CategoryAmsterdam

Transportation infrastructure is for more than transportation’s sake

Transportation infrastructure should be designed for more than carrying people through places. It also needs to be about carrying people to places, because transportation is for moving people as much for commerce as it is for being social.

The Dutch consider “social safety” when designing and redesigning streets (they’re constantly upgrading streets, roads, and entire neighborhoods to standards that seem to be frequently updated).

Mark Waagenbuur posted a new video this week showing a new tunnel under Amsterdam Centraal, the main train station in Amsterdam, and he highlighted several of its social safety features.

The screen grab I embedded above – and posted on Twitter where it got a lot of shares and likes – shows an aspect that’s common across all cycling facilities in built-up areas: it’s wide enough to ride side by side with your friend, mother, or lover, with still enough room on your left for people to pass you in the same lane.

Another aspect of this tunnel is that it has sound-absorbing panels. Often tunnels have a disturbing echo that inhibit comfortable communication – my new home office has an echo and it makes it hard to have conversations on the phone here because I hear an annoying feedback. The communication is important to be able to hear people cycling with you, but also to hear what other people are doing.

The tunnel has a final feature that supports social safety: clear, wide, and open sight lines. Not just from end to end, but also to the sides. It’s hard to hide around the corner because the breadth of vision is so wide that you would see someone lurking in the corner.

For Chicagoans who use one of the many old tunnels under Lake Shore Drive connecting the “mainland” to the nation’s most popular trail along Lake Michigan, the feeling of claustrophobia and invisibility of what’s around the bend is too common. New tunnels, which I prefer to bridges because you go downhill first, should be a priority when the State of Illinois rebuilds Lake Shore Drive north of Grand Avenue in the next decade. This is what those tunnels look like; sometimes they have mirrors.

We can sell ads on the Lakefront Trail underpasses, but they're still shitty to walk through

There was no contest: I had to visit the Netherlands again

Me bicycling on the Hovenring in Eindhoven

Me bicycling on the Hovenring in Eindhoven. It’s the world’s first, floating bicycle roundabout. It’s a gratuitous way to solve the problem the city had at this intersection outside the built up area. Despite its frivolity, it wasn’t as expensive as something that solves a similar problem in the United States. 6.3 million euros in 2012. The Navy Pier Flyover in Chicago is over $60 million in 2014.

In my last trip to Europe, which concluded three weeks ago, I hadn’t yet scheduled where I would stay on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday nights on my final full week (I came home the following Tuesday).

On that Monday I was in Barcelona but my mother was going back home and I had to move on. On Thursday I was going to be in Bonn.

“Where should I go?” I debated. I considered Morocco (that was a complicated journey and I didn’t want to go alone), and Salzburg or Austria. Then, after talking to a couple before and during my trip I decided I would stay in Lyon, France.

Once I was in Seville, though, right before heading to Barcelona, I started looking at possible journeys from Barcelona to Lyon. They weren’t looking good. They were cheap, but the timing was bad – flights weren’t frequent enough, departed and arrived at odd times, and the train journeys were long.

But “timing” turned out to be just an excuse to avoid having to go to France and skip going to the Netherlands. I really wanted to go to the Netherlands. It wasn’t possible for me to skip visiting some Dutch friends and the greatest country for transportation and utility cycling. I still had more things to see there!

Rotterdam Centraal (train station)

My favorite train station in Europe: Rotterdam Centraal.

My friend Daniel in Rotterdam was available to host me for a couple nights. There was no contest anymore: I booked a flight on Vueling from Barcelona to Rotterdam, just 90 minutes away. And he was even going to pick me up at the tiny airport so we could take the bus to the central train station and get me an OV-fiets bicycle (it’s the national bike-sharing system that requires a Dutch bank account to rent).

On this trip to the Netherlands, though, I only added one new Dutch city: Eindhoven, where I had to see the Hovenring. I paid an arm and a leg to get there – thanks, expensive intercity Dutch train travel prices!

