Taginnovation

ThinkBike – The opening ceremony

Cross-posted to Amsterdamize.

The Netherlands seems to have it all when it comes to people riding bikes: safety, facilities, normality, sensibility. But I’ve already written about that (and here, too), and since you’re reading this on Amsterdamized, you would have seen that in the 1,000+ photos Marc has published on Amsterdamize. The Netherlands hasn’t always had expertise about making it safe and easy for people of all ages to ride bikes. There was a period of time when bike use declined dramatically as the popularity of driving rose. In the three decades since the central and civic governments started acting to change this scenario, the country has learned a lot about what works.

Hans Voerknecht’s presentation shows bicycle use dropping (red line) from 1960-1975 and rising from 1975 to now.

The City of Chicago’s Bike 2015 Plan promotes two goals that echo the sentiments of almost all North American cities and the Netherlands:

  1. Increase the number of people riding bikes
  2. Decrease the number of injuries and fatalities.

People riding home from work on Milwaukee Avenue in Chicago, Illinois. Before stopping in Chicago, ThinkBike paid a visit to Toronto, Canada.

Regardless of what the press release claims as the role of the ThinkBike workshop, it seems to me an opportunity for the Netherlands government to share its expertise on achieving these goals (and possibly drum up some business or economic partnerships for the country). For more on bicycling conditions in the Netherlands, I urge you to read John Pucher’s excellent paper, “Making Cycling Irresistible” (PDF). The country’s four representatives (think tank, private consultancy, and municipal planning) also want to promote imaginative and innovative solutions for Chicago bicycling.

This post is about the “opening ceremony” on Thursday morning, which was open to the public. I took great notes during this part!

Previous write ups on ThinkBike from friends:

Before the four representatives got up to speak, there were introductions:

  • Geoffrey Baer, documentarian and from WTTW channel 11, introduced us to the two-day workshop. He told attendees that in Chicago there were once 88 bicycle manufacturers (Schwinn was founded here). There was once a mayor that ran on the platform that he was “not the champion cyclist, but the cyclist’s champion.” The mayor-to-be rode his bike 100 miles on the campaign trail.
  • Luann Hamilton*, Deputy Commissioner at Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT), talked about how she got into bicycle planning in Chicago that I doubt many people had known. She started at CDOT as a transportation planner. For the first five years of being on the job, there was not a word or mention about bikes. But then she got a “blue note” from the mayor’s office asking about bike racks, specifically in front of the Board of Trade building. Now, many years later, CDOT has installed over 12,000 bike racks, more than any other American city.
  • Hans Heinsbroek, Consul General in Chicago, wanted to ensure everyone knew that the Dutch didn’t invent the bicycle, but a German named Karl Drais who created the velocipede. “The Dutch are merely responsible for putting the bicycle to vast use. [The Netherlands] is the birthplace and utopia of cycling.” More tidbits from Hans. Unflattering to the Dutch, Hans broke the ice by saying, “As you know, Dutch is not a language but a throat disease.” In any case, the Dutch know English very well.

Now it’s time for the Dutch experts to tell us about the good stuff.

Arjen Jaarsma, Balancia

Arjen talked little about bicycling. Instead he talked about eco-cities and sustainability. Because of this, I’ve moved my summary of his presentation to a different post.

Hans Voerknecht

Two parts of the Dutch bicycling philosophy are joy and safety. Hans wants us to think bigger than 1-2% ridership (expressed in portion of workers commuting by bike). The Bike 2015 Plan has a goal of 5%. Currently, Chicago has a 1.15% rate (workers 16 and older riding their bikes to work) according to the 2009 American Community Survey – slightly above the nation’s rate of 1%. In the whole of the Netherlands, the bike to work rate is 27%. We should aim for 10%.

Joy

How does joy fit in? “I’ve been driving. I don’t feel free siting in a cage in a traffic jam.” People of all ages bike in the Netherlands. Girls aged 12-16 cycle 7 kilometers daily! (The United States only tracks cycling rates to work for people 16 and older.) “My father is 83 years old; he’s not allowed to drive but he rides his bike.” [Read more about 8-80 criteria]

Safety

Perceived safety is secondary to joy in the Netherlands. (I would say if not already first priority in America, it should be. We can work on joy simultaneously.) How does one make a situation where riding a bike is perceived as a safe thing to do? (Please comment if you don’t understand these – as a transportation planner, this is firsthand knowledge for me.)

