Americans getting inspired by the Dutch

It’s summer time, the time for travels! I know a number of Americans who are visiting the Netherlands right now. To see how the Dutch are cycling and to get inspired by the cycling culture in this country. Clarence Eckerson (from Streetfilms) came from New York to shoot some video. Professor Peter Furth from Northeastern University in Boston is here with a class of students learning about Sustainable Transportation on a Summer course. And two of my personal friends from Phoenix Arizona are here on holidays looking forward to having a go at cycling to the beach with me.

Last year Peter Furth explained why he comes to the Netherlands every year with a new class of students. It was broadcast on the local television station of Pijnacker, a small satellite town of The Hague and it got only a few views on YouTube. But what professor Furth has to say deserves much more attention. I have subtitled the few Dutch lines in the video and hope this interview gets the bigger audience it deserves. I met Peter Furth and his students last year. I will see this year’s students later this month.

Professor Peter Furth on what the Americans can learn from the Netherlands.
More on “stroopwafels“.

Clarence Eckerson of StreetFilms is on a small tour of the Netherlands visiting Amsterdam (of course) but also Groningen. A very good decision to also have a look past Amsterdam, I think. There is more to cycling in the Netherlands than what you see in the centre of Amsterdam. The rest of the country is as interesting, if not more interesting, for the reasons Professor Furth already explained in his interview. Unfortunately the schedules of Clarence and myself don’t seem allow for a meeting this time. But I expect Clarence to be as inspired as he hopes to be. He sure is having a great time judging from the short video he posted today. If you find the time to make that on your hotel room with such busy schedule, than you must have a real drive to share that with the world. That in turn is inspirational to me.

Some Things You Might See While In Amsterdam

Tomorrow I will make a cycle tour with my two personal friends from Phoenix who finally came to the Netherlands again. We have known each other for over eleven years now but this will be the first time we’ll cycle together.

A team of StreetFilms had visited the Netherlands before and they made an -already classic- video “From the Netherlands to America: translating the world’s best bikeway designs” . They stated why they came to the Netherlands for inspiration:

More than ever, American cities are casting their gazes across the Atlantic for fresh ideas and inspiration when it comes to making bicycling safer, more convenient and more practical for everyday short trips. No place in the world has more experience with bicycle transportation than the Netherlands, where more than a quarter of every trip made is on two wheels. But bicycling isn’t ingrained in Dutch DNA. The Netherlands became a global leader because of very deliberate choices made by city leaders and traffic planners that made bicycle transportation a real priority, backed up with supportive policy, funding and state-of-the-art design.

Streetfilms Video “From the Netherlands to America”
(with a very small contibution of yours truly)

Earlier this year a delegation from Portland was also in the Netherlands to learn about cycling while I did the reverse of all these people by having a look at cycling in the US from a Dutch perspective.

6 thoughts on “Americans getting inspired by the Dutch

  1. One of the great difficulties in getting separate space for bike lanes or cycle tracks on a congested arterial street in a major city in the U.S. is justifying taking away a lane used by as much as 20 or 25 percent of the motor vehicle traffic and replacing it with something for a mode of transportation that has no more than a low single digit share of traffic.

    An example of that is the city of Los Angeles which has aggressively installed 150 miles of bike lanes in the last two fiscal years and now has a ratio of about 40 percent more bike lane miles per total street miles than Portland Oregon.

    Yet, a map of the 329 miles of bike lanes installed–mostly on 1,800 miles of arterial streets–looks mostly like dots and dashes than any connected network:

    As is typical in most large U.S. cities, the traffic engineers put the great majority of those bike lanes where there was only narrow left over space in which parked car doors can swing open in front of bicycle riders and they disappear at the approach to the intersections where left-right motor vehicle turn lanes are deemed more important.

    Trying to complete the 717 miles of bike lanes on the bike plan for Los Angeles will require putting them where it could cause intersections to be at maximum capacity or even to a point where the traffic signals cannot handle the volume of vehicles during peak hours with fewer lanes. This would require community outreach meetings and approval of the city council member to proceed. This is likely to be a slow process which involves months of meetings since most of the population depends on a car for transportation.

    Seeing the same sort of resistance to connecting the bike ways in the city where he lives, professor Peter Furth came up with an idea of connecting the islands of inherently low-stress residential streets and bike paths into a network using very few miles of collector or arterial streets.

    Here’s a hour and a half video of a presentation he gave in Eugene Oregon where he explains this research which incorporates several Dutch principles and he then answers questions from the audience about topics such as sharrows and bicycle sharing.

    A downside to his idea is in downtown areas of large cities where there are few residential only streets.

    The spark that started the interest in creating infrastructure for bicycles in the U.S. in recent years has come from funding by the state and federal government. Those sources are starting to decrease and cities will have to find local funds to continue improving the mode share for bicycles.

    Here’s a panel discussion that I attended in Los Angeles last Friday where this is discussed along with what it would take to get people to bicycle:

    A disappointment is hearing the DOT representative say that he gets inspiration for improving bicycling from other U.S. cities and Mexico City. This to me would be like car designers looking to children’s soap box derby cars for inspiration, rather the cars that sell the most in the industry.

    The major difference between Dutch and U.S. traffic engineers who work on bicycling projects seems to be that the Dutch are focused on the user. This is a standard procedure in private industry, otherwise you’ll likely end up with something that few people want to use. Which is the case for much of what passes as bike ways in the U.S.

    I remember talking to Dutch traffic engineer Hillie Talens (shown in the second Streetsfilms video above) about why she asked all the participants at the Thinkbike workshop held in Los Angeles to ride a bicycle at the sites that were going to be working on. She responded that it was a standard procedure of hers to require the traffic engineers in the Netherlands to visit the sites by bicycle that they were going to improve to get a better understanding of where people go and what the needs are. This is a revolutionary idea for traffic engineers in the U.S. who usually just follow the manuals.

    As a architect said at a public meeting about bikeway installations that I attended a few years ago in Los Angeles: “If I only did what is in the manuals I would never get anything built!”

  2. Hello, on Skyscrapercity (a construction-forum) there is a nice discussion going on about cycling. Actually it is a sub-forum that has multiple treads about cycling. In the “Cycling in the Netherlands” tread, I posted multiple of your video’s. I think people like them, although I have to say in advance, it is not the most active part of the website. The most active subjects are about highrise buildings. (but the ‘Holland Hoogbouw’ forum actually covers all mayor constructionsites in the country.

    I thought it could be nice for you to know about what’s ging on with your video’s, since your putting a lot of effort into it. Oh, almost forgot, thanks for making the video’s.

    Cycling in the Netherlands:

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