TagEurope 2014

What’s up from Europe: how much is car-free when cycling on a Dutch intercity path?

I posted this photo of Daniel riding with me from Rotterdam to Delft and Justin Haugens asked, “Was this a bike path the whole way?” and added, “[This] would be similar to my work commute.” He rides on the Chicago Lakefront Trail from Rogers Park to South Loop, but must ride off-path from Morse to Ardmore and about Monroe to Roosevelt.

Daniel lives in Rotterdam and works in Delft. The Dutch Cyclists’ Union’s (Fietsersbond) Routeplanner says the shortest path is 11.47 kilometers, or 7.12 miles. We took the short route on a Saturday, but chose the scenic route on Sunday (the day I took this photo) so Daniel could show me the airport, underground high-speed rail tracks, and various geographic features along the way.

I responded to Justin:

It was a dedicated bike path for probably 90% of the way. The thing about Dutch intercity cycle routes is that they separate cycle paths from car paths when the two modes can’t safely share. They can’t safely share when there’s a desire for moving cars quickly or moving big autos (like trucks and buses).

So, there were some points on this journey when the cycle-only path merged with a local road or a service drive [the case in that photo, actually, which you can see better here], but even then the cyclist always has priority and rarely are the junctions configured/signed so that the cyclist has to stop (not requiring the cyclist to stop is a way to make cycling a convenient mode).

In the Netherlands connectivity of bicycle-priority ways is as important as the infrastructure used. When I first visited the Netherlands, in 2010, I arrived in Amsterdam from Bremen, Germany, and rented a bike the next day. I was personally shocked that morning when I rode upon streets with conventional bike lanes (these would be the ones in door zones in the United States) on some streets.

Why was I shocked? I came to the city under the impression that all bicycle infrastructure were cycle tracks, meaning a bike path between the roadway and the sidewalk, on a level slightly above the roadway and below the sidewalk. Since then I’ve learned a lot more about why the Dutch cycle so much and how the bicycle is sometimes used more often than public transit and automobiles.

On our journey from Rotterdam to Delft we must have ridden on every kind of bicycle path the Dutch have designed. These photos sample what we encountered.

The route followed an arterial road for the first portion, but we turned off after only about a mile.

An RET metro train follows the cycle path for a portion of the route we took.

This was my favorite part of the journey to Delft: we came across a shepherd, her two sheep dogs, and her flock of sheep grazing on the bank between the cycle path and the creek.

I’m no longer in Europe but I’ve kept the title prefix, “What’s up from Europe”. Read the other posts in this series

What’s up from Europe: A train station that looks like a train station

Walking towards the Hoxton station on Cremer Street. 

Train stations – metro and commuter rail – in the United States, outside city center terminals, are often simply queuing areas, with zero amenities (some don’t even have a shelter). In some locales, people getting dropped off in a car will sit in the car with their driver (a friend or family member) until they see a sign that the train is arriving.

In Europe, train stations are places. Places to hang out, conduct errands, and eat, so that your time is enjoyable and, to put it frankly, used efficiently.

One of my favorite train stations in London was Hoxton serving Overground trains. Overground trains started less than a decade ago and provide near-rapid transit levels of service (meaning they come almost as frequently as Underground trains). They use refurbished track and are almost always elevated. Bombardier built the trains to look a lot like the newest Underground trains.

The station plaza on Geffrye Street. I have a feeling this street used to ferry cars, but now it forms a car-free piece of the walking and bicycling network. 

Overground trains have a lot of space for sitting, standing, and moving about – after all, they’re articulated giving them the roomy feel and allowing one to board at one end and find a seat at the other.

When you approach Hoxton you’ll see that you’re near a train station because of the iconic Transport for London “roundel” on the tracks over the street. Just before you arrive the walls break open and there’s a large gap that opens into a plaza with the Beagle café.

The plaza also hosts a Barclays Cycle Hire (Boris bikes) and plenty of seating to relax and wait for a colleague. The station entrance stands out with a large, glass canopy, and noticeable, polished-metal walls flank the doorway.

You know you’re at a train station now. Feel free to stick around before or after your journey.

A northbound Overground station at Hoxton. You can see in this photo the only feature I disliked about the station: the narrow corridor that doesn’t allow you to see around the corners. 

Oh, by the way, I’m not in Europe anymore – I got back on Saturday and the first thing I did was eat a burrito, something I sorely missed.

What’s up from Europe: frequent diesel trains

I’m staying in Groningen for three nights, the northernmost big city in the Netherlands, with about 190,000 inhabitants. About 20 meters from my bedroom window is a passenger train line on which diesel multiple units (DMU) running frequently.

I hear the train come very often and I snapped a few photos, of course. As I saw the train frequently run, with 1-2 diesel cars, I thought that Metra – Chicago’s hub-and-spoke commuter rail system – needs to implement a nimbler operation with more runs to make it more convenient to use transit. I tweeted that thought.

The train is a “Stoptrein” because it makes all stops. This is one of four passenger train classes: “Intercity” trains make few and distant stops, the “Sneltrein” offers express service to a small number of local stops, the “Sprinter” class makes a medium number of local stops.

I can see from the schedule on 9292.nl that the train, after 21:00, runs every about every 26 minutes in each direction. At other times of the day there may be two trains four minutes apart or 15 or 24 minutes apart. Stadler in Switzerland built these “GTW” DMUs which accelerate faster which could improve the timetable.

I suggested that Metra run this rolling stock on the UP-West and UP-North lines because of their existing ridership and closely spaced stations. Also, UP-North doesn’t have freight trains so it should be easy to get a waiver from the Federal Railroad Administration to use lighter weight European trains. UP-West is another “streetcar suburb” line having trains stop frequently during rush hour in city centers; stations are 4-10 minutes away from each other so the train can’t reach high speeds quickly between them.

(I wish the train didn’t run so frequently here because I have only a single-pane window.)

What’s up from Europe: London pedestrian spaces

I found walking around in London a tad stressful, as crossing the street can only be safely done at signalized intersections, or at zebra crossings with the flashing yellow globe. Crossing the street safely is then compounded by the left-driving traffic. The “< Look Left” and “Look Right >” messages aren’t printed at all intersections and there’s a delay at signalized intersections because you can’t cross every other phase: you have to wait until the all-walk phase (when signals stop traffic in all directions).

However, London still has a lot of great pedestrian spaces and alleys (with bars and pubs) scattered around the town. It doesn’t have as much car-free space as city centers in the Netherlands and Germany. These three photos show three spaces on my many long walks around the town during my three-day trip there*.

Hay’s Galleria, seen on my Thames Path walk along the south bank. It was redeveloped in 1987 to the design and condition you see here. Like many pedestrian spaces I passed by and walked through this one is privately owned (and monitored). 

This pedestrian space off of St. John’s Road near the Clapham Junction station (with National Rail and London Overground services) was created simply by blocking car traffic from entering or exiting St. John’s Road. It has distinct pavers that match the high street – it’s not exactly a shared space as buses have priority but there is limited traffic otherwise because only delivery and construction workers can access the road. 

Old Spitalfields Market has been redeveloped – it maintains the old buildings and look on the edges with shops and restaurants but has a modern glass and steel roof with modern construction on the interior for more shops and restaurants. Even if you aren’t shopping here passersby can use it as a shortcut through the block. 

View more photos as I upload them directly from my iPhone to Flickr.

* Calling it three days is a stretch because I was tired and slept a lot, missing precious walking and exploring time. I still managed to spend over an hour walking around Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and go shopping at Westfield Stratford City for about two hours.

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