So here’re the 16 cities where I’ve stayed or visited in the Netherlands, in chronological order:

  • Amsterdam (2011, 2012, 2014)
  • Utrecht (2011, 2015)
  • Houten (2011)
  • Zandvoort an Zee (2012)
  • Den Haag/The Hague (2012)
  • Delft (2014)
  • Den Bosch/s’Hertogenbosch (2014)
  • Nijmegen (2014)
  • Arnhem (2014)
  • Groningen (2014)
  • Veendam, Bourtange (Spanish fort) (2014)
  • Leeuwarden (2014)
  • Haarlem (2014)
  • Rotterdam (2014, 2015)
  • Delft (2014, 2015)
  • Eindhoven (2015)

The list excludes cities I only transited or biked through. I’ve transited through Venlo half a dozen times by now. It’s on the German border. It’s a tiny station, tiny town, but has a lot of intercity traffic. I’ve biked through Pijnacker twice, now: once while biking from Rotterdam to Delft in 2014, and the second time, in 2015, I took the metro there and biked the rest of the way to Delft (this time to see the new train station).

I’ve also biked to the Hook of Holland in 2014; not the city, but the port, canal, and to see the Maeslantkering, a flood barrier that’s part of Delta Works.

Railfan at heart

An ICE3 train is headed towards or away from the Hauptbahnhof in Köln (Cologne), Germany. The photo was posted by peters452002.

I am a railfan by any definition of the word. I cannot stop looking at pictures of trains. I look at Flickr every day and follow many contacts in Europe and Japan who post photos of trains. I’ve never attempted to describe why I think they’re beautiful and I’m not going to start here. I’ve been fascinated by things on tracks for as long as I can remember.

I was very happy to choose DB for my trip from Amsterdam, Netherlands, to München, Germany. Here’s a photo of the front of the train at Amsterdam Centraal Station.

Here are my other DB train photos.

N.b. I bring this up now because (1) I really love this photo that I spotted in my contacts feed, and (2) I explained what railfans and train foamers are to a friend after breakfast today.

Tidy bikes on trains: a trip to Den Haag, and Thursday in the Netherlands

Two WorkCycles bikes stand tucked out of anyone’s way in a Nederlands Spoorwegen (NS) train to Zandvoort aan Ze. See all photos from this set, and from Netherlands.

60% of people arrive to train stations on bicycles.
A third of the country commutes by train each weekday.
Passengers, in a departure from American transit policies, must pay a fee to bring a bike aboard trains. (Bikes are not allowed on buses or trams, though.)

In August, my friend Brandon Gobel and I took a trip to Copenhagen for 7 days and Amsterdam for a little less than 3 (when he returned to Chicago I kept going to Munich and Berlin). We arrived in Amsterdam on Wednesday, August 22, by overnight train, walked to the WorkCycles Jordaan shop and picked up our reserved rental bikes. Brandon got an opafiets and I a Fr8 (the same model I bought two days later).

Bicycles are accommodated at every point in a Dutch resident’s journey – and for visitors, too! I don’t know how it would have been possible for us to do so much in the Netherlands without the bicycles.

In Latin: A wise man doesn’t piss against the wind. 

On Thursday we had breakfast at some place with a surly waiter that old pancakes near the Apple Store and this funny slogan written in Latin. We then ambled to Amsterdam Centraal Station to buy tickets for our short train trip to Zandvoort from where we’d then bike to Den Haag (The Hague; I just love pronouncing Den Haag). The station never stops bustling. We walked our bikes to the desk to buy one-way tickets, including all-day bike tickets. I never set a PIN on my credit card so the NS ticket vending machine wouldn’t accept it; I had no idea that you could set a PIN on credit cards, thinking that was something only debit cards had.

The train station at Zandvoort. The train is a DD-AR.

