After traveling a week in the Netherlands, stepping off MARTA from the airport felt like a shock to my system. I walked from the station into a concrete and bike-less street. It felt a little empty. Compared to many parts of the Netherlands, my walk through the heart of Midtown was eerily quiet. Without proper bike and pedestrian infrastructure, streets don’t feel like shared social spaces and become dominated by cars (and fallen scooters). Before biking around on this trip, I didn’t realize how much I walked and how much time biking could save me. Trips around Delft, similar in lengths to my current campus trek, were much more manageable and fun because of bikes.
The Netherlands is consistently ranked as one of the happiest countries in the world. After traveling around the Netherlands for a week, I understand why; Dutch infrastructure is designed to make people happy. I truly felt peak bliss biking next to friends, strangers, and canals. Their infrastructure made my mood even happier. (The cheese and flowers of the Netherlands were pretty nice too … )
As more people bike, there becomes a greater need for more biking infrastructure. This positive loop creates quality bike infrastructure that is safe, efficient and gives people for the priority. It is common in Dutch culture to bike regardless of age, gender, and activity because their design is built for all types of people. A child grows up biking to school in the Netherlands because they can travel on a safe route and their friends are biking. Bike culture and infrastructure reinforce each other.
Bike design in the US is often an afterthought. The first priority is often moving vehicles to reduce congestion and safety concern. Even I was in this camp! I have written traffic impact reports and right before I turn it in, I quickly write a blurb about bikes. In the Netherlands, roadway design prioritizes people, not cars. When people are the priority, transportation becomes safe, efficient, and enjoyable. Transportation systems are not thought of as a corridor but a network to facilitate movements.
One of my favorite podcasts is “99% Invisible” (99PI). At 99PI, their goal is to “expose the overlooked aspects of design, architecture, and activity in the world” because "Ninety-nine percent of who you are is invisible and untouchable”. Because of this podcast, I always thought that most people overlook design. After having my eyes opened to the awesome bike infrastructure of the Netherlands, I realized that I was a blind designer. My eyes weren’t open fully to the importance of bike infrastructure design. I can’t wait to explore the rest of the world with my eye now open to quality roadway design.
For the past week, we have enjoyed taking, trains, ferries, trams, metros, and bikes across the Netherlands! The transit system is very robust in the Netherlands and I feel like the world is my oyster because I can take transit to wherever I would like to go!
Transit in the Netherlands is reliable and responsive. An expansive regional transit system connects different cities in the Netherlands. In each large city, a local transit system frequently connects internal communities. The Dutch hold all transit to a very high bar; In Amsterdam, a “frequent” train/tram/or bus arrives every 4 -6 minutes but in the US, a “frequent” bus arrives in less than 15 minutes. The Dutch use social and actual safety of staff and passengers, punctuality, seat availability and passenger-service, and travel information as performance indicators for their transit system (https://www.emta.com/IMG/pdf/brochure.pdf). Performance measures are tracked and used in conjunction with complex modelings system, historical data, and performance goals. Transit can be reliable and responsive with technology, tracking performance measures, and investment. If a transit system has a lot of monetary investment, service will be frequent and clean which are appealing to passengers. During our tour of transit in Amsterdam, I found it refreshing to talk with professionals in Amsterdam about transit goals because they discussed that they were also unsure about how their performance metrics would change with their new goals.
Bikes and Transit
Biking and walking are important sustainable modes of transportation related to public transportation; They are often lumped into public transportation in addition to buses, metros, and trams in the Netherlands because they are so highly associated. A car-free lifestyle is possible in the Netherlands with a combination of biking, walking, and transit. Passengers can bike/walk to stations, take the train into the city, and then bike/walk the last mile.
Parking a bike in a transit station is easy in the Netherlands. Bike parking at transit stations is a priority for Dutch mobility designers and planners. They are very proud of the planning and infrastructure that goes into bike parking lots. In Utrecht, bike parking at transit stations in the Netherlands will be able to hold over 12,000 bikes in spaces! A number of design components like circulation, storage space, and capacity, all play an important part in the functionality of bicycle parking spaces.
Boarding a train with a bike in the Netherlands is not as easy as parking a bike. Boarding a train with a bike requires an extra ticket, special bike train car, and a bit of maneuvering. Bikes are not allowed to board a train during rush hour because they take up a large space that could be dedicated to passengers. During off-hours, a bike can be brought aboard a train but the attendant may require the passenger to take the following train. A low floor train with foldable chairs, that can be moved out of the way, would facilitate easy boarding for passengers and passengers with a bike. Foldable bikes can be brought on board at any time because they take up limited space.
