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
Our class’s first of many cycling tours took place on a cold Friday through the parts of Atlanta depicted in Figure 1 below. I wish I had worn more than just a t-shirt!
Figure 1: Bike Tour of Atlanta Route (Source: Google Maps)
As one can see from the route map, our group traveled quite far and touched on some of the most important areas of Atlanta’s existing and incoming bike infrastructure. The Beltline, 10th Street’s protected cycle path, downtown’s protected bike paths, and new bike infrastructure around Centennial Park were all used. My favorite facility of the tour, however, was definitely the Beltline. Since we toured the route during a cold Friday afternoon there was enough space to truly enjoy all of the sights that the path has to offer without dealing with the large groups of pedestrians that typically use the facility during the weekend.
Getting out of the classroom was especially helpful for my understanding of certain elements of bike infrastructure and their effect on perceived danger to cyclists. Some of the most notable ones will be described further such as sharrows, painted bike lanes, protected bike lanes, shared walk/bike paths, and bikeshare.
Sharrows are markings on pavements built and designed for car travel. They are without a doubt the scariest pieces of bike “infrastructure” that I have used in Atlanta. The limited speed of a bicycle, the greater speed that a car can travel, the discrepancy in safety features, and the poor state of many of Atlanta’s roads all contribute to the feeling of danger that I and presumably others experience while traveling in these lanes. Even a sharrow going downhill, where cyclists can travel at greater speeds, feels much more unsafe than other parts of the cycling network Atlanta has to offer. Figure 2 below shows a typical sharrow.
Figure 2: Typical Sharrow Example (Source: Silicon Valley Cycle Coalition)
Another of these elements are painted cycle lanes. Painted cycle lanes are marking on the same pavement used for car travel, but in this case, they denote a specific area where only cyclists can theoretically travel. Of course in Atlanta, one of America’s most car-centric cities, drivers are very keen to ignore the purpose of this space and use it for whatever means they deem necessary. It’s not uncommon for a driver to temporarily stop in the space, for parked cars to open their doors into the cycle lanes with approaching users, or even for bus drivers to stop in the lanes. Additionally, turning left (these lanes are typically on the right side of flowing traffic) pose danger as the bike must leave allocated space and enter the space allocated for cars. For these reasons, I ‘m not entirely comfortable using a painted bike lane, but I prefer them to sharrows and a lack of infrastructure. I would say that others would feel similarly. Figure 3 below shows an example from Google Maps of the Tech Trolley on the campus of Georgia Tech cutting into the painted bike lane.
Figure 3: Painted Bike Lane Intrusion (Source: Google Maps)
Protected bike paths and lanes are better in my opinion than both painted bike lanes and sharrows. They offer a true physical barrier between humans operating a small device and other people driving multi-ton devices of power. In Atlanta, there is variation between the types of protection that occurs, whether it be plants with a concrete pot, a small curb (as seen just east of Centennial Park), or the white pylons that can easily be knocked down by a car. However, any of these devices do more than prevent a car from using space allocated for bikes. They create a feeling of separation, so that bikers feel as if cars are no longer a threat or worry (aside from intersections) and car drivers feel as if they do not have to worry about the bikes (which is unfortunate when the two modes intersect and this causes an accident). Figure 4 below shows the 10th street cycle path, which is protected with the interspersed white pylons.
Figure 4: Tenth Street in Atlanta, Georgia (Source: Google Maps)
The next key element of Atlanta’s bicycle infrastructure are the shared bike/walk paths. These paths are car-free but have no delineation of where bicycles and pedestrians should travel, but rather, one path where bicycles can maneuver around pedestrians. Sometimes there is a marking or feature in the middle that signals where the directions of travel should separate, so that a head-on collision is avoided. During non-peak use hours, these paths work well, feel safe, and safe space. However, during peak hours of pedestrian use, cycling on these paths is almost impossible. For this reason, I enjoy using these features sometimes but cannot depend on them. I would think that other feel similarly, although the most fearless and unforgiving of cyclists may take on the challenge of fighting for space on these paths during peak hours. Figure 5 below shows the Beltline in use during a time where a skateboarder (and presumably cyclists as well) can maneuver around pedestrians.
Figure 5: The Beltline Trail in Use (Source: Atlanta Magazine)
The final key element of Atlanta’s bicycle infrastructure is the bikeshare that has sprouted up in the pat few years. Both Relay Bike Share and Jump are companies that have placed hundreds of rentable bicycles around the city for temporary use by a number of people per day. By downloading an app and paying a relatively small fee, anyone in the city can get on a bicycle in a matter of minutes despite not owning one at all! These bicycles are certainly not as easy to use as a road bike that is commonly privately owned, but they still feel safe and convenient to use. I would assume that others would have potential problems with the fees, weight of the bicycles, and the small numbers of gears which make cycling harder on these bikes. Figure 6 below shows a dock for Relay Bikeshare.
