Enlightenment. Enlightenment is defined as the act of receiving greater knowledge and understanding about a subject or situation. Throughout the trip to the Netherlands, I can definitely say that I have truly been enlightened beyond my expectations. Due to the fact that I was afforded to take this trip as a study abroad class, it gave me the opportunity to ensure that I consistently took note of Dutch culture and history at every turn. This assured use that information to understand how this has affected their infrastructure and transportation system as a whole. Based on their culture, three aspects seem to truly drive a majority of the design solutions: timeliness, collective good, and caring for the most vulnerable.
Timeliness. Though Dr. Watkins had hinted at the timeliness of the Dutch, it was not until our class was in the Netherlands and in the environment that made us understand the gravity of what she meant. Whether our class was in Rotterdam, Delft, Utrecht, or The Hague, the timeliness was so imbedded in the system and culture that it was seen and felt everywhere. For example, all the train departure times were extremely accurate and anyone who was exactly on time or late either struggled to make it on the train on time or missed it, respectively. Additionally, the reliability of timeliness was paramount as well. Thus, even as a major point of information in each conversation that we had, the Dutch assured that timeliness was implemented in the design of the nearly all transportation solutions. For example, one of the main metrics that is used to determine the successfulness of the initiatives that they try to implement are related to assuring that people are given multiple modes of transportation to meet the needs of such a compact nation. Therefore, transportation options such as trains, trams, and buses are much more efficient in the Netherlands and is truly driven by this fact as well as the collective good.
Collective Good. During much of the conversations with professionals and academics, it was evident that the Dutch had a more cohesive idea that collective good was not only important but necessary for the advancement of the society. In a variety of ways, their more socialist ideology attributes to this idea substantially. For example, whether it was when the people collectively protested against cars due to extremely high childhood death rates or the government understanding that it would need to use resources to truly ensure that the flooding disaster of 1953 never happened again, much of the design of the infrastructure is a direct result of action by the public to ensure that the public collective good is upheld whether it would originally be sacrificial on a more individual level. Therefore, this ideology is truly the basis of their bicycling infrastructure. The collective good that a robust bike infrastructure ensures--even if it means to take away some of the dominance of the cars--is worth the benefit. For example, much of the infrastructure is based on the separation of speeds rather than extremely focused on separation of modes as paramount; thus, there is always a location for bikes in the system and always a safe route in which these bikes can travel. Additionally, the collective good that aided the design of the road has in itself influenced the culture as well. With many of the roads, the cars truly respect the vulnerability of the bikes and pedestrians and understand that it is necessary to properly yield to them in nearly all situations. Moreover, due to the fact that many more bikers can be serviced in the span of a green light green time than that of cars, the Dutch have implemented a system that makes cars yield to bikes in nearly every situation--especially at intersections and roundabouts.
Overall, the culture has influenced the design of the system but has the design of the system influenced the culture? After only a week in the Netherlands, it was evident that the answer to this question is a resounding yes. Though the increase in bikes was directly in response to protests and sustainability originally, it has influenced the health, longevity, and lifestyles of the Dutch in general. People are not only less likely to use cars for their short trips but they are also proud of the fact that they do. In the United States, the fact that you can get your driver’s license at 16 years old is an extremely big milestone and declares that you are closer to adulthood. Conversely, in the Netherlands, at the age of 12, it is an extremely important cultural milestone to get your certificate that you can ride your bike alone. Though the certificate is very symbolic, these types of programs ensures sustainability of the bike system for the future while also contributing to the pride of bike culture.
Throughout this examination of culture and infrastructure, I tackled how the bikes and the culture have mutually influence one another and promote a more holistic approach to transportation.