After four days in the Netherlands it is extremely apparent, the Bike is King. Everywhere we have been so far, bikes are everywhere. They are parked everywhere and they are people riding them everywhere. I was lucky enough to be able to start my trip with my pals Cindy and Sara D. a day early in Amsterdam and we got a taste of how cycling is truly King. Cyclists in Amsterdam will not stop for anyone, not for pedestrians, not for cars, and not for trams. The only thing they do seem to stop for is signals, which I found to be very surprising. It is one thing when only a few cyclists don’t stop, but in Amsterdam there are thousands of cyclists moving down any given street. It also seemed that for every one person riding a bike, there were two bikes parked somewhere. We visited the 2,500 space bike parking deck adjacent to the Amsterdam Central Station and were blown away be the shear number of bikes.
Amsterdam was our first taste of biking in the Netherlands but a lot of the things we saw in Amsterdam we are seeing all across the country, just with a relatively smaller volume. There are still bikes everywhere, both with people on them and not on them. There is still bike infrastructure both in the smaller cities and out in the rural areas. One thing that has really struck me though is how well other modes are also supported. Yes the Bike is most definitely King, but you can still drive a car if you want to drive a car or take public transit if you want to take public transit. There is an excellent multimodal balance. Cyclists definitely get priority in the majority of situations, but in those situations it is appropriate for cyclists to have priority. We have also come across crossings where cyclists do not get priority, mainly in low volume areas, but just because cyclists don’t get the priority at the crossing does not mean the crossing is designed in an unsafe way. It is very obvious that the Dutch design is meant to protect users, regardless of mode and regardless of priority.
Dutch transportation design differs significantly from US design primarily because it prioritizes bikes and supports all modes, as opposed to the US were design is primarily focused around the automobile. One element of Dutch cycling design that struck me and that Dr. Watkins talked about alot during our tour of Delft today is the heavy usage of protected intersections. Even on streets with only bike lanes, major intersections transition to protected cycle tracks because the Dutch have realized how intersections are most dangerous for cyclists and have designed around that fact. The United States operates with an opposite mindset, we tend to focus on the design of segments while disregarding intersections. Another Dutch design element that stuck out to me was the placement of signals. In the United States signals tend to be on the far side of intersections hanging above the roadway while in the Netherlands the signals are mostly on poles at the sides of the road on the same side of the intersection. After asking Dr. Watkins about the signal placement, she informed me it is purposeful to keep drivers from creeping up across the stop bar into pedestrian and cycling space, something that is common in the United States.
Outside of the infrastructure, the Dutch culture around cycling is much different than the United States. Cycling is just something that everyone does. We have seen young children cycling and riding on parents bikes as well as old folks riding bikes. Cycling is very much perceived as a normal everyday activity within Dutch culture. What is not perceived as normal is bringing bike on trains as we learned yesterday. That costs extra money and people will look at you funny. So next time you come to the Netherlands make sure to ride a bike but keep your bike off the train….