Oh, where do I start? Given that the purpose of this class is to open my eyes on the discrepancies between the Netherlands’ world-class bicycle infrastructure and Atlanta’s bicycle infrastructure, it’s understandable that our system is currently inferior. Two main differences that planners and engineers need to take note of are intersection design and perception.
Intersections in the United States typically follow the idea that cars come first, and that car throughput is the priority in design. Therefore, keeping space for vehicles and giving as much time as possible during a traffic signal are more important than designing for what is usually only a few cyclists day anyway. While I disagree with this idea, it is important to understand that the measures of performance that road designers are judged upon in America are almost exclusively car-based, so design for cycling will understandably always come after until this is changed. Figure 7 below shows a street view of the intersection of Edgewood Avenue and Jackson Street, where space and quality pavement are allocated to vehicles.
Figure 7: Edgewood Avenue and Jackson Street in Atlanta, Georgia (Source: Google Maps)
It is also notable that the Dutch more heavily promote the use of roundabouts than Americans, who typically stick to intersections and ninety-degree angles with either traffic signals or stop signs. While roundabouts are growing in popularity in America for safety and sometimes traffic flow reasons, it is undoubtable that the expansive use of this feature improves safety for cyclists and motorists by slowing down cars. Additionally, the fact that the Dutch design roundabouts with space for a car to wait for a crossing bicycle or pedestrian undoubtedly improves the safety of all parties involved.
The final consideration to be made in the future by American planners and engineers is the grade of cycle paths with respect to vehicles. Cycle paths are slightly above the grade of vehicle paths, meaning that when cars wish to cross a cycle path, their elevation is raised. This can in turn notify the driver that they are crossing into space allocated for a more vulnerable mode of travel. The same concept is also applied to pedestrian paths, which are a slight grade above cycle paths. During some crossings, even, cars are made to drive over or under cycle paths since they have plenty of horsepower available to do so. This makes cycling even easier since crossing paths and changing elevation are both avoided.
Perception of on-car travel in the United States is very poor. The car is a status symbol and a cultural requirement to many Americans, most of whom fell in love with the devices during or because of the spark in urban sprawl that occurred during the 1950s. Therefore, those who use bicycles for travel are often perceived as less affluent than those with cars. When this is not the case, however, cyclists can be seen as an annoyance to drivers because of the aggressive nature of those who dare to share space with cars on American streets which don’t allocate separate space for them.
In the Netherlands, however, cycling is a common aspect of life. The bicycle is a preferred mode of transportation because of its ease, cost, and benefits. What widespread bike use in place of automobile use has done for the Netherlands is pridefully shared by those who fought for the current system. As a response to planning changes to accommodate increasing traffic that destroyed parts of cities, a large number of casualties, and a dependence on foreign countries for basic transportation, many Dutch citizens protested their government in favor of more bicycle infrastructure. Now that we are a few decades into the future, presumably most citizens of the Netherlands have a positive perception of cycling and land use dedicated to the transportation mode. Given that the United States is still relatively dependent on foreign countries for oil (the type we use in our vehicles, that is), the large number of traffic accidents that still occur, and the detriment that vehicle land-use has caused to our cities, the chance to change public perception on biking in here and should be taken.
There are a few reasons why I think that biking developed differently in the United States than in the Netherlands. They are listed below.
The creation of massive interstates during the Cold War opened up new land for residential development with easy access to job centers when using a vehicle
Assembly-line car production began in the United States with the Model T, so cars were already relatively widespread throughout the country. This may have added to the positive perception that Americans had of the devices because of its convenience, symbol of status, and national pride (especially after a victory in World War II).
Much of the Dutch cycle infrastructure was built after much of the country was destroyed by fighting in World War II. The United States has not fought a war on its own soil in a long time, so constructing new bicycle facilities where they are needed would require the demolition of existing infrastructure.
The government structure of the United States and the Netherlands are different, with interest groups and the car lobby holding considerably more power than in the Netherlands
While there are certainly more reasons as to why the development of bicycle infrastructure occurred so differently in the Netherlands than in the United States, these are the main reasons that I would assume played the biggest roles in this phenomenon.
