory, separation causes greater risk except where there are no intersections. He suggests that it is safer to ride where motor vehicles ride because that is where motorists are going to look. However, this greatly ignores research that accounts for what has been implemented and works, especially in Europe. This also ignores data that suggests most people who would rather not cycle do not do so because they are traffic-intolerant and would rather not compete with motor vehicles on the road. It is also crucial to note that bicycles are not cars and therefore do not benefit from cage-construction, crumple zones, or airbags, which is why the safety of cyclists must really be considered.
In conclusion, the importance of cycling to the environment, health, and transportation is recognized and in order to achieve this, the masses must be appealed in addition to the traffic-tolerant. The greatest concern for cyclists is safety and comfort, which separation of motor-vehicle traffic and cyclists can achieve.
Since trends begin in urban areas, it may be beneficial to popularize cycling where it is not popular starting in urban areas, which also happen to be the places with the most vehicle traffic and more congested roads. Urban area are comprised of a greater mix of incomes, races/ethnicities, educational attainments, and lifestyles. However, outside Europe, cycling is not distributed evenly among different demographics. For example, older people do not typically bike. Urban areas have more younger populations and economic and societal trends.
Cycling will help because it requires less space, which results in less congestion, less crowding during peak hours. Not only that, but bikes are less polluting and less noisy. Even though there will be greater competition for public transportation, people would have cycling as an option.
Harms, L. and Kansen, M., (2018). Cycling Facts 2018. Retrieved from https://www.government.nl/ministries/ministry-of-infrastructure-and-water-management/documents/reports/2018/04/01/cycling-facts-2018
Pucher, J. R., & Buehler, R. (2012). City Cycling. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Global Site Plans. (2019). The Risky Affair of Cycling in Nairobi, Kenya. Retrieved from https://www.smartcitiesdive.com/ex/sustainablecitiescollective/risky-affair-cycling-nairobi-kenya/238531/
My little sister, Rosie, loves to bike around our neighborhood. Every time I visit home, I see her bright yellow bike is parked at the front door before I see her! Even though she loves biking around our residential streets, when I asked why she doesn’t bike to school, she responded “I can’t cross the big streets?!”. Her school is only 1 mile in distance from our home but the route to school would be 2.5 miles of roadway with heavy traffic. Rosie’s biking conundrum is a example of one of the issues with cycling in the US, bike infrastructure often doesn’t exist!
For bike to be a useful mode of transportation, they need adequate route infrastructure (City Cycling, 2012). The first step of bike infrastructure is integrating bikes as a mode in the transportation design and planning process. The US and the Netherlands have different views on transportation design and planning. This can be reflected in the different cycling ridership, infrastructure, and safety trends.
Cyclists Fatalities by Country (City Cycling, 2012)
A safe design is essential for effective bike infrastructure. If bicyclist have a low level of perceived safety, they may not chose it as their mode of transportation and lose out on the potential improved health and cost savings benefits. Most US designs focus on integrating bikes with traffic not separating lanes which leads to conflict because cyclists are more vulnerable than fast moving “cagers”. Engineering design guide books in the US like AASHTO (American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials) dismiss design options with separate paths. There is also a lack of bicycle separation design criteria in the US so the cheapest chosen option does not include separate bike infrastructure. In the Netherlands, cycling and traffic separation in design is almost assumed. The facility selection designs in the Netherland only allows shared space under low volumes, low speed limit (less than 20 mph), no striping, and no multi-lane facilities.
Transportation Planning and Policy
Transportation infrastructure involves a large planning effort before the design can take place. In the US, cycling can be left out of the planning process because there is an assumed lack of interest, lack of engineering guidance, and lack of funding. For example, two alternative forms of transportation, cycling and public transportation, still aren’t completely integrated. In the Netherlands, there is a recent focus with bike parking at transit centers and in the US there is a recent focus of allowing bikes on transit. In the Netherlands, infrastructure policy focuses on building competitive, accessible, livable, and safe transportation (Summary National Policy Strategy for Infrastructure and Spatial Planning, 2011). Interestingly, the policy summary only uses the term cycling once! Cycling is just the more efficient way of reaching those goals. Although the US and the Netherlands have similar policy goals of economic development, safe infrastructure, and a healthier people and planet, they have very different ways of working toward their goals. Rosie may have thought I was crazy for suggesting that she should bike to school because of the current infrastructure in the US. If the transportation design and planning process was more similar to that of the Netherlands, she wouldn’t think I was as crazy (just regular older sister crazy ;))
Me and my little sister, Rosie, during a fall visit to GA
Pucher, J. R., & Buehler, R. (2012). City Cycling. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Summary National Policy Strategy for Infrastructure and Spatial Planning (Publication). (2011). The Hague, Netherlands: Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment.
