TagNetherlands

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

ThinkBike tidbits

The entirety of bicycling in the Netherlands, as learned from the ThinkBike workshop, in bullet form.

HH is Hans Heinsbroek, Consul General, Chicago, Illinois

HV is Hans Voerknecht, policy expert at Fietsberaad, Dutch bike research center

  • 13,000 km of dedicated paths constructed with red-brown asphalt (dyed, not painted) -HH
  • 10x more distance in bike paths than highways -HH
  • 80% of Dutch people ride a bike more than one time per week -HV
  • In NL, there are 18.5 million bikes for 16.5 million people. -HV
  • Girls 12-16 cycle 7km daily. -HV
  • 40% of Nederlandse Spoorwegen (NS) customers arrive by bike (NS is national railway operator, used for cross-country and rush hour transit). -HV
  • 80% of Dutch ride bike more than once per week -HV
  • 18.5 million bikes for 16.5 million residents -HV
  • We focus on bike safety education for young people because, at least until they turn 18, it is and will be their primary mode of transportation -HV

Tucson has every kind of bikeway

A bicyclist rides north on the “Highland Avenue” separated bike path on the University of Arizona campus in Tucson, Arizona.

(This is the second post about Tucson, and the fifth about my December 2009 trip to Arizona.)

I had heard that Tucson was a bicycle friendly town. I didn’t know just how friendly until my dad and I rode our bikes around town and  happened onto one of the many bike-only separated paths. You can see the campus bike map (PDF).

There are probably 10 different names for this kind of path. It’s not a separated path because there’s no adjacent roadway accessible to automobiles. You could call it a multi-use trail, but it’s not really a trail. The path is part of the city’s street grid; some streets “dead end” into the entrance so bicyclists don’t have to turn onto another street to go straight, they simply enter this bicycle only path. In some places, the path is grade separated and travels under a shared street.

I like this kind of bikeway a lot. I know they are standard fare in the Netherlands, and it’s nice to know they are standard fare somewhere in North America.

See the full photoset of bikeways in Tucson.

Riding under Speedway Boulevard on the “Warren Avenue” bike path.

Typical morning commute in Amsterdam

William Hsu, a staffer at the San Francisco bike shop, My Dutch Bike, took this video in Amsterdam, Netherlands, to show how the Dutch flow through intersections – read William’s words. Taken at the corner of Marnixstraat and Elandsgracht (map).

Marc at Amsterdamized has the full story.

Helmets, hygiene, hair… help?

I subscribe to a Google News feed for “bike parking” where I find many articles about grander issues but they get caught in the search. When people talk about increasing or improving bicycling, they almost always talk about parking (it’s a necessity). A recent article talked little about bike parking; The short blurb about a hygiene “problem” of helmet hair piqued my attention.

A bicyclist on her first commute by bicycle wears a helmet in San Jose, California.

Helmets

As DOTS pushes biking, gender gap persists” (by Lauren Redding in the Diamondback, student newspaper from University of Maryland). DOTS is the University’s Department of Transportation Services, which has a goal of 9% of students getting to campus by bike and recently conducted a count that found only 20% of biking students are female. The article cites DOTS as saying that safety and hygiene are the major barriers that keep the frequency of women bikers low. Somehow, hygiene is related to helmet hair.

Helmet hair is not as important as building safe bicycling routes to the school, educating students on how to ride safely and locking their bikes correctly. The article in no way describes the University’s Transportation Services group as “helmet pushers,” but this comment bothers me: “For women especially — when you put on a helmet, you mess up your hair.”

Let’s stop building bike lanes and deal with this, stat! Okay, for real: There is a gender gap, but dealing with helmet hair will never match the effects of making cycling safe (or normal) on increasing the number of women who bike.

After I began an obsession with Dutch bikes and bicycling “culture” (a culture of safety and high numbers riding bikes), I learned more about helmets and the reasons people use them. My position about wearing and promoting helmets has changed somewhat, but my behavior, so far, hasn’t. Rarely does a Dutch person wear a helmet. From the research:

In the Netherlands, a survey of pediatricians found that 94% never wear helmet, but that 82% agree that helmet use should be advised for children (source). Overall, “less than 1% of adult cyclists wear helmets, and even among children, only 3–5% wear helmets” (source: “Making Cycling Irresistible” [PDF], the best article describing bicycling in the Netherlands, Germany, and Denmark, comparing it to countries with low bicycling rates, United States, United Kingdom, and Australia).

I bought this new helmet in Summer 2009, to be more comfortable and to look better. Like I said, my position has changed, but my behavior hasn’t. I think everyone should make their own decision about helmets; helmets are only useful to prevent head injuries once a collision or crash has occurred. It’s more important to build facilities and educate people to reduce the likelihood of a collision or crash.

My Dutch fixation continued to the end of the last semester – I presented and wrote a paper for my Sustainable Development Techniques class about what makes bicycling in the Netherlands safe and easy, and how the United States can learn. Dutch bicycling presentation for class (PDF) and the Dutch bicycling presentation for class (DOC).

The bike helmet-American relationship is amusing. I can’t explain it as eloquently as Mikael Kolville-Anderson in Copenhagen: he mentions it a hundred times (search of Copenhagenize for the term “helmet”). The latest news, although not about America, but relatable: Israel is getting ready to repeal part of the all-ages helmet law, which is seen as discouraging bicycling in the country.

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