The Atlanta Bike tour on Friday, February 8th was one of my favorite experiences in terms of exploring Atlanta. Not only did the act of biking engage my senses constantly, but it allowed me to also appreciate the diverse sights and sounds that Atlanta has that cars hinder you from noticing. Overall, this was a very eye-opening experience into the strides in bike infrastructure that Atlanta has made in the very recent years.
Figure 1. 10th Street Cycle Track
During the bike tour, one of the first revelations was the amount of infrastructure that had actually existed at that time that was neither present in the past three years nor known to a majority of my classmates. The first cycling tact on 10th Street adjacent to Piedmont Park was truly one of the first times I truly enjoyed riding a bike in Atlanta. I realized that having a right-of-way that was designed and designated for use of your specific mode of transportation was not only better in terms of stress, but also necessary in order to encourage various forms of transportation. Thus, I completely understand why cars feel safer on the road than most other vehicles because the road was designed for cars.
Figure 2. Atlanta Beltline and Ponce City Market
As we continued on the tour, the Beltline and Downtown infrastructure was truly beautiful. Taking the Beltline for the first time was truly an interesting experience that truly allowed me to understand the "craze" that ATLiens have with the path. Due to multiple infrastructure techniques that used in the Beltline design, it truly created a space for bikes and pedestrians. Additionally, the fact that there were multiple stores that had their main entrance toward the Beltline rather than a major road allowed me to truly understand the economic benefit of having multi-modal transportation. For Downtown, there were a few more hills than the Beltline--which made it very difficult to navigate, especially with cars speeding right passed. However, halfway through the Downtown corridor when we came to the curbed bike lane, it created a slightly protected lane that allowed biking to be very much more relaxing & safe versus the unprotected cycle lanes. Therefore, I can definitely say that I feel on the tract that we took for the ATL Bike Tour was a seven out of ten in terms of safety.
Part 2: Netherlands Biking Infrastructure!!
It is evident that the American and Dutch transportation priorities and infrastructure are not only different but approach integrating bikes into the framework of mainstream transportation in systematically diametric ways. The United States of America views bike infrastructure as unnecessary and does not view biking as a viable means of transportation as bike usage has always been viewed in a "children's" frame of reference. Though biking in America has increased in the past few years, there have only been small, sporadic strides in major cities to actively tackle this problem. However, one of the things that I noticed is the current American bike infrastructure compared to the early Netherlands bike infrastructure are almost identical. Because of this, the strides that can be made are completely possible. Thus, I will compare these two systems holistically.
Figure 3. Cycling protest tour 1979, Amsterdam
After World War II, the United States and the Netherlands were in two very similar places economically as both nations had become extremely prosperous following the war. Moreover, this sparked more car infrastructure in both nations as well as the erasure of the basic cycling infrastructure and public spaces in the Netherlands. People in both countries started moving away from the main place of work. Yet, after a big political movement by the citizens in the Netherlands, the government was able to put resources toward the bike infrastructure. This latter point is probably the most important in terms of helping America get to the point in which they have adequate, safe, multi-modal forms of transportation. It is important that the citizens raise extremely high standards for the national and state governments to implement more bike safety and bike infrastructure. Things such as Atlanta Bike Coalition and Midtown Alliance are two support groups that help to advocate for the betterment of bike users; however, these groups have not garnered the national attention to the point of integrating it into the conversation of improved infrastructure that is already happening nationally. Therefore, when we look at the current bike infrastructure in the United States, it is easy to see why we have such low-quality facilities (there is also the funding framework of the DOT system as well as the lobbying of automobiles as well as subsidies for these industries...but let’s not get too antsy).
Figure 4. Cyclists crossing an intersection
Finally, in terms of how riding in the Netherlands versus the United States, I can definitely conclude that the infrastructure in the Netherlands does assure safety. One of the things that could truly help this be advanced is to increase the volume of bicyclers on the road due to the fact that numbers are important for changes in politics as well as the ideology that there are “safety in numbers.” I hope the United States can do this as well, but I doubt that will happen.
Mentoring is important from both the perspective of the mentor and mentee. The mentor can have a connection with someone who is younger or less experienced than they are, helping develop their mentee into a well-educated professional. The mentee is able to find someone who will give them feedback and encouragement, will help them develop a network and potentially other mentors, will recommend programs or opportunities to the mentee, and is available for consultation or advice when needed (University of Washington, n.d.).