City Cycling, edited by John Pucher and Ralph Buehler, examines the “Cycling Renaissance” currently seen across America and elsewhere. The book portrays trends in cycling but also identifies what measures most effectively increase cycling levels, safety, and accessibility to all segments of society.
Chapter 2 is a broad overview of cycling trends compared from country to country. The difference truly is astounding, as shown by the figure below.
While all countries compared share a “Western” culture, the difference in the extremes of cycling utilization as a mode of transportation is stark. In fact, the major city in the United States with the largest share of cycling, Portland, has the same percentage of bike share of trips as Stuttgart, the major German city with the lowest share of bike trips. To bring things closer to home, in 2016, Atlanta saw just 1.4% of trips made by bicycle (cite). While this is above the US average, the number demonstrates the room for growth when compared with that of cities in Northern Europe, which can see as many as 40% of trips made by bike. Of interest, Atlanta has set a goal of 4% for the year 2030. Atlanta also has the longest average commute distance out of the top 96 metro areas in the United States with an average commute of 12.8 miles (cite). Longer trips are less likely to be completed using a bike, putting the Peach City in a tough spot. Chapter 2 of City Cycling also discusses the relationship of car ownership and cycling as a mode of transportation. Germany demonstrates that the two can go hand in hand, which surprised me due to my initial suppositions that the two would be in tension. In reality those in countries with high rates of cycling do not NEED to drive their car due to quality biking and public transportation systems. Additionally, countries such as Germany and the Netherlands educate school-age children in bike riding. This would be radical in the United States, which probably has an influence on the fatality rate that is five times higher than that of the Netherlands for cyclists. Looking at cycling facts, figures, and plans published by the Dutch government, one cannot help feeling that the Dutch love their bikes. This is validated by the fact that around 60% of the Dutch population associates the bike with “joy”.
As seen in the previous paragraph, the popularity of cycling varies greatly from country to country. While there are many factors leading to this reality, a comparison of the cycling infrastructure will give a picture of the differing mentalities towards cycling. A major difference in the two approaches can be seen in the way bike and car traffic are treated in relation to one another. The United States has traditionally pushed to integrate both car and bike modes, leading to the commute warriors brave enough to cycle with cars flying by. In contrast, the European approach is to separate the two modes. Furth lays out a logical case for this approach: bikes do not contain crumple zones, airbags, or cage construction, while separating people from danger is a foundational to industrial safety. Combined with the lack of enjoyment resulting from traffic, separating the modes seems to be a rational conclusion. Yet the AASHTO bike guide demonstrates an aversion for separate facilities, claiming that faster riders would prefer a shoulder on a road to a protected facility. As one who often engages in sport cycling and is faster than the average biker, I cannot get enough protected facilities. In Georgia, the PATH Foundation has sponsored many separated facilities that I have enjoyed for both recreational and utilitarian purposes, ranging from the rails-to-trails Silver Comet to the essential PATH Parkway. While the slightly higher speed that I could experience on a road is nice, the chance of death generally dissuades me from choosing to mix with cars over other cyclists. Vehicular Cycling, or VC, is a concept that I had not been introduced to before this semester. The concept, that bikes should operate as a vehicle on the roads is certainly one I have brushed with, and I have often been instructed to “take the lane”. While this philosophy that separation hold danger has taken off in the past, the current trend in cities such as New York, Portland, and even Atlanta leads me to believe that this new generation of planners and designers take after the Northern European approach of separating the modes – an approach that has proven to increase safety and ridership. Stepping from the world of separated facilities to those of painted lines seemingly invites misconceptions and complications. Space required is often underestimated, leading to the danger of cyclists running into doors, while cars can easily invade the space through illegal parking. While bike lanes and the like seem to have legitimate applications, they are often placed on roads with too high of a volume, too high of a speed limit, and without enough buffer space.