Houten is a town in the Netherlands near Utrecht and is known as one of the top bicycle towns in the world (in 2008 and 2018). In Houten, residents (and guests) are encouraged to travel by bike because of the accessibility of the railway station, green park zones, and an extensive network of cycling paths where cars and cyclists are able to avoid each other. A loop runs around the city to connect cars and houses but a more extensive, faster, and internal network connects bikes. The network is so simple and safe, that it is a perfect place for kids to grow up biking. Every child is pretty transportation independent as soon as they can ride a bike. Although a large number of jobs from the community require commuting, the internal bike network is very strong and in constant use; commuters have the convenient option to build additional bike infrastructure.
Kids biking in Houten
Imagining Houten Bike Network in the US
When I first heard of Houten, I thought of all of the missed opportunities to replicate Houten in the new developments in the US. In Florida, there have been a number of large developments (close to my Orlando house in Avalon and Celebration) that popped up from the swamps into a housing mecca. They include thoughtful land plans and innovations but none have embraced the Houten bike-centric lifestyle. Many of these (and many future growth opportunities) have the ability to focus on their version of “sustainable transportation” but none actually commit to the level of sustainable transportation in the development. In the US, development is focused on making money and transportation costs may take a while to pay off. I think a Houten-style development would work in the US but it would take a dreamer and large community support to make it work. I think that if this was implemented in the US, the developer would need to give free bikes, biking lessons, biking community and tours to change the US car-centric mentality (not to mention a bikable Publix if developing in Florida). There is a lot of land and growth in the US so I think it is only a matter of time before a community similar to Houten is built. If there is a golf cart community with specific golf cart infrastructure in Peachtree City, GA, there can be a bikable community in the US.
I would have never uttered these words a few weeks ago but ever since arriving in the Netherlands, everything has changed. I feel the same way about biking in the Netherlands that I did about taking transit in Boston; it gets me where I need to go with a smile on my face.
Smiling through the Netherlands (not pictured: my cute pink bike)
Cycling in the Netherlands
I arrived in the Netherlands last Friday, 3/15/19, and have been exploring Amsterdam, Gouda, Rotterdam, and Delft on a bicycle. I feel confident casually biking around the city and really think it is the best way to get around! Cycling infrastructure is prominent and I have the ability to get to where I need to go. I am surrounded by other cyclist but not in an intimidating spandex way. When I bike around the Netherlands, I feel like singing (even more than I normally do) because I am so calm and happy. It is very unlike when I was biking around Atlanta and I was on edge and (mostly) not singing.
Roadway design in the Netherlands always gives bikes a safe way to travel. Bicycles have a separated lane, track, or road for travel and they aren’t mixed in with the traffic. At intersections, bikes have a clear (red) path to follow separate from cars. When cars and bikes do mix, cars must yield. Bike traffic lights at intersections allow bikes to pass an intersection before vehicles. When I did interact with vehicles at intersections, we both had designated spaces to wait. Both intersections and straightaways are built for bike safety and are sensitive to the surrounding speed, volume, and context. The Netherlands contains a huge network of paths for bikes; Anywhere people would want to go, they can use a safe bike facility. Although we have a few bike lanes in the US, trails often end at the intersection and leave a cyclist vulnerable when there are the most potential conflicts. In the US, bike facilities are designed to fit next to/in speeding vehicle facilities and bike design is often an afterthought.
Classic Dutch photo featuring canals, small houses, leaning tower, and of course, bikes!
Power to the (Bike) People
Most streets are for bikers and pedestrians first and then cars (if there are any). Cars must yield to cyclists so I always felt safe at intersections. In the Netherlands, I was able to follow the red bike lanes without worry or stress even though I was still not-too-familiar with standard bike and car interactions because I knew that as a biker, I was often given the priority.
Unlike in the US, utility cycling in the Netherlands is the status quo. While traveling with our large group, I heard many bike bells but only a few car honks because biking is more common. We saw all ages ride, from kids learning with training wheels to older folks picking up groceries. Biking is just a part of the dutch pleasant way of life because it gets them to where they need to go in a safe manner.
My little sister, Rosie, loves to bike around our neighborhood. Every time I visit home, I see her bright yellow bike is parked at the front door before I see her! Even though she loves biking around our residential streets, when I asked why she doesn’t bike to school, she responded “I can’t cross the big streets?!”. Her school is only 1 mile in distance from our home but the route to school would be 2.5 miles of roadway with heavy traffic. Rosie’s biking conundrum is a example of one of the issues with cycling in the US, bike infrastructure often doesn’t exist!
For bike to be a useful mode of transportation, they need adequate route infrastructure (City Cycling, 2012). The first step of bike infrastructure is integrating bikes as a mode in the transportation design and planning process. The US and the Netherlands have different views on transportation design and planning. This can be reflected in the different cycling ridership, infrastructure, and safety trends.
