By April Gadsby
Cycling in the United States is much more stressful and much less safe than in the Netherlands, based on what we have learned so far. This is a result of culture and national priorities. In our car-oriented society, the focus is often on expediency. This is fitting of a culture where we often brag/complain about how busy we are. When focusing on expediency, it is easy to let safety be forgotten.
On the other hand, the Dutch mobilized to make cycling a common mode there due to its increase in safety and a desire for independence from oil. This focus on safety leads to separated facilities that are well marked (with red pavement). They have also recognized the other needs that a cyclist has. For example, decreasing intersections and conflicts both increases safety and makes for a smoother ride. They are cognizant that a cyclist is propelling themselves by their own power, so starts and needless elevation change should be minimized. I was very impressed by how dedicated the Dutch are to cyclist separation. They require it at much lower speeds than it is required here such that if there are lane markings, the cyclist spot will be demarcated and separate from drivers. They don't have such things as "sharrows" like we have here. They have shared roads, but never shared lanes. They also have excellent bike parking that I'm excited to experience.
Perhaps more surprising is that the US policies that support shared lanes come from cyclists. As someone on the Georgia Tech Cycling Team, I understand the desire to bike at a faster speed. We do need to train after all. But it is clearly unreasonable to think an average American, or an older or younger American, should ride with traffic. I am especially confused because our readings cited many papers showing that separated facilities are significantly safer, especially when intersections are handled well. As an engineer, I believe we could have countered concerns about intersections by designing them better (or adapting Dutch practices to our cities).
At least it is getting better in the US. More bike facilities are popping up. Bike parking is becoming more common. People are thinking about biking as a solution to the last mile problem. It will take creativity and drive to change our infrastructure and our funding mechanisms, but at least we have good role models in the Dutch. I'm excited to go experience it and not just read about it.