A lot of people were traveling to Zandvoort: it’s a beach resort town less than an hour from Amsterdam and the weather was atypically wonderful, warm and sunny. We rode in the direction of the water until we found the infamous red and white bike wayfinding sign pointing to Den Haag. It hugs the sea for a short distance. Before deviating, though, I wanted to jump into the North Sea.

There are no photos of me swimming in the North Sea, but here’s a photo of my rental bike on the beach. 

We got back on the route to Den Haag. I didn’t bring my GPS logging device so I can’t say for certain where we got off the route, but we kept going south and on the advice I got from a local, “kept the sea to our right”. We eventually drifted inland and started riding through towns and along highways (Americans: in the two-lane, rural sense of the word). There was separated infrastructure for most of the journey. When there wasn’t, the roads and laws were set up to prioritize bicycle traffic.

Welcome to South Holland province. Holland ? Netherlands. Do not call the Netherlands “Holland”. 

At one point in our “off the route” cycling, the off-street path ended. That didn’t seem right. I didn’t notice a sign indicating that we should turn off prior. We backtracked a little an then found a different path (still no directional sign). But we kept moving south. Neither of us had a map, nor data connections on our iPhones. I was confident we wouldn’t need one. I have a pretty good sense of geography, even in a foreign country. This one’s so small and I memorized some of the names on a map before we left.

I will admit that I was getting nervous. I didn’t want to “get lost”, even though I completely disbelieved that “getting lost” in the Netherlands was really possible because of its small size and extremely well-connected towns, trains, and roads.

One of the signs that eventually popped up along the bike path that pointed us towards Den Haag. 

“Huzzah!” A red and white sign saying Den Haag is 17 km thataway! After this sign, every proceeding junction had one pointing to Den Haag. It’s still weird that we got off the route for 30-45 minutes (it seems longer).

The last part of the route before entering Den Haag is along a motorway. This is kind of awkward. Think of biking along any interstate. The only separation between the bike path and the road was a strip of grass and some trees (I didn’t take a picture of it). This is the complete opposite of American motorway design (Americans: motorway is “European” for interstate): here, if there’s no concrete or metal barrier on the outside, then there’s a 50-feet wide cleared right-of-way, often with a ditch.  But we know that while clear areas mean less colliding into stuff, it means faster driving!

Pretty much any city greater than 200,000 people in Europe has trams.

Anyway, back to the bike route. We arrive in Den Haag. We head toward the train station, in the center of town. We’re hungry but there’s nothing around here (which is unexpected, as this is the center of town). But the center of Den Haag is very modern and “business oriented”. Maybe the restaurants are inside the office buildings where the plebeians can’t find them.

Expansive plaza outside the Den Haag train station. View of the opposite direction.

We bike north a little towards what looks like a residential area and find what could be a dive bar. Whatever, as they’ve got cheap beer and food. The menus in Dutch, neither of us read Dutch, and the proprietors don’t speak English, but we recognize the word “hambuger”. That’s what we order. I order mine “deluxe” – I can’t remember how it was described; it came with an egg on top! Hamburgers don’t automatically come with buns, apparently.

We ate weird hamburgers at Café Locus. 

I turn on my iPhone and find that the restaurant has wifi. I’m having a hard time recalling how I asked for the wifi password. A patron (who seems like a regular) knows English and passes this along to the proprietor and tells me the wifi password. After a few attempts it works. I needed it to try and contact someone in Delft whom I wanted to meet but it wasn’t to be. We pay up and depart the restaurant for the Den Haag train station, saying thank you and goodbye to the owner and patrons.

A low volume neighborhood street between Café Locus and the Den Haag train station. 

The bike ticket we bought (€6 each) is good for the day. We return to Amsterdam, tired. It was a smooth, fast train ride  on a VIRM (my favorite).

The return train to Amsterdam (which leaves pretty much every 30 minutes) had seatbelts for bicycles. 