  • There cannot be a large speed difference between adjacent road users.
  • There must be forgiving situations.
  • There must be recognizable infrastructure.
  • There must be a legal system that protects vulnerable users. Drivers are 100% liable for collisions with children on bikes (because children cannot help but to behave unexpectedly and the driver should always be aware of this). For other collisions, drivers are at least 50% liable.
  • There must be continuation of the bikeway through the intersection.
  • Use color!

The bike lane continues through the intersection (denoted by white squares) while intersecting drivers must yield (denoted by shark teeth – the triangles). Photo by Daniel Sparing.

Hans explained the three road types in the country and how bicycle riders are accommodated.

  • Highway – No bikes are allowed here. This is like our interstate system, which has limited and controlled access. Bikes are almost always banned on these roads, but some states, like California, allow people to bike on interstates when no substitute road is available.
  • Distributor – On these roads, there are separated lanes. There are many ways to implement this. In the extreme, bike lanes appear to be American-style off-street trails 20 feet away from the main roadway. Or the bike lane occupies the same roadway as the main lanes but is somehow separated or segregated.
  • Access – These roads have mixed traffic, but people riding bikes always have priority. Think permanent traffic calming or the ultimate “complete street.” This may include the woonerf and the “bicycle street” (car drivers are not allowed to overtake bike riders).

Bike lane adjacent to, but separated from, a distributor road.

A woonerf, or shared space. Many “traffic calming” devices prioritize people on foot and on the bicycle. Photo by Joel Mann.

Hans also talked about transit, but I’ve moved that to the end of this article because the final speaker, Ruud, also talked about transit. Continue reading

Response to “Stick To Your Strengths”

Response to “Stick To Your Strengths” on Creo Quality’s blog. Creo Quality assists life sciences organizations in, among other areas, product development.

Have you bought a candy bar recently? Let’s just look at Reese’s as an example. It used to be you had one choice: Reese’s peanut butter cups. Now they have several variations of peanut butter cups. They also have several other choices.

And what about soft drinks? How many varieties of Mountain Dew are there?

Why have these brands done this? They offer so many choices and seem to be straying from their strengths. It confuses me.

…Companies should stick to their strengths. Companies should have focus. Companies should try to deliver their products / services better than anyone else. Quit diluting your brand.

I think the answer is quite simple: Companies want to grow. Make more money. So one route is to make new products, and then see if it works. A “strength” wasn’t known as such until it was designed, introduced, marketed, and evaluated.

The McDonald’s Big Mac wasn’t always the most popular burger (or “strongest” sales leader) – it didn’t come out out 1967 and the first McDonald’s opened in 1940 (the corporation started 1955). Would you consider adding coffee or McCafé diluting the brand? McDonald’s is trying out new products. For all we know, Starbucks’ popularity could decline and coffee will be recognized as the fast food company’s second strength, behind cheap hamburgers.

I think brand dilution arises when companies don’t fully test their products before their release, or they don’t follow good marketing strategies. The brand isn’t diluted because they introduced new products. The failure of New Coke could have been averted if Coca Cola either A) paid closer attention to the results of the focus groups, or B) released New Coke as an additional product in the lineup. But Coca Cola has so many other “strengths” because it decided to stray from its main product line.

A different Coca Cola product tells an extremely different story: Fanta, the fruit-flavored soft drink. It was invented to deal with sales complications because of World War II and Nazi Germany. You can buy Fanta now in tens of flavors in almost 200 countries.

My advice: Companies should innovate and evaluate. The act of selling curly fries won’t weaken your good name.

There’s a connection to cities in all of this. Cities can’t always “stick to their strengths.” This year, Chicago lost two major conventions to Las Vegas and Orlando. Hosting conventions is still a strength of Chicago, Illinois, but it’s even more so true of Las Vegas, Nevada, and Orlando, Florida. If the Chicago tourism, special events, and marketing arms decided to stick with conventions, it may have never attempted a bid for the summer Olympics. Smaller cities who decide to increase incoming, regional tourism might create a restaurant district centered around their passenger train station. Detroit stuck with the automobile and look at it now.

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