Cyclists Fatalities by Country (City Cycling, 2012)
A safe design is essential for effective bike infrastructure. If bicyclist have a low level of perceived safety, they may not chose it as their mode of transportation and lose out on the potential improved health and cost savings benefits. Most US designs focus on integrating bikes with traffic not separating lanes which leads to conflict because cyclists are more vulnerable than fast moving “cagers”. Engineering design guide books in the US like AASHTO (American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials) dismiss design options with separate paths. There is also a lack of bicycle separation design criteria in the US so the cheapest chosen option does not include separate bike infrastructure. In the Netherlands, cycling and traffic separation in design is almost assumed. The facility selection designs in the Netherland only allows shared space under low volumes, low speed limit (less than 20 mph), no striping, and no multi-lane facilities.
Transportation Planning and Policy
Transportation infrastructure involves a large planning effort before the design can take place. In the US, cycling can be left out of the planning process because there is an assumed lack of interest, lack of engineering guidance, and lack of funding. For example, two alternative forms of transportation, cycling and public transportation, still aren’t completely integrated. In the Netherlands, there is a recent focus with bike parking at transit centers and in the US there is a recent focus of allowing bikes on transit. In the Netherlands, infrastructure policy focuses on building competitive, accessible, livable, and safe transportation (Summary National Policy Strategy for Infrastructure and Spatial Planning, 2011). Interestingly, the policy summary only uses the term cycling once! Cycling is just the more efficient way of reaching those goals. Although the US and the Netherlands have similar policy goals of economic development, safe infrastructure, and a healthier people and planet, they have very different ways of working toward their goals. Rosie may have thought I was crazy for suggesting that she should bike to school because of the current infrastructure in the US. If the transportation design and planning process was more similar to that of the Netherlands, she wouldn’t think I was as crazy (just regular older sister crazy ;))
Me and my little sister, Rosie, during a fall visit to GA
Pucher, J. R., & Buehler, R. (2012). City Cycling. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Summary National Policy Strategy for Infrastructure and Spatial Planning (Publication). (2011). The Hague, Netherlands: Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment.
Mentors are supportive, experienced, and trusted advisors who are looking out for your interests. A mentor can be a confidant, coach, teacher, instructor, or anyone in your life. Mentors have a variety of roles depending on the context; They may help with developing technical content, fostering communication skills, or consulting for career. Regardless of the task, a good mentor thinks about the mentees needs and interests while treating them with respect.
Mentors offer advice from their experience and collected knowledge. They can also use this information to train a mentee best practices, set goals, and achieve successes. A mentor is there to support and motivate a mentee when they reach a roadblock. A good mentor engages in conversation to clarify information. They give and receive supportive and constructive feedback while encouraging positive behavior. If a mentor cannot assist the mentee with a task, they will help build a network of other supportive people who can fill in the gaps.
How to find and work with a mentor
Finding a good mentor can be a difficult task! You need to be self aware and develop a vision of the mentoring needed. After you have established your needs, strengths, and weaknesses, searching for a mentor requires the mentee to be proactive and reach out to multiple mentors. Mentorship is a big responsibility so both parties must set responsible goals, meet often, and have open communications.
A few of my favorite mentors from my undergrad experience, Dr. Robert Thieke and Sophie Spratley
Leaders are always working to be better and help others around them be better. Good leaders have vision, intellect, decisiveness, confidence, and are self-aware. To be a positive leader, it is important to know strengths and weaknesses or yourself and others so you can allocate these skills to reach a goal. A leader understands the importance of feedback and diversity.
I learned so much from two of my favorite concrete canoe captains, Mary Sullivan and Danielle Kennedy.
How to provide feedback in professional situations
Giving and receiving feedback is important for growth because it provides a baseline for the skill; you can’t get better at something until you know what you are doing wrong. Feedback should be given in a timely manner and focuses constructive improvements. It is not possible to change a persons personality so good feedback should be positive, generous, and help a person's interests. Negative feedback should be properly balanced with positive feedback so people don’t feel put down. The best way to provide good feedback is to practice giving feedback so you feel comfortable, confident, and professional when speaking about concerns.
To prepare for the Netherlands trip, our class biked 7.2 miles around Atlanta on Friday, February 8, 2019. We took a tour of Atlanta’s bicycle infrastructure and saw a variety of path types and multiple routes connecting Midtown, Piedmont Park, Inman Park, Edgewood, Downtown, and Georgia Tech Campus.
During our ride, we rode first throughbike lanes around Tech Campus and 5th Street. Bike lanes are a dedicated lane without protection or divider between cars and bikes. Vehicles turning left, people parking and opening their door, and buses pulling in to drop off passengers were all concerns and points of conflict while using the bike lane. Later during the tour, we also rode on a bike lane on Edgewood Ave. Unlike the bike lane in Midtown, there was more traffic so it was a more stressful section. Whenever a car or truck buzzed by, I became hyper-aware of my surroundings even though I was in a dedicated space.