You can find a mentor in school by reaching out to professors or going to office hours, but in a professional setting, this can be more difficult. In the workplace, you may have to invite someone out for lunch or coffee. You should be familiar with your potential mentor’s work in order to assess whether you have similar interests. Additionally, your mentor should understand your goals and strengths so that they can help you move forward with your career. Once a mentorship is established, you should establish how often to meet and how and how often you can reach out in less formal settings. You should also have a way to receive feedback and have goals for the mentorship. A lot of the experience responsibility falls on the mentee, since that is who benefits the most from the experience. (University of Washington, n.d.)
In different cultures, the way that feedback is given varies. Understanding how people give feedback in your own workplace and life is important because in some places feedback is given very gently, and you may not notice it is even being given, while in other places feedback is given sternly, and you should not take offense or feel like that person is being rude, and still other places may be somewhere in the middle. As a manager, you have to be aware of how the people you manage may interpret your feedback. As a worker, you have to recognize how your manager gives feedback and how your peers give feedback. However, Erin Meyer (2015), does not suggest trying to change your feedback style to match others, in case you over compensate and become too direct or too indirect. Meyer instead recommends to pay attention to the “upgraders” or “downgraders” that are used in the culture you are immersed in and work to include those types of indicators into your own feedback style.
In addition to understanding the way feedback is given in the culture you are immersed in, you must also understand how to properly give feedback, and make sure to practice giving feedback to continually improve. Some tips from Carol Robin, the director of a leadership program at Stanford, suggests to give your feedback before you are annoyed with someone, use “I” statements, and focus on what the person is doing rather than the person themselves (Peterson, 2013). In a professional setting, these are important because you are working with the person you are giving feedback to every day. Using “I” statements to tell someone how you feel can made the person you are talking to feel like you are opening up to them, and they can understand your motivation to give them feedback, making it easier to listen.
The traits of a good leader include what you would expect-- confidence, the ability to relate to others, and goal-oriented. However, when leading a diverse group, there are other skills that a good leader also must possess, including self-awareness, the desire to receive feedback, and cultural sensitivity (Vora, 2014). Self-awareness and reflection are important for leading because they allow you to grow from your past and ensure that as a leader you aren't over-reaching or being too controlling. Feedback and cultural sensitivity, as discussed above, are intrinsically tied. Also, feedback is a good way to know how your team is feeling and what you could be doing better as a leader.
University of Washington Graduate School (n.d.). Mentoring Guides for Students. Retrieved from http://grad.uw.edu/for-students-and-post-docs/core-programs/mentoring/mentoring-guides-for-students/
Meyer, E. (2015, September 2015). Giving Negative Feedback Across Cultures. Retrieved from https://knowledge.insead.edu/blog/insead-blog/giving-negative-feedback-across-cultures-4259
Peterson, D. (2013, November 27). Carole Robin: Feedback is a Gift. Retrieved from https://www.gsb.stanford.edu/insights/carole-robin-feedback-gift
Vora, T. (2011, May 11). Indispensible Traits of a Collaboartive Leader: Part 3. Retrieved from http://qaspire.com/2014/05/11/indispensable-traits-of-a-collaborative-leader-part-3/
As I get older and come to the back end of my undergraduate experience, it becomes even more important to me to start to develop relationships that can help boost me into my professional career. Mentors are able to assess your situation, your skills, and your interests from an outside perspective, one with a broader scope than an undergraduate student could have. Someone working in the field, or even a graduate student, has had far more interaction with other professionals and experts, more experiences applying their degree knowledge, and more knowledge about what skills and traits will serve someone well after they graduate. Additionally, receiving feedback from a mentor can help someone not only identify where their weaknesses as an individual lie, but also what their strengths are. Lastly, having a personal connection with someone older and more experienced simply helps build a mentee’s confidence. So, where does one begin?
A good place to start is with professors. Professors are not only experts in their field of study; they also typically have had years of experience working with professionals from a wide cross-section of a discipline’s industry. At Georgia Tech especially, where the professors are typically leaders in their fields, it’s important to seek out relationships with them. Initiating conversations is the hardest step, but it’s the most important one involved in finding the right person.
