Hiya! My name’s Richard and I’m excited to be biking through the Netherlands for a whole week! This is the part I’m most excited for because it is quite far out of my comfort zone. Before I worry Dr. Watkins too much: I have ridden a bike before, and I am more than capable of biking 15-20 miles. What I mean is that this is most unique and interesting part of this course, and that is why I am most excited about it. Yes, I look forward to learning about all the transportation concepts; but, transportation is my main game, it’s what I will (hopefully) do in my future.
At this point in my life, bikes have become foreign to me; I haven’t touched one since middle school. Growing up in a suburban neighborhood, bicycles were just used to run around for fun up and down the residential streets. They never crossed my mind as a viable means of transportation.
I am from Puerto Rico, whose transportation system can best be described as an exacerbated version of the United States’ suburbia. Despite being a small island, 100x35 miles, it has one of the highest rates of vehicles per capita: 614 per 1000 people, higher than the United States (Syrowik, 2017). With 2/3 of the whole island’s population living in the metropolitan area of San Juan, traffic jams on our way to school every morning was a given. I drove a car to literally everywhere, and my house has a Walk Score of 11. Bus systems are stuck in traffic almost everywhere, though I have seen some bus lanes around certain parts of the metro area. In my 18 years of growing up in Puerto Rico, I got on a public bus two times, both for a field trip. The buses are old, dirty, unreliable, and inefficient. Basically, everything that people think the MARTA bus system is but isn’t, Puerto Rican buses are. A heavy rail “Tren Urbano” was built in the last decade as a political show. It connects business, education, and retail centers, but serves no large population corridors. I rode on it once as a kid during its free trial period, but looking at online pictures now, I am reminded of how pretty of a system it is. The entire system is fully automated.
Last Spring, I studied abroad at GTL, forever changing the way I viewed public transportation. Each new city I visited was an amazing experience exploring their transit system. In Paris, a car is virtually useless; everywhere is within reach of the trains. In Munich, whole cities exist underground at each U-bahn stop, complete with stores and grocery shops selling fresh food. In Copenhagen, whole bridges and neighborhoods are reserved for bicycles and buses only. In Barcelona, the beach connects to the mountains with a beautiful system that connects you to all of Gaudi’s works. In Berlin, far-flung suburban neighborhoods are stitched together by an amazing web of trains. But in The Netherlands? I don’t know! I didn’t get to go there that semester, which is why it’s going to be amazing to go there now!
Before I took CEE 4610 last semester, I was very much a public transportation-oriented fellow: mass transit was the only solution to our problems. Unfortunately for Dr. Rodgers, Dr. Watkins did a great job of explaining that the solution really lies in getting people out of their cars. This can be done through a combination of not only great mass transit planning, but also investing in bike and pedestrian infrastructure to get more people active during their commute. The goal is the same, the approach is more multimodal and wholistic in thought. I hope to learn a lot of things from my Netherlands trip, but what I really want to learn is how they’re so effective, as a whole society, in eschewing motor vehicles in favor of a huge bicycle system.
Syrowik, Tess. 2017, April 25. Countries With The Most Automobiles Per Capita. Retrieved from https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/countries-with-the-most-automobiles-per-capita.html