Chapter 8 deals with the integration of cycling and public transportation and a comparison of this concept between North America and Europe. As a civil engineer specializing in transportation, I have learned some about public transit. As a Georgia native that has never been to Europe or Asia, however, the workings and benefits of buses and rail lines are still foreign to me. Due to this, chapter 8 was intriguing and witnessing quality public transportation remains an important interest as I look towards the trip to Holland. Theoretically, the combination of a highly accessible mode such as bike and a highly mobile mode such as transit has the capability to complement each other nicely, creating a great opportunity. Much of the section discusses the importance of secure and convenient parking in joint cycling-transit operations. For years, European nations like the Netherlands have invested in bike parking with proximity to rail stations and city centers where trips originate and end. This approach has led to the Netherlands holding space for more than 325,000 bike parking spaces at train stations, with more needed. The Dutch also maintain “bike stations” and “bike lockers”, facilities that offer top-notch security and convenience. In class we have seen pictures of such facilities, but I am interested to see them in real life and to witness their use by commuters. In contrast, the North American approach has trended towards allowing bikes on board buses and trains, with less of a focus on park-and-ride. Buses hold front racks (MARTA, Atlanta’s transit authority offers this service, but I rarely see it used), while in most cases bikes can be taken on board heavy rail. San Francisco trains have a dedicated car for bikes. Regardless, American systems are beginning to take notice of the European approach and are increasing capacity for bike park-and-ride. In both the Netherlands and the United States, bike share programs have become popular for their convenience and low cost. While often used for recreational use, bike share can be strategically placed at transit destinations to allow users to combine bike and transit without need for personal bike parking. In Atlanta, the Relay Bikes system offers bike rentals and has become relatively popular. OV-Fiets is the Dutch version, which has over 200 rental locations in railway stations. The integration of bike and transit networks also lags in the US, where an emphasis on recreational riding has neglected placing routes near transit hubs. To make things more difficult, transit networks are sparse, so that the incidental crossing of the two is rare. This is of course very different in the Netherlands.
Chapter 12 visits small cities in the US and Europe to discus the conditions and factors leading to strong cycling cultures in smaller settings outside of places such as New York or even Amsterdam. The cities studied were Davis, CA, Boulder, CO, along with Odense, Denmark and Delft, the Netherlands. The levels of infrastructure investment and cycling culture in Davis and Boulder are remarkable with the rest of the United States in mind.
Davis in particular has a rate of bicycle commuting that would not be entirely out of place in Europe. With both US cities, it is interesting that cycling has been an emphasis long before the recent “bicycle renaissance” of the 21st century. The trend arose during the 80s or earlier as city officials sought to create communities resistant to urban sprawl that is accompanied by automobile dependence. Boulder officials acquired 43,000 acres of empty land surrounding the city to prevent sprawl. This brought to my mind the British Green Belt. In both cities the community seems to have developed a distinct cycling identity, a property that few large cities are able to grow with such wide success. Delft and Odense are both interesting case studies. While facilities were present and of high quality, public involvement campaigns made a large difference in the willingness of the populace to use bikes as a frequent mode of transportation in Odense, which intrigues me. This is also true but to a lesser extent with Delft. These cities demonstrate the public engagement factor of cycling as a mode of transportation, which should not be neglected.
As covered in the previous sections, small cities have unique opportunities when it comes to implementing cycling as a mode of transportation. While larger cities (over 1,000,000 people) must approach cycling slightly differently, there are still ways larger cities have found to implement a cycling culture. Large European cities such as Amsterdam are notable not just for their commitment to cycling, but for a history of such stretching back for decades. In America I am accustomed to new buzz about cycle tracks and paths, but to think that this has been going on for years elsewhere is incredible! The car restrictive policies cause my inner driver to cringe, but I know that they are implemented for the greater good. Additionally, reading of the progress made in cities such as Portland, Minneapolis, Washington, and others causes me to want to take a trip out to visit. Portland, in particular, is intriguing with the social aspect of an active biking community.
In conclusion, the Dutch approach of separating modes of transportation, integrating cycling and transit, and public engagement initiatives have led to a rich cycling society where 27% of trips are completed on bike. The decades of prioritizing cycling entrenched the bike into Dutch transportation philosophy and ensure the popularity of the mode in the future.
Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment. (2013). Summary National Policy Strategy for Infrastructure and Spatial Planning. Retrieved from https://www.government.nl/documents/publications/2013/07/24/summary-national-policy-strategy-for-infrastructure-and-spatial-planning
Harms, L. and Kansen, M., (2018). Cycling Facts 2018. Retrieved from https://www.government.nl/ministries/ministry-of-infrastructure-and-water-management/documents/reports/2018/04/01/cycling-facts-2018
City of Atlanta 2017 Annual Bicycle Report. (2017) Retrieved from https://www.atlantaga.gov/government/departments/city-planning/office-of-mobility-planning/bicycles/2017-annual-bicycle-report
Brookings Institution analysis of 2011 Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics data (2015) retrieved from http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/Research/Files/Reports/2015/03/24-job-proximity/Srvy_JobsProximity.pdf?la=en
The pure progressiveness of the ideas and justification for the robustness of the Netherlands mike infrastructure in contrast to America is breathtaking. For example, there are bike facilities that resemble roundabouts and other such "car-centric" roadway designs. So much is put into creating this robust relationship with bike infrastructure in the Netherlands that it not only encourages a vast higher percentage of individuals to participate but it ensures that the infrastructure becomes a part of their culture overall. This culture of bike ridership of 29% is actually one of the highest in the world.