We return to the apartment on Bilderdijkstraat we rented through Airbnb. The lovely bakery across the street, Cake Loves Coffee, is still open so we talk to the owner and sole employee, Nicole. I get a slice of berry sponge mascarpone (photo). We can’t subsist on sweets and fill up on fast food pizza restaurant across the street while we gulp beers sitting outside on the sidewalk in front of the apartment, watching nearly a hundred people bike south after work.

Beers in public. Yes, it’s allowed. Yes, it’s a very civil and normal thing to do. No, it doesn’t lead to the downfall of society. 

View Street View of apartment/bakery neighborhood larger. This image was taken over 3 years ago and the street has been redesigned. Instead of having door zone bike lanes, there’s now a proper cycle track. The bakery wasn’t built yet.

It eventually comes time to head out and visit the Red Light District. What a fun place to visit. If you don’t like seeing real live topless women, or stag parties (Americans: stag is British for bachelor), you should probably avoid it. On our way back to the apartment we stop at a nice bar down the street (between it and Vondelpark). I had noticed it the previous day and finding it reminded me of something peculiar: I never created a turn-by-turn route for any journey we took but I was able to get Brandon and I to any destination in Amsterdam, and “home”, without too many deviations (one of my goals is to never backtrack). I think half the money we spent that wasn’t on trains was spent on booze.

Hash Marijuana and Hemp museum in the Red Light District. 

A group of guys carry the bachelor in the Red Light District. Prostitution is legal in this area of the city. It’s impossible to photograph Amsterdam without a bike in the shot. 

Comparing how bikes and buses interact

A photo from Los Angeles, filling in for a lot of North American cities (less Montréal):

Photo by Metro Los Angeles. 

A photo from Amsterdam, filling in for a lot of European cities:

Photo by Boudewijn Deurvorst. 

Where would you rather bike?

See more photos of bikes and transit in the eponymous Flickr group.

It snowed in Amsterdam

And as we like to say in Chicago, Amsterdammers also said “it was no big deal”.

I love what you see happening in this photo. A person cycling across the intersection is looking back at a white van and a streetcar that seem like they’re going to collide. But no one will hit each other. The Netherlands has the lowest crash rate in the world.

Curb connoisseur

My sometimes traveling companion Brandon makes fun of me thinking I only travel to check out the curbs in every city. It started when we visited Portland together and yes, my camera was often aimed towards the ground. Here is a roundup of what curbs look like in other cities – I could only find these five photos that really focus on the kerb. 🙂

Starting in Chicago, Illinois

A curb and ADA-accessible ramp in Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago, Illinois. The City of Chicago, as part of a lawsuit, agreed to renovate thousands of curb cuts across town that did not meet the standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1993. This particular location was more involved than others because of the real brick crosswalk. It had to be removed and then replaced after the level of the street was raised.

Moving west to Portland, Oregon

In a long walking tour of Portland, Oregon, with PBOT worker Greg Raisman, we came across my first ever mountable curb. It’s a raised part of the street and motorists in small vehicles will probably avoid driving on it. It was installed because this is part of a truck route and it’s easy for truck drivers to roll on top of it without driving on the sidewalk.

Jumping south to Tucson, Arizona

A typical bumpout or curb extension, as seen in Tucson, Arizona. This design is not unique to Tucson, but I point it out because this one comes with accompanying signage telling people bicycling and driving that they must stop when they see a person trying to cross the street.

Taking the train over to San Francisco, California

An atypical situation in San Francisco, California, (not the tracks, but the way the tracks terminate in a mound of danger) that I hope gets corrected right away. In downtown San Francisco, there are very wide crosswalks made with colored stone that sets it apart from the rest of the roadway. But the sidewalk ramps are still very narrow. Also, granite curbs are more slippery than concrete. This all just seems like a bad situation, but it looks pretty.