Google. (n.d.). [Google Map of CEE4660 Bike Tour in Atlanta, Georgia]. Retrieved February 15, 2019, from https://www.google.com/maps/dir/33.7768505,-84.3892889/Myrtle+St+NE+%26+5th+St+NE,+Atlanta,+GA+30308/Park+Tavern,+10th+Street+Northeast,+Atlanta,+GA/Roll+ATL,+Edgewood+Avenue+Southeast+%23122,+Atlanta,+GA/GRTA,+Peachtree+Center+Avenue+Northeast+%23400,+Atlanta,+GA/Luckie+Street+Grocery+Store,+Luckie+Street+Northwest,+Atlanta,+GA/Georgia+Tech+Student+Center,+Ferst+Drive+Northwest,+Atlanta,+GA
Google. (n.d.). [Google Street View of Ferst Drive in Atlanta, Georgia]. Retrieved February 15, 2019, from https://firstname.lastname@example.org,-84.3953731,3a,75y,332.84h,75.56t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sNWu4HWw5iX1oTUZYHWiPjw!2e0!7i16384!8i8192!5m1!1e3
Google. (n.d.). [Google Street View of 10th Street in Atlanta, Georgia]. Retrieved February 15, 2019, from https://email@example.com,-84.3704218,3a,50.6y,94.91h,78.35t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sCtwHy2OaVJquZy7QkJ5Qww!2e0!7i13312!8i6656!5m1!1e3
50 Best Things to Do in Atlanta: Walk, bike, run, or skate down the BeltLine. https://www.atlantamagazine.com/50bestthingstodo/walk-bike-run-or-skate-down-the-beltline/. Accessed Feb. 15, 2019.
Google. (n.d.). [Google Street View of Edgewood Avenue in Atlanta, Georgia]. Retrieved February 15, 2019, from https://firstname.lastname@example.org,-84.3741294,3a,80.8y,257.96h,82.35t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1s5JNLlU2wmcJQfWTLojprsA!2e0!7i13312!8i6656
Wagenbuur, M. [BicycleDutch]. (2010, April 28). Bicycle Rush Hour Utrecht (Netherlands) III [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n-AbPav5E5M
Wagenbuur, M. [BicycleDutch]. (2011, October 9). How the Dutch Got Their Cycle Paths [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XuBdf9jYj7o
Wagenbuur, M. [BicycleDutch]. (2013, June 19). Cycling in the US from a Dutch Perspective [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m2THe_10dYs&feature=youtu.be
Wagenbuur, M. [BicycleDutch]. (2014, February 23). Junction Design in the Netherlands [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XpQMgbDJPok
Wagenbuur, M. [BicycleDutch]. (2009, August 8). Cycling Amsterdamsestraatweg, Utrecht [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FOkbz4tm324
Wagenbuur, M. [BicycleDutch]. (2011, April 3). Junction design the Dutch – cycle friendly – way [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FlApbxLz6pA
The Atlanta cycling tour was an amazing learning experience to prepare for the Netherlands.
I was surprised at how comfortable I felt bicycling on the Atlanta roads; I imagined mass chaos trying to weave through traffic on major streets, but was taken aback at the amount of infrastructure already in place that separated cyclists – whether it be the cycling tracks downtown, or the completely bike-friendly Beltline (ironically, I was less comfortable with my actual bike than the paths – shoutout to Liston and Nick for fixing it multiple times on the trip). My favorite portion was the cycle track on 10thStreet, seen in Figure 1 – the strategic placement on the Piedmont Park side, integration by lane reduction, and barrier protection all attributed to this. My least favorite section was along Edgewood Avenue, as shown in Figure 2, where the bike lane felt more like an afterthought. It would appear that the automobile lanes were just made more narrow to fit a bike lane, but this offers no protection or real benefits to cyclists.
Figure 1: 10th Street Cycle Track (Google Maps)
Figure 2: Edgewood Avenue Dedicated Bike Lane (Google Maps)
Though I felt fine, I am assuming this is not the case for most. One reason I believe bicycling has not taken off in Atlanta is the lack of uniformity in already present infrastructure – in a short stretch of about 1.5 miles downtown, the infrastructure quickly shifted from dedicated bike lane to cycle track to a trail on sidewalk, then back to dedicated bike lane (seen in Figure 3). I am highly doubtful of my success without the aid from more experienced cyclists in the group who were aware of the changes and how to interact with the different roadway elements. If the infrastructure had a more uniform design, less experienced cyclists would have more confidence in navigating through the city. As the Beltline continues to form and branch out into other paths, I do believe that Atlanta will be able to develop a unique and fluid infrastructure style.