In the United States, the idea that bike infrastructure was necessary has only recently caught fire--as the idea of biking was seen as childish and inadequate. This idea of inadequacy is easily seen by the inadequate infrastructure that has risen from this enlightenment. Most facilities still require a car centric culture that has everyone yielding to the power of the car. The idea of having money for separate bike facilities that do not go along a road is seen as less effective as money needed for roads for bikes. Even the Department of Transportation funding coming mainly from the tax on gasoline shows how this funding mechanism harps on the ideals of the car. Additionally, the AASHTO Green Book has been very pivotal in making car-centric transportation design became the norm as it was put into regulatory infrastructure that makes non-car-centric design illegal in a sense. It has the roads design with large bends, decreased vegetation, wide corridors, and high-speeds that does not care about the bike. Thus, it has been a struggle to go toward the bike facilities in America due to this infrastructure.
In the Netherlands, biking and bike infrastructure is much more accepted into the overall ideals of the nation. As a low country and more progressive state, the Netherlands understand the need of protecting against global warming as well as the ability to have a unitary ideal of what should be accepted. The unitary government style (that is truly opposite of the federalism of the United States) makes the ability to conform to a single idea easier so that the nation of the Netherlands have more commonality in thought and execution that the diverse United States. This spills over into the custos that come from the Bike infrastructure. In much of the country, the idea is that you must protect the most vulnerable on the road. Thus, much of the bike infrastructure gives bike priority over cars in terms of the right of way as well as speed. For the Netherlands, there is always an idea that you can always and should always have bike infrastructure in a space. Therefore, much of the design contrasts immensely from the AASHTO basis in the United States. Also, these bike facilities are where the main points of commerce and retail is connected to. In the United States, it is extremely rare to have the main entrance to businesses to be bike only or bike "first." I, myself, have only seen this on the Atlanta Beltline. However, the Netherlands understands that commerce is much more helped by bike infrastructure as well.
In conclusion, the United States and Netherlands have extremely different bike infrastructure design guidelines. However, if the US is trying to help the world get to a more inhabitable, livable, clean environment, we must follow the dogma of the Netherlands.
Pucher, J. R., & Buehler, R. (2012). City Cycling. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Summary National Policy Strategy for Infrastructure and Spatial Planning (Publication). (2011). The Hague, Netherlands: Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment.
Before diving into the rabbit hole that is the body of this post, one clarification needs to be made. There are two different mentalities that govern the decisions made in both countries that have had grand implications on the successes and failures of bicycle infrastructure development. These mentalities are:
Netherlands – To ensure safety and a preferred travel speed for both modes of travel, it is imperative that bicycles and vehicles travel on separate paths.
United States – To ensure speed and safety, it is imperative that bicycles and cars travel on the same path
When considering these two mentalities, I would presume that most people would intuitively choose the Netherlands’ theory. However, the mentality that still effects most transportation development in the United States arose for understandable reasons.
In the 1970’s, a man named John Forester gave birth and popularized his idea that to ensure the best future for bicycle-use in America, bicycles must be allowed to travel along the same paths as cars (CITATION). With this policy, he thought, transportation designers could not force bicycles away from key roads that could be crucial to completing a trip. This idea, however, was pushed at a time when government agencies were possibly most willing to fund separate and protected bike pathways. Figure 1 below shows an example of vehicular cycling.
Figure 1: Vehicular Cyclist Example (Cycling Info UK)
John Forester used his influence as a prominent member in the bicycling community to further push the concept of vehicular cycling, much to the long-term benefit of state and local departments of transportation (DOTs). Since much of the American cycling community had at the time believed that simply using roads without an additional infrastructure was safer and expanded connectivity, DOTs could save money on bike infrastructure and devote it to other purposes.
The Safety Argument of Vehicular Cycling
Vehicular cyclists believe that the safest option for cyclists is to dominate the center of a car lane until an intersection, where cyclists can then move to the right side. This would prevent cars from trying to make passes without enough space in the travel lane, while also preventing the cyclist from being injured when a car turns right. Theoretically, cars can pass with leftover space on the left (unoccupied) side of the travel lane through an intersection.
Forester and his supporters argued that vehicle operators would be forced to see and account for bicycles if they were directly in front of cars. They argued that if bicycles were to travel in separated paths adjacent to vehicle travel lanes, drivers would forget about the presence of bicycles when crossing paths in an intersection.
