After experiencing the bicycle culture first-hand while studying abroad in the Netherlands for a week, I am impressed by the scale and consistency of their bicycle network that we saw all across the country. It is one thing to read about the Dutch bicycle infrastructure, but it feels completely different to experience it. From my visit in the Netherlands, I think bicycle transportation should be encouraged in other countries and cities around the world because when safe and separated infrastructure exists, cycling becomes more efficient and cheaper than driving. It is also one of the most environmentally friendly modes of transportation. For over 40 years, the Netherlands have been implementing and fine-tuning their bicycle network, which has also created a cultural shift in perspective to put cyclists first over cars. For these reasons, the Netherlands claim one of the highest bicycle rates, with one of the lowest injury rates compared to other countries. Overall the Netherlands infrastructure is a great example to follow in establishing a complete and consistent bicycle network.
There are several key differences in design between the Netherlands and the United States. The biggest difference is the uniformity and complete network seen in the Netherlands. Their protected bicycle lanes are designed to be painted red and raised from the street level, which is consistent nationwide. And bicycle infrastructure is incorporated throughout an entire town or city. Even when space is limited, advisory bike lanes will be designed along the street or other traffic calming measures, such as bike boulevards will be created. These elements are not commonly seen in America. Uniform elements such as raised bicycle lanes or designated paint colors are not enforced across the country. And the safe bicycle infrastructure that exists in major cities like Atlanta consists of a few bicycle lanes or protected cycle tracks, which do not connect across the entire city. Often there is little focus on designing minor streets in America to be bike friendly. Even though major arterial roads are dangerous for cyclists, smaller streets can create more connections for cyclists at an inexpensive cost. And one of the most important differences in America is that there are little safety measures established for cyclists at intersections. In the Netherlands, many elements are designed for bicycle safety and efficiency at intersections, such as protective islands around the intersection corners and intelligent traffic light systems that increases bicycle turning and through-put efficiency. These are just a few basic differences between the infrastructure in the Netherlands and in America. However, there are also big difference between our cultural perspectives regarding bicycle transportation.
Cycling rates are high in the Netherlands because Dutch citizens pushed for more bicycle infrastructure. However, in America riots and protests over the current bicycle infrastructure are not common, like they were in the 1970s for the Dutch. This major cultural impact in the Netherlands forced the government to incorporate safe, efficient protected infrastructure for cyclists. Following the implementation of bicycle networks, more people began to bike to work and around their community. I believe this is the most important take away from the trip. Most people will only bike if it feels safe. And the Netherlands only created a safe bicycle network once the people fought for it. Since protests and riots over bicycle infrastructure in America are not common, the government instead must take initiative on its own if it wants to see a shift away from car dependent transportation and higher bicycle rates. Once the infrastructure is established, more people will likely choose to bike to nearby destinations instead of drive.