By Anna Nord. August 1, 2017
It has been over a month, since I have been back in the United States, which means I have gone back to biking on roads with no facilities and competing for space with aggressive, yet oblivious drivers. The Netherlands spoiled me. I became accustom to feeling safe, riding with an air of confidence and not feeling on guard while biking to the grocery store.
Figure 1. Delft Netherlands
Experiencing the transportation networks, in the Netherlands, awakened me to possibilities of a system that satisfies all modes of travel. I don’t think I’ll ever return to the level of complacency and comfort I felt before the trip.
I left the Netherlands with clear ideas of what safe bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure looks like and what policies can support its implementation. Now, I believe American planners and engineers should use the CROW design manual as a guide for developing bicycle and pedestrian design standards in the United States.
Figure 2: My perspective, as a cyclist, biking on Clifton road, a designated bike route in Atlanta.
I know we cannot transform our policy over night and it takes baby steps, but, after visiting a place that has no reservations about prioritizing active and public transportation, I cannot help but to be cynical of our political attempt to accommodate bicycles on our roads. The bike facilities that we, in the United States, deem as acceptable will never attract the number of people needed to feel safe.
With all that said, we are making progress. Slowly but surely, we are coming to terms with the idea that bike and cars might need to be separated. When I got back to Atlanta, I was pleasantly surprised to see the completion of a new cycle track on Lucky St. south of Atlanta.
Figure 3: Lucky Street Cycle Track
As we were coming in for a landing in at the Heartfield-Jackson airport, I remember looking out the window in awe. The lush green canopy that covers Atlanta warmed my heart and made me feel excited to be coming home. I could not stop thinking of how our sprawling auto-dominated city co-exists with such a healthy forest. Granted, the climate truly supports the vegetation, but in comparison to denser urban areas with similar populations, Atlanta is densely forested. Does density and accessibility by bike come at the cost of green space and biodiversity?
Figure 4: Looking down at Atlanta
The compact nature of the cities and the organization of land uses, in the Netherlands, enabled bicycle trips to be convenient. Natural features and green landscapes spread throughout most cities, yet there were very few private green spaces. This is very different from American culture. In Atlanta, the majority of green space is on private property.
`Figure 5: My back yard: My sanctuary.
I love having hundred year old water oaks in my front and back yard and a private space to pitch my hammock. My yard and semi-private green space behind my house are my retreats from the city. Places for me to recharge. However, does this individual claim over green space make it unrealistic for a large population to bike and walk as a means of transportation?
Figure 6: The Hague, Netherlands
Towards the end of our trip, a transit planner in Amsterdam asked us to share what city we thought had a great transportation system. At the end of the discussion, he said it’s important for you to remember that there is no one solution and there is not one city that does it right. That resonated with me. While there is A LOT we can learn from Netherlands, their cities are not perfect. They are learning and growing too.
The trip to the Netherlands ignited a deep desire, within me, to travel; To experience other cities; To learn how they address transportation problems; And, to collect as many good ideas as possible. The trip change my perspective. I am more critical of our infrastructure, yet I am more optimistic that we can build a safer transportation system for all users.