To say “person,” however, indicates that a student only needs one mentor, but the opposite is true. Having a diverse network of respectable and reputable people exponentially increases the effectiveness of mentorship. To limit oneself to strictly professors, or strictly industry professionals, is to constrict the sphere of perspective one can gain. It’s important to have multiple individuals one can seek advice and guidance from; graduate students, professors, and industry professionals all offer unique insight into a certain discipline. This can help an undergraduate feel out all aspects and possibilities for his or her career.
Finally, the most important aspect of mentorship is for the mentee to be intentional. Being intentional requires an undergrad to show commitment to a relationship, to be responsible for their own path, and to express appreciation for the help he or she receives from a mentor. Practicing intentionality, like expressing gratitude and consistently seeking advice, helps assure both sides of the relationship that the time they are putting in is worthwhile and constructive.
There is plenty of theory and much research surrounding what makes an effective leader. This semester, I’ve gotten to combine the curriculum for another class, Foundations of Leadership, into the lessons about leadership I’ve been learning in this class. For example, I got to lead a class discussion on the intersection of culture and leadership. Though there are many traits and practices that we in the United States take for granted as standard to the leadership model, there are countless cultures that have drastically different values than we do. The culture in Germanic Europe, where the Netherlands is located, is high in a cultural dimension known as “Assertiveness.” What that means is that people in the Netherlands value direct, unambiguous communication, and they expect their subordinates to take initiative. Their attitude towards how one should operate in a professional setting is different from the attitude of the US. A good leader can understand that and can tailor their leadership style accordingly.
Another important aspect of leadership is emotional intelligence. Possessing a high level of emotional intelligence means that one not only has a complete understanding of how they feel and why, but they also have an awareness for the feelings of those around them. Sensing the concerns of individuals on a team can help to ensure that team-members know that their ideas, concerns, and emotions are being validated, which is key for maintaining full engagement. It’s also important for a leader to be self-aware. Not only does being self-aware help a leader understand their own strengths and values, it also allows them to comprehend their own weaknesses, and determine where members of their own team can help them be a more complete, more effective individual.
Receiving feedback from a mentor is a cornerstone of an effective relationship. After all, what’s the point of developing a relationship with someone who knows more than you if you don’t try to learn from them through constructive criticism? In the process of giving feedback, emotional intelligence is, once again, paramount. When giving criticism, it’s important to ensure that the person you are giving it to knows you aren’t critiquing them personally. Often, this is a function of understanding the background and the personality of the person being critiqued. Different people react in different ways to advice. While one person may be able to get past taking negative feedback, others may take it personally. That’s why it’s also important to make the message positive. Instead of immediately pointing out flaws and mistakes, beginning with something someone did correctly or well can make them more inclined to listen and process criticism in a constructive way.
Culture comes into play when talking about feedback as well. Some cultures, such as Nordic Europe, value warm relationships and “saving face” in social situations. Conversely, Germanic European culture values explicit communication, which people from other cultures might perceive as rude. In the Netherlands, one should never expect someone to sugar-coat their opinion! Due to the spectrum of cultural values around the world, a great leader or mentor will understand cultural differences and take them into account when interacting with colleagues or mentees from another culture. Once again, having a perception of others’ values and personality proves to be essential to leadership.
For the global leadership component of the class, we explore three components that contribute to successful leaders: mentoring, leadership traits, and giving feedback.
The Importance of Mentoring
Mentor or Spirit Guide?
As I reflect over the mentors I’ve had throughout my 28 years of life, I can say with nearly 100% certainty that I would not be where I am today. Because of my mentors I have made some pretty major life decisions: to get an engineering degree, to work and live in Detroit, and even to attend graduate school here at Georgia Tech.
Mentors can come in several forms and from many walks of life. There are disciplinary guides who push us to identify and pursue our academic strengths. Career mentors, who helps us connect our studies to the real world or weigh career options. Then there are mentors who help us develop non-academic abilities, like communication skills or how to work on a team.
Depending on the stage you’re at in life, some mentors may be more relevant than others. Regardless of the type of mentor you choose, the point is to recognize the importance of having one in the first place. Most likely, there are other people out there who have had similar interests and goals, and even just a 20-minute conversation a few times a year can provide you with priceless insight. So hopefully you’re asking yourself… how do I get one of those?