So, theoretically, now that the United States has developed much of its “bike infrastructure” under the guiding hand of Forester and the vehicular cyclists, cycling in the United States would be safer than in countries where bike paths are separated, right? Figure 2 below shows the exact opposite.
Figure 2: Cyclist Injury and Fatality Rates for 2004-2008 (City Cycling)
As it turns out, the prevalence of separated bike paths has a positive correlation with cyclist safety. In fact, the United States under the vehicular cycling mentality is one of the worst developed countries when it comes to cyclist safety. The safety provided by “Dutch design” also promotes higher levels of cycling (while much of this style of design originated in the Netherlands, I feel compelled to acknowledge that this theory in transportation design has been increasingly adopted worldwide). Figure 3 below shows the share of cyclists in comparison to all daily trips between a few countries.
Figure 3: Proportion of Bicycle use as a Percentage of Total Number of Trips (Cycling Facts)
Key Differences in Transportation Planning and Design
Before explaining many of the differences between our two countries, a reader should look over this matrix of Dutch infrastructure design for bicycles in Figure 4 below.
As one can tell, there is a relatively strict guideline for transportation design that prioritizes the safety of cyclists. In contrast to American design, where shared bike and car lanes (“sharrows”) can exist along roads with a speed limit of 45 mph or more, Dutch design prohibits the mixture of inherently slower bicycles with faster and more protected vehicles.
But what about the issue of vehicle-bicycle conflict at intersections? Well, the Dutch have created a few solutions:
(1) Clear delineation of bike space – Using red asphalt for all bicycle lanes, the citizens of the Netherlands know that when pavement is red, bicycles will be present. The idea of delineation has gained favor in America and is being replicated with the use of green paint.
(2) Elevation changes – Cycle tracks are at a slightly higher elevation than roads meant for cars, meaning that when cars cross over bicycle space, they rise in elevation. Since this has been the standard in the Netherlands for many years, much of the population knows that when driving, an elevation change is a sign for crossing over space meant for a more vulnerable transportation mode. This has not been implemented to a considerable degree within the United States
(3) Bicycle-specific signals – the implementation of traffic signals for bicycles has done wonders to prevent injuries and collisions during the instance of a vehicle right turn across a cyclist continuing straight (but on the right hand side of the vehicle). This has been accepted and is becoming the norm in America because of its success in the Netherlands and other countries.
Figure 5 below shows an example of a Rotterdam intersection with both clear delineation and bicycle-specific signalization.
Figure 5: Intersection in Rotterdam with Clear Delineation and Bicycle Signalization
Integration with Public Transportation
While both the United States and the Netherlands have made an effort to integrate public transportation with the cycling network, what they have done to achieve these goals is different. In the United States, the focus has been on taking bicycles with a passenger who uses public transportation. This tends to work (where the cycle network permits) because of the relatively low use of public transportation in the country and the low rider share of cyclists. The Netherlands sees a significantly higher amount of public transportation use, and thus cannot afford to allocate scarce space on public transportation for bicycles during peak hours. As a result, the focus of bicycle and public transport integration is adequate bike parking at stations. Given that destination stations in the Netherlands are typically in walkable neighborhoods with little elevation change, asking a cyclist to walk for the “last-mile” of their trip is less of an ask than in the United States.
It is important to note that bike parking has been expanded in the United States at transit stations with the implementation of bike racks, bike cages, and bike lockers.
The result of these differences is that the “last-mile” of the intermodal journey is typically finished with a bicycle in the United States, and by foot or with a rented bike in the Netherlands. As ridership and cycle use in the United States increase over time, bike parking at transit stations will need to be expanded further and destination stations will need to become more walkable.
Finally, a combination of infrastructure, biking programs, and policies are necessary to truly improve the levels of cycling in America. This three-pronged approach has been taken by cities within the Netherlands among other countries and has seen great success as a result. Some cities in the United States have taken this approach and seen success, such as Portland. Other cities in the United States will need to follow suit and build infrastructure for bikes, promote cycling through programs, and restrict car use and dominance through policy.
Pucher, J. and Buehler, R., (2012). City Cycling. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Google. (n.d.). [Google Street View of downtown Rotterdam, Netherlands]. Retrieved March 1, 2019, from https://email@example.com,4.4808089,3a,75y,73.38h,77.47t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1s-3BOjep-QP1aYQVMz7KU2Q!2e0!7i13312!8i6656. Accessed Mar. 1, 2019.
Vehicular Cycling. http://cyclinginfo.co.uk/blog/5164/commuting/vehicular-cycling/index.html. Accessed Mar. 1, 2019.