Flying the long way to Milan, Italy

I have it on good authority that Julius Caesar was at the curb dedication ceremony here in Milan, Italy, and saw far into the future people chatting about bicycles on the sidewalk.

Crawling a little north to Amsterdam, Netherlands

Curbs in Amsterdam, Netherlands, play a vital role in a calm and managed all-mode transportation system. Here the curb is a ramp up onto the sidewalk and separated bike lane that leads into a neighborhood street. Mounting the curb should signal to the driver that they are entering a different space that has different rules and responsibilities.

Welcome to Amsterdam

The coolest city in Europe. And probably where I spent most of the time bicycling around town. I carried my GPS tracker with me at all times in Europe. I had to edit the routes to exclude my train trip to Utrecht and back. In the end, I biked about 134 kilometers / 83 miles (see my map).

My rental bike on the docklands in the ‘t IJ looking towards Centraal Station. The cruise ship passenger terminal is on the left. The bike is a Gazelle Superieur Special. I paid €5 per day and a €50 deposit. Thanks to Álvaro for the recommendation of Recycled Rentals.

One of the free ferries, this one to IJ-Buurtveer. I took this one instead, to Buiksloterwegveer (Amsterdam Nord).

Amsterdam can be boiled down to a few things: Bikes, beer, and water. This post is heavy on water, and light on bikes. A beautifully yellow tugboat owned by the Port of Amsterdam.

Amsterdam has trains going everywhere, from Centraal Station, every few minutes. 32 trains every hour. An additional 18 trains daily. The Thalys has service to Brussels, Belgium, and Paris, France, nine times per day. I arrived in the station from Wuppertal, Germany (via Venlo and Eindhoven). I left the station to get to Utrecht for a day trip and then I left the station on the DB CityNightLine to Copenhagen (a magical 15-hour journey).

Houseboats in the canals and Amstel river are quite common. A Flickr commenter describes a little more about it (click on the photo to read it).

Not everyone has a purpose-built cargo bike in Amsterdam, but more exist here than anywhere else (except perhaps Copenhagen). Just tote your stuff under your arm, including a sheet of plywood. You might want to try out the WorkCycles Fr8 – a locally designed cargo bike.

And a gratuitous shot of me bicycling towards the docklands. I should have been smiling – as I was having such a wonderful time, but maybe I’m not because it was kind of cold.

View the 60 other photos I’ve uploaded of Amsterdam. If you want to visit, let me help you plan your trip.

The first thing I see in Amsterdam

I got off the final train of a 4 hour trip from Wuppertal, Germany, to Amsterdam Centraal Station via Venlo and Eindhoven and the first thing I see is parking for about 7,000 bicycles. WOW!

7,000 is just the quantity at the front of the station. There’s additional parking in the rear along a major “bike highway” going east-west (on two defunct barges in the river IJ) and underground (guarded) parking as well. In all there “officially” 10,000 parking spaces for bicycles – and it’s not enough. During construction of the new north-south subway, bicycle parking and station access by bike will be reconfigured. Some people say that when the additional bike parking comes online, it will again be insufficient.

Since you read this blog, you know I have a passion for bicycle parking. Just like planning for automobile storage, bicycle storage requires similar attention and infrastructure.

I’ve uploaded more photos of bike parking in Europe (so far just 16 photos), including the fancy underground garage at Amsterdam Zuid Station, with its own escalator! For more sweet bicycle parking in Netherlands, check out the Fietsappel on Daniel Sparing’s blog, Railzone.nl.

Europe trip recap: List of cities I visited

All links lead to a photo or photoset of that city. More links will be added as I upload more photos. Cities are in the order I traveled through Europe, over 18 days.

All blogs about this trip are under the tag, Europe trip.

A bike “jam” – everyone in the photo is performing a “Copenhagen left” or box turn.

The Schwebebahn is the world’s oldest operating monorail that operates daily in the North Rhine-Westphalia city of Wuppertal, Germany.

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