How to find and work with a mentor
Step 1: Decide what type of mentoring you might need. Ask yourself: What goals do you have? What type of skills would you like to develop further?
Step 2: Identify possible mentors. Seek a variety of mentors who are both similar and different from you. Individuals who think differently from you or who have diverse experiences can help you grow just as much, if not more, than those who have interests that you directly align with.
Step 3: Go get ‘em! Don’t be shy to spark up a conversation with a professor or a manager. Ask them about their background and how they got to where they are today. Chances are, they will be happy to talk with you. Feel free to discuss your own goals and interests as well. Although I have listed out these steps, a lot of mentorships occur organically through informal conversation.
Step 4: Once you develop a relationship, establish goals for yourself and communicate them to your mentor. Ask them if they would be willing to meet regularly and always ask questions. Clear communication will help you get the most out of your experience
Step 5: Thank your mentor. If all goes well, a mentorship is beneficial for both sides of the relationship, but always remember that someone is taking time out of their day to work with you.
Leadership is not a talent that some are born with and some are not, but rather a skill that can be learned and honed over one’s lifetime. While some leadership traits do come natural to some, many traits can be developed with practice. Below are a handful of traits that almost all great leaders possess:
Being a great leader isn’t only about knowing others, it’s also about knowing yourself. What are you good at and where do you feel comfortable stepping up? Alternatively, what are you not good at? An effective leader can identify their own strengths and weaknesses and use their surrounding team to complement their skillset.
Leaders practice reflection in action. Reflection in action means to actively reflect on the moods and attitudes of the room. How are your actions affecting others? Are you losing your audience? Once a leader reflects, they adjust. This ongoing process helps a leader identify practices that are most effective within their team.
Leaders aren’t the only ones doing the talking. Listening and empathizing with others is a way to understand the different perspectives people may have, whether professionally or culturally.
Leaders actively seek out and embrace feedback from others. A two-way flow of feedback will make for an effective leader and create a collaborative team environment that is set up for success.
How to Provide Feedback in professional situations
Feedback is messy. Due to this messiness, people tend to shy away from providing it to others, even when intentions are good. Yet feedback is one of the most fundamental building blocks for personal and professional development, which is why it is crucial to embrace both giving and receiving it.
Below are some quick tips to shape the feedback you give into a positive growing experience for the person on the receiving end:
Don’t let yourself get to your boiling point. If something upsets you, be kind, and direct upfront.
Don’t blame and don’t shame. This one is simple – don’t put others on the defensive. Giving feedback should be a mutual conversation between you and another individual, not an attack.
Focus on the raw message you are trying to give someone and weed out the fluff. This can be especially helpful with cultural differences. Don’t say words like “totally” (too extreme) or “kind of” (not extreme enough)
Feedback takes practice. Practice your conversation beforehand, and if it doesn’t go like you intended or you don’t get the result you were hoping for, try again with different words. After all, if feedback was easy, you wouldn’t be reading this!
Mentoring is a valuable asset for any workplace or learning environment. Providing an opportunity for a less-experienced person within an organization to have access to someone with more experience can be a useful tool for professional development and for fostering improved communication within the organization. Quality mentorship will not only lead to efficient workplace environments, but will also improve relationships among members of the organization.
Finding and working with a mentor
Finding the right mentor is essential to developing a good relationship and getting the most out of a mentorship. A good mentor will have similar interests to you, a similar level of passion for the work that you do, and will be open to developing a relationship with you. Once you find a mentor, it’s crucial that you establish a means of communication early on and maintain communication throughout the process. You should actively seek feedback and advice from your mentor, and should also be willing to speak up if a problem ever arises. Mentorship is a two-way street, and it’s important that the process benefits both parties.
What traits do good leaders possess?
Communication. The most important characteristic of a good leader is their willingness to communicate frequently with their mentees. Frequent communication between mentor and mentee allows the latter to feel comfortable talking to their mentor, ensures that any problems can be identified early, and allows for many opportunities for feedback on any work or other factors.
Feedback. Providing adequate, timely, and constructive feedback is key for any leader. According to Deborah Petersen, providing a mentee with feedback is “one of the best ways to help them develop”, but it is important to do so in the correct manner, so the mentee feels “cared for, valued, and closer to [the mentor].” This includes providing feedback early, stating the advice from your point of view, and avoiding shaming. In her article Giving Negative Feedback Across Cultures, Erin Meyer says that the method with which leaders give negative feedback can vary across cultures, but it is important to respect the mentee no matter what.