Figure 3: Changes in Downtown Infrastructure (Adapted from Google Maps)
Dutch Cycling Infrastructure
Cycling in the Netherlands is a completely different story compared to Atlanta and the US. While cycling in America is expressly for the brave and bold, or simply as an activity, Dutch bicycling is for all and means to serve a purpose – to actually get from point A to B.
For one, the demographic of cyclists is quite diverse – both young and old, and of very different social types; this is very different than in Atlanta, where there has become a bike-to-work stereotype. Dutch bikers dress in normal/work clothes and this biking is clearly for purpose, not leisure. The style of bike used complements well to the city environment – no speeds, or mountain biking styles – just a simple design that matches the flat terrain of the country (Wagenburr, 2010).
In the traditional Dutch intersection, the use of the all green signal timing phase for bikers gives bikers the ability to make left turns without intersecting with the flow of automobiles. This gives motorists incentive to switch to biking – for a shorter waiting time at intersections. Giving cyclists priority over motorists at roundabouts increases safety, and allows for cyclists to get through the roundabout as quickly as possible. I think the space between motor lane and bike lane, where a car can wait out of traffic, is especially intuitive, as it maintains the ease of travel for cyclists without sacrificing the experience for the motorists (Wagenburr, 2014).
I can attribute the differences in cycling infrastructure to three major reasons:
History and Terrain
The Dutch terrain is notoriously flat, due to the rich history of dredging in the country. Paired with the fairly mild climate, Dutch cycling is both comfortable and enjoyable. There are many locations in America where city cycling is not evidently practical – more innovative solutions will be required to popularize cycling. The Netherlands and US handled the oil and economic crisis quite differently – while the Dutch seeked out alternate modes of transportation (cycling), the US focused more heavily on automobile usage and efficiency; thus the Dutch developed a more extensive non-automobile network (Wagenburr, 2011).
Cycling in the US is not taken seriously, more for fast-paced leisure and sport. This has to do with the culture of the US, being mainly car based, and their inability yet to view biking as an equally efficient mode of transportation, to actually get from point A to B. This lack of seriousness towards biking corresponded to the Dutch narrator’s frustration in the deficiency of proper biking infrastructure. Instead of catering to the needs and requirements of bicyclists, bike lanes in the US generally give the impression that bikers in the US are a secondary class road user, which should not be true. The narrator remained hopeful for the future of US biking, seeing infrastructure improvements like more curbs, bike racks, and bike shops, as well as bike sharing options, that will allow for the greater universality of biking in the US. Beyond infrastructure improvements however, cultural improvements are needed to ensure road users understand that cycling is meant for purpose, much more than just sport (Wagenburr, 2013).
Bike-related deaths seemed to not be at the forefront of US news and opinions; the Dutch really valued life and safety in this situation, and for the 1970s, I find this extremely revolutionary (Wagenburr, 2011). Conversely though, it has been evident in all of the videos that the Dutch do not wear helmets while biking – while this is completely understandable for adults, there is concern for young children. It feels very dangerous not giving them helmets, or some other form of protection; based on their location on the bicycles, if a crash were to occur, the child would be in a zone of particular concern for injury (Wagenburr, 2015).
Figure 4: Children on Bicycles
Handmade Charlotte (2012, August 8). A Bicyle Built for School. https://www.handmadecharlotte.com/carpooling-on-a-bicycle/
Last Friday (2/8/19), the class went on a tour of cycling infrastructure that has been developed in the city of Atlanta. Observing domestic infrastructure in a course designed to study Dutch cycling infrastructure was something I looked forward to in the previous weeks when it was scheduled on the calendar. This is because a hope for the course is that I grow in familiarity with both systems, so that helpful comparisons and contrasts can be made such that American infrastructure can develop – and commuter cycling flourish.
Atlanta's Cycling Infrastructure
Below is a list of infrastructure features the group encountered:
Unprotected bike lanes
Mixed traffic roads
By Dutch standards, Atlanta must seem like a wasteland of bike infrastructure. In light of the recent history for the “Dogwood City”, however, the attention to bikes in recent planning and design is a revolutionary departure from that yesteryear when car culture was the near exclusive consideration.
Below are some comparison photos I was able to piece together in order to illustrate the changes happening all over the city!
Comparison of Fifth and Spring, now and then (credit: AtlantaTimeMachine.com left, Georgia State University Library right)
Comparison of Tech Parkway, now and then (credit: Google left, Georgia Tech right)
Comparison of Five Points (credit: Google left, Georgia State University Library right)
In addition to urban bike lanes and cycle tracks, Atlanta is the home of the famous BeltLine, a multi-use path allowing walking and cycling. After a graduate thesis in 1999, the first section of the trail opened in 2008 and has been adopted into the culture of the city, where it has given vision for a sustainable, multimodal, and fun transportation network.