Riding throughresidential neighborhood streets was very pleasant because of the slow vehicles, wide streets, and canopy of trees. Bikes didn’t have dedicated lane but I felt very comfortable because we were pretty much the only ones on the road. There were a few rough patches in the pavement but there was plenty of room to maneuver around each pothole.
My favorite portion of the route was riding on the Beltline. The Beltline is a multi-use path that will eventually connect all of Atlanta with 33-miles of trails. There were lots of pedestrians, roller skaters, and other bikers on the path but it was not a stressful environment because most people on the path were traveling around the same speed. Murals and art along the Beltline make the trail a fun experience and adventure!
We traveled on a two-way cycle trackon10th Street by Piedmont Park, John Portman , Luckie Street (Figure 1), and the PATH trail (Figure 2). A cycle track is a protected lane which means there is a buffer in between vehicles and bikes. Although tall grasses were visually appealing dividers, they were overgrown and impeded bike visibility.
Throughout the ride, either right off the beltline or downtown, I felt uncomfortable at most intersections. When I was stopped at a light, I felt the hum of cars behind me and could feel their power. It was difficult communicating with cars on which direction I wanted to travel because I was used to turning on a blinker. A lot of the infrastructure ended at the intersection.
Figure 1: PATH Trail by Tech Campus
Figure 2: Luckie Street Cycle Track between Downtown and Campus
Dutch Cycling Infrastructure
Unlike roads in the US that focus on the movement of vehicles, Dutch roads give the priority to vulnerable bicyclists and pedestrians. Intersections are raised to the level of the bicyclist and vehicles are forced to slow down. Cycling infrastructure and vehicle infrastructure work together to emphasize the importance of bikes; car lanes are narrow and slow to protect cyclists. Cycling is a way of life for all people, young and old, in the Netherlands. A fancy bike, latex clothing, and helmet is not norm in the Netherland; a bike, not a set of car keys, is freedom to the dutch.
The Dutch built their cycle paths in response to the oil crisis, economic crisis, car-related deaths, and large traffic volumes in a limited space. The US faced many of these same issues during the 70s. Instead of banning cars from city centers, US cities cut themselves in half with freeways. The US chose the car, instead of the bike, to connect itswide-open spaces. Today, cycling infrastructure in the US is developed piecemeal, one bike lane at a time, with disappearing lanes and scary intersections.
Another key takeaway from the Atlanta bike tour was an improved sense of spatial awareness. Although I have biked between midtown and campus for my commute, most of my recreational travel has been in a car (and the occasional scooter). Before the bike tour, my mind compartmentalized neighborhoods and I didn’t realize that many were close and well connected. Some of my favorite spots on Edgewood Avenue (Chrome Yellow Coffee and Our Lady of Lourdes) are an easy bike ride from my house!
Hi, I am Becca Kiriazes! I am a first-year Ph.D. transportation engineering student at Georgia Tech. I recently graduated from the University of Florida in Gainesville with a degree in civil engineering. Through study abroad and personal travel, I have explored life and traveled on the different transportation systems around the world. Some of my favorite transportation travel memories are
Riding the precarious shared mini buses in South Africa
Navigating the elaborate commuter bus system in Mexico
Walking home on the Minuteman Greenway in Boston
Driving on the “wrong side” of the road in Ireland
Singing for hours on cross-country road trips around the USA
Adventuring through the underground metros in Paris and London
Cruising around the Mediterranean
Exploring the tourism transportation bus network all around Peru
Taking the train between cities in France and Germany
Transportation has the ability to connect people around the world and I love discovering how different transportation networks support unique communities. I have also learned that developing safe roadways is a health issue affecting the entire world. I keep a blog of my experiences for my family and friends to stay in the loop of my adventures.
Transportation in Orlando
I grew up in Orlando, FL close to the University of Central Florida (UCF). Orlando is a car-centric city and number 1 in the nation for pedestrian deaths. Growing up within walking distance from a college, I have had slightly different transportation experiences than most Orlando natives. It was fairly safe to walk and bike around campus, so I was able to travel recreationally to libraries and coffee shops. Besides those fun afternoons on campus, driving around Orlando is necessary to get to school, shops, and pretty much anywhere else. My only transit experiences before college were at Disney. Disney transportation is really efficient and clean, so I grew up with a pretty positive association with buses (buses = Disney magic).
Goals for Course
I am very excited to explore the Netherlands and learn about sustainable transportation infrastructure! After graduation, I would like to be a professor who inspires students to make a change in the world. As a professor, I would like to lead study abroad programs to help students get out of their comfort zones and become exposed to new ways of thinking. I can't wait to participate in this course, so I can learn all about hosting a great study abroad course from experience!
Enjoying the Disney Monorail, buses, and people mover!