Respect. Respect is crucial to developing a positive relationship with a mentee. In the University of Washington’s Mentoring Guides for Students, good mentors treat students with respect by minimizing interruptions during meetings, telling the mentee what they have taught the mentor, and acknowledging prior experience of the mentee.
Collaboration. What really sets apart great leaders is their willingness to look at a mentor-mentee relationship as a collaboration rather than a one-way relationship. According to Tanmay Vora, collaborative leaders lead themselves before leading others, listen carefully, develop connections with mentees, share knowledge openly, and seek feedback for themselves. These characteristics create a collaborative environment for mentors and mentees, allowing for improved relationships and more efficient workplaces.
How to provide feedback in professional settings
There are several things you can do to provide valuable feedback in a professional setting:
Provide it early. This ensures that any problems are identified and dealt with quickly, so they don’t augment to a larger issue.
Be generous. Make sure the feedback is constructive, and assume that the receiver of the feedback isn’t trying to be difficult.
Avoid shaming. It is important to treat the other person with respect.
Focus on behavior. Deborah Petersen: “It’s impossible to change someone’s personality, but it is possible to ask that your employee change his or her behavior.”
State the fact from your point of view. Doing this avoids sounding like you are accusing the other person, but rather you are just explaining things from your point of view.
Meyer, E. (2015, September 16). Giving Negative Feedback Across Cultures. Retrieved from https://knowledge.insead.edu/blog/insead-blog/giving-negative-feedback-across-cultures-4259
Petersen, D. (2017, November 27). Carole Robin: Feedback is a Gift. Retrieved from https://www.gsb.stanford.edu/insights/carole-robin-feedback-gift
University of Washington - Mentoring Guides for Students. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://grad.uw.edu/for-students-and-post-docs/core-programs/mentoring/mentoring-guides-for-students/
Vora, T. (2014, May 12). Indispensable Traits of a Collaborative Leader: Part 3. Retrieved from http://qaspire.com/2014/05/11/indispensable-traits-of-a-collaborative-leader-part-3/
As a student and future young professional, the aid and assistance of a wiser, more experienced, and advice-giving figure can prove monumental in my growth as an individual. The role of a mentor provides one with a backboard for ideas, goals, questions, and expectations; the main responsibility of a mentor is to engage a young professional in their world, build them up with constructive criticism, encourage in a respectful way, and answer questions and concerns the mentee may have.
Although not necessary in many situations, having a mentor is advantageous for both personal and professional growth. In many cases, your mentor has walked in your shoes before and can offer advice on how to handle situations based on their own experiences with similar ones. We as humans seek out validation and comfort – a mentor acts as a positive medium to receive encouragement while growing at the same time. At a bare minimum, a mentor can help set up short- and long-term goals and be a sound board for ideas and thoughts; but at its best, a mentor can change the trajectory and path of a young professional into something far greater than the young professional could achieve alone.
Finding/Working with a Mentor
Although many young professionals may find the idea of reaching out to a higher up person in an institution or company, it is surprising how open and excited older professionals can be about taking on a mentee. Students should, however, be direct and forward with approaching a potential mentor, appreciative of their generosity with time, and understanding of schedule restraints (University of Washington, 2019).
Before asking for a mentor, it is important that you gain a clear understanding of your personal/professional goals, what you would want in a career, and your strengths and weaknesses. Mentors actively want to help you grow as a person, but in order to do this, self-reflection and willingness to open up is necessary. Diversity can also be extremely advantageous; although it may seem easier outright to approach someone similar to you, there can be so much to learn from a different perspective. It can be so surprising finding out how much you actually have in common with someone of a different gender, cultural background, or personality type; this ‘fresh take’ on your life and experiences can be vital to one’s growth as an individual.
In the end, the biggest key to an effective experience with a mentor is communication; this has multiple meanings. For one, you should feel comfortable communicating your thoughts, concerns, and questions with your mentor (Washington, 2019). Additionally, the mentor should be a good listener, and return with advice, solace, and their own set of questions. Third, growth in communication through the help of a mentor is momentous; if a mentor can help empower you to communicate your ideas to a larger group, you know they are a keeper.