The tour began in hectic Tech Square with our group of cyclists, ranging from battle-hardened commuters to some who had assembled their bike just a few days prior. My experience falls towards the more experienced end, and this is important to keep in mind when considering my interpretation of facilities encountered on the ride, as people would typically find situations less comfortable than I do.
The initial mile or so through Midtown was defined by unprotected bike lanes and quiet residential roads with mixed traffic. The bike lane seemed to promote an awareness that cycling traffic should be expected, but from a functional standpoint did not protect the group. I still found myself cautious, wary of car doors and weaving traffic, despite the dedicated facility. The slow residential roads provided a fun and leisurely experience in contrast. The group was able to fill the lane and didn’t feel out of place at all despite the lack of design features. Setting and type of traffic certainly made a difference in this situation. And through it all, traveling as a group gave a feeling of safety and even a sense of belonging.
The Atlanta BeltLine!
At 10th Street, we encountered our first cycle track. Grouping together before heading down the track, our guide and professor, Dr. Kari Watkins, noted that this was the first segment that separated bike and car traffic in the city, opening in 2013. This has become the first of a few cycle tracks in the city, many sponsored by the City of Atlanta and PATH Foundation. While I had ridden this segment quite a few times, I’ve always found it to be quite fun (at least when going east, downhill!). While the bollards may not be the prettiest, they give me enough of a sense of separation and protection to enjoy the ride. Similar to the cycle track in that it separates from motor traffic, but different in that pedestrians make up the majority of traffic, the BeltLine was encountered next. This path had a noticeably lower design speed, and the group slowed down to not bother those walking. Our guide explained that pedestrians often will not keep to the right side of the path, which can lead to a hazard for those passing by bike. This is due to the unwillingness of the authority to paint guide stripes for aesthetic reasons. As a result, cyclists learn to slow down and to pass warily.
Beyond this, the facilities encountered were similar to those already covered. Downtown has a new smattering of cycle tracks, which have likely been easier to install when compared to the Midtown counterpart due to an under-capacity road network. Biking back to campus from Downtown truly gave a sense of the connectivity and integration beginning to arise concerning the cycling network. Beyond the roads traversed on the tour, however, many roads in Atlanta remain inhospitable to cycling. Memorial, the road to be studied and redesigned by my project group, is a truly harrowing experience at most times of day. This is just one such example of a vital route that practically only allows motor traffic.
Memorial Dr - imagine biking with cars shooting past at 40 mph or more (credit: Google)
Dutch Cycling Infrastructure
For this blog post, 6 YouTube videos from Mark Wagenbuur (YouTube handle = Markenlei; web page bicycledutch.wordpress.com) were watched to help contrast what was experienced on the tour. While the Netherlands had their own bout with car-centric culture, the 70s saw a shift away from motor vehicles and towards cycling. This was done for multiple reasons, notably safety and environmentalism. Social protests brought political and culture change, creating the transportation approach enjoyed today.
The Dutch focus on separating cyclists and motorists (credit: Robert Isemi)
From a design standpoint, the Dutch focused on separating bikes and cars. This is a fundamental shift from the philosophy of the Americans, who pushed for the integration of bike and motor traffic. On the Dutch side this has led to leisurely, safe, and approachable cycling options, while the American mentality created a system only available to the lean and mean road warriors that are comfortable taking the risk. When thinking of a cyclist in the States, legends such as Chris Froome or Greg LeMond (let’s not bring up that Lance fellow) come to mind, with their aerodynamic bikes and lycra clad outfits. From the Dutch perspective, it seems that the outlook is shifted more towards upright bicycles with the rider being far more relatable to the average person like me and (most likely) you.
The Dutch employ numerous design strategies to create a safe and functional system for bikes and pedestrians. Grade separation, roundabouts, and yielding to the most vulnerable are all core design features used by transportation engineers in the Netherlands. Decades of experience also lends to the correct application of different design features, often a mistake of US engineers implementing a system with no prior expertise.
With all this in mind, it is quite clear that cycling in the US is remarkably different than in the Netherlands. This is likely due to a variety of reasons. In the States, gas is cheap, space is available, distances are large. Safety is often sacrificed for speed and throughput, a departure from the ideals of the Dutch. Additionally, the sport cyclist is idealized, a user better suited to mixed traffic than the average (potential) user. Fortunately, as illustrated in Atlanta, dedicated bike facilities are becoming more common in the States, especially heading into the future.