Effective leaders come in a variety of forms and styles, using different techniques and methods to guide a team towards success or defined goal. For example, a tough love leader, who uses a control and grip on power, is no less effective than a charismatic leader, who leads with charm and personality; it all depends on the situation and characteristics of the team. However, certain traits of leadership, that define what make a beneficial principal, can be found in all forms of leaders.
One of the traits of a collaborative leader is self-awareness, defined as a “continuous and growing understanding of one’s strengths, weaknesses, emotions, moods, values, attitudes and personality traits” (Vora, 2014). Self-aware leaders have a firm understanding on who they are as a person, what their life goal is, and how their personality effects their interaction with others. This allows these leaders to shift their focus on the individual and gain a grip on the unique, and often complex, characteristics of each team member in their group; leaders who do this will be able to fit better roles based on the strengths and weaknesses of the individual. Additionally, these self-aware leaders understand that they, too, need feedback; feedback is not exclusively for the workers, but also the one in charge. More on feedback next.
Feedback in Professional Situations
It is especially important for mentors to give feedback to their pupils in order to ensure they are growing as individuals. The biggest difficulty in feedback is ensuring the person feels valued and significant. Negative feedback is not necessarily a bad thing – it means your mentor is willing to point out what can be improved for your best interest. An effective mentor will focus on behavior over personality and takes in your own point of view (Peterson, 2013).
The different ways varying cultures provide and receive criticism is also fascinating and important to comprehend. For example, as an American, I prefer my negative feedback to be wrapped in positive or uplifting compliments on different characteristics; the Dutch, meanwhile, use a much more direct approach and are not afraid to say it straight (Meyer, 2015). No culture is right or wrong, but it is vital to better understand the background of who you are working with and what they really mean. You should not necessarily be offended by the seemingly harsh words of another; similarly, awareness of how your feedback is received should also be accounted for. Although one does not necessarily have to make changes to their feedback style, it is important to at least recognize the consequences.
Leadership skills are not always taught in class, but they are very important in professional settings outside of college. Self-awareness is one of the most important skills to develop, as Tanmora Vora discusses in his article, “The Indispensable Traits of a Collaborative Leader.” This involves a continuous growth and understanding of one’s strengths, weaknesses, values and attitudes. Building self-awareness is important because it empowers confidence and authority in leaders (Vora). Once an individual grasps awareness of herself, she more easily can be aware and empathetic toward other people she works with. And if leaders have a good understand of the people on their team, they can better allocate talent based on strengths and weaknesses. These leadership skills in turn create a strong team dynamic.
Another important ability within and outside of college, is to gain advice and knowledge from mentors. Mentors can be individuals who you look up to, people you work with, professionals in other fields, etc. Successful mentorships arise when you gain beneficial insights and knowledge for your professional career and personal life. Mentors have a wealth of expertise to share. Therefore, they are important for young professionals who have little experience outside of college and are just getting started in pursuing their careers.
Lastly, giving feedback is an important skill to achieve. While it is often a daunting and unpleasant task, feedback can improve workplace relationships and increase productivity when done well. As Carole Robins says, “feedback is a gift.” To provide good feedback, one must be generous, avoid shaming the other person, focus on changing the behavior of a co-worker not his personality, and say it early (Peterson). Most importantly, feedback does not always have to be negative. If you make an effort to identify positive attributes about co-workers, it is much easier to share negative critiques later on. By having an awareness of oneself, seeking mentorships, and giving proper feedback to people around, will greatly improve one’s leadership quality and skills.
Application in Class
Some critical features of this class are to improve our leadership skills and gain knowledge from mentors while studying abroad in the Netherlands. I think this trip will provide a great opportunity for me to improve myself while working on a collaborative group project and gaining insight from experienced individuals on our bike tour. The leadership qualities that I gain now will be crucial for my later career.
Hello! My name is Serah Mungai, and I am from Nairobi, Kenya. I am from a city known for matatus, vibrant minibuses with blaring music. Buses, trains, taxis, boda bodas (motorbikes), and tuk-tuks (three-wheeled taxis) are also a common means of transportation in Nairobi. Nairobi is also known for having creative drivers, who create four lanes on a road meant to have two lanes, find a way to maneuver through heavy stand-still congestion, and who treat traffic lights as a suggestion. Due to this, walking and cycling are not advised. However, in the city center where it is difficult for vehicles to move around, most people walk.
How have my travels influenced my thinking on transportation?
Growing up in Nairobi and studying abroad in Paris has greatly influenced my thinking about transportation. While in Paris, transportation was very reliable as I took the Metro daily to and from class, and around the city. Coming from Atlanta, it was also a relief to see the amount of people that relied on the Metro, and the amount of people that either walked and biked. While studying abroad, I only used Uber three times. Two of those times were to get to and from the airport when I was traveling to Nairobi, and once when I was returning to the States, because I had too much luggage. While I was studying in Paris, I visited Amsterdam. It seemed as if every person was biking, young and old, men and women, whether going to work or to the grocery store. This trip greatly influenced my decision to study sustainable transportation and apply it locally, both in Atlanta and Nairobi.
Goals for the course
I am excited to learn how the Netherlands has managed to be a bike-friendly city. I also look forward to being mentored by professionals in applying this to the streets of Atlanta. I am also excited to return to Europe and learn in the city which this course is based on, and see it for myself rather than only read about it.
Bike facilities in Atlanta do not make me feel comfortable about biking in Atlanta. It makes sense why “you are 30 times more likely to get injured in the U.S. than you are in the Netherlands,” according to Wagenbuur (2011). In Atlanta, bike safety does not seem to be a priority, hence why bike lanes have not been implemented on every street and cars may park next to, or on, bike lanes with door zones not being flexible with cyclists. Where bike lanes are, they are not completely separated from vehicle lanes. There are bike lanes, literally lines drawn on the road, but no physical boundaries. This is especially noticeable in the city. At one instance while on the bike tour, I felt as if vehicles turning right would hit me. There are some locations that we biked through in the city that I felt safe, like the one depicted in Figure 1 below, due to the bike lane that is clearly separated from vehicle traffic. In Midtown and other parts outside Downtown (ie: 10thStreet), on the other hand, bike facilities are more accommodating to cyclists. Multiple factors, such as quiet neighborhoods and designated bike lanes with physical boundaries, may contribute to this factor. More specifically, Georgia Tech is more accommodating to cyclists with Ferst Drive having a bike lane along the entire path. As shown in Figure 2 below, 10thstreet is also accommodating. While on the bike tour, I did not have any fears relating to biking while cycling down 10thstreet and into the Beltine. In general, I doubt that most people would feel comfortable cycling around Atlanta’s infrastructure, especially in the city. The Georgia Tech campus and Midtown are exceptions, however.
Figure 1: Cycle track in Downtown Atlanta (Green, 2017)
Figure 2: 10thStreet Cycle Track (Google Maps)
Dutch Cycling Infrastructure
In the U.S., cycling is viewed as an activity for children or as a leisure activity. In fact, people carry their bikes on their cars in order to get to their destination. Meanwhile, in the Netherlands, cycling is perceived as the primary mode of transportation, whether transporting children to school, heading to a business meeting, paying a friend a visit, or going on a date. In the Netherlands, there is no specific bike gear, one can wear whatever one wishes, as biking is not a leisure activity, but a reliable mode of transportation for a person of any age. Additionally, in the Netherlands, it does not seem as if bikes are compete with traffic or as if cars invade bike lanes, as cyclists are prioritized. In fact, vehicles may be seen as “guests,” as mentioned by Dr. Watkins in lecture. Compared to the U.S., it may take a cyclist a shorter amount of time to reach a destination than a vehicle driver as roads are meant to be accommodating to cyclists. In most countries, at crossings, first the car lanes are drawn followed by bike lanes that cause bikers to cycle as fast as possible, which is where protective islands emerged from. Junctions are designed in this way so that cyclists do not mix with vehicles, causing accidents and injuries. However, roundabouts are more common in the Netherlands as they have proven to be safer for cyclists. Cycle tracks can be placed all around them, prioritizing cyclists and making traffic flow better. Additionally, they slow down motor vehicles, making them safer for the environment as well, as they minimize noise pollution (Wagenbuur, 2014).
Roundabout in Houten (Wagenbuur, 2014)
After WWII, the Dutch had to rebuild their country. They became an extremely wealthy people and plenty of people started owning cars. There were so many cars on the road that buildings had to be demolished for parking. As the number of cars on the road increased, the number of bikes decreased, and accidents saw a rise. The Prime Minister advised that Sundays become car-free to raise awareness that cars were decreasing quality of life. For example, over 3300 people, of which more than 400 were children, died in 1971. (Wagenbuur, 2011). After all, bicycles were welcomed and cycle lanes were welcomed. Therefore, in my opinion, cycling infrastructure developed in the Netherlands due to the amount of space that cars required, and more importantly due to the number of children (more than 400 per year vs. 14 in 2010 - Wagenbuur 2011) that died because of being hit by cars. People were angry and outraged and wanted change. They wanted an alternative mode of transport, especially one that would not rob them of their loved ones.
In the U.S., on the other hand, many cities have been influenced by Davis, California (Schmitt, 2018), and other international cities to adopt bike lanes and be bike-friendly cities. Additionally, even though bikes are not as expensive as cars, bike lanes are more common in wealthier neighborhoods and near the beach. This is probably related to the fact that, in the U.S., cycling is viewed as a leisure activity. Additionally, in my opinion, biking is seeing a rise, especially in younger people, because of the need to keep healthy and stay fit.
Hello, my name is Conor Hill. I am a fifth year Civil Engineering student at Georgia Tech with a concentration in Transportation Systems.
Where I am from
I am from Fayetteville, Georgia, an outer suburb of Atlanta, about 45 minutes from the city. The city itself is very spread out, so really cars are the only way to get around. The nearest metro train station to Atlanta is 20 minutes north of the city, so not accessible for a commute without an equally long driving portion. Additionally, there is no bus system or routes, and very little infrastructure for bicycling to get around.
The neighbor city of Peachtree City, where I also spent a lot of time growing up, has a very different transportation layout compared to Fayetteville. The city of Peachtree City was built in the 1950s with the structure of a garden city, consisting of small city centers surrounded by greenbelts/neighborhoods. These city centers are connected by 90 miles of multi-use trails (seen in Figure 1), bringing residents between villages, lakes, and other community features. These multi-use trails heavily used recreationally by users like pedestrians, cyclists, and golf carts. Though it isn’t the primary mode of transportation for business and long-term travel, the multi-use trails help validate that alternate forms of transportation can be integrated into an American community with some success.
Figure 1: Map of Peachtree City Trails (Peachtree City, 2018)
Where I Have Traveled
My family is from Dublin, Ireland, so I generally visit there every few years. In many ways, the traffic situation in Dublin is very similar to Atlanta – they face the issue of extreme congestion during rush hour, with the issue of limited space to expand current roadway capacity. However, Dublin’s approach has been to incentivize the concept of biking to work (called #biketowork), offering travelers into the city tax breaks and free biking equipment. This has simultaneously increased the number of cyclists and decreased automobiles on the roadway; it works so well in Dublin because of the close tight suburbs around the city, as well as the preexistence of biking paths outward from the city center.
Additionally, my trips to London and Tokyo completely changed my view on the effectiveness of transit. Studying abroad in London, it was so seamless and easy to get around using the Tube; it was so user friendly, there were station locations everywhere, and the city itself really supported and pushed for proper transit use. Tokyo (Figure 2) furthered my wonder of transit – everything with transit is so effective and efficient. For a non-native speaker, the whole trip revolved around where I could go based on their transit. And the most amazing thing – everybody uses the transit…. literally everyone. Those pictures you see of attendants cramming people into jammed subway cars are 100% accurate and an everyday experience.
Figure 2: Tokyo Signing and Marking
I can think of a few goals to outline for the course:
To be able to incorporate what I learned in the Netherlands to my studies and work in the future. How can I as an engineer use the Dutch approach to make Atlanta better?
Gain a better understanding of the relationship between culture and infrastructure. Why does who the Dutch are matter when it comes to what they have done with infrastructure? Who are we as Atlantans and what can we do to cater towards our own niches?
Become a more bike-oriented person. I grew up in this great biking community, yet never really took advantage of it and cycled to get around. Hopefully what I learn from this class will better equip me towards the more sustainable method of cycling.
Eat interesting food in the Netherlands. Stroopwafel, herring, bitterballen, kibbeling…. the opportunities are endless.
Peachtree City (2018). Peachtree City. http://www.peachtree-city.org