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Posts from the "the Netherlands" Category

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How Children Demanding Play Streets Changed Amsterdam

The above video, excerpted from a Dutch television documentary series, shows how children helped catalyze the fight for safe streets in Amsterdam more than a generation ago.

The documentary examines the conditions in a dense urban neighborhood called De Pijp, from the perspective of local children. In the film, neighborhood kids energetically advocate for a play street, free of cars.

Bicycle Dutch recently shortened the episode and added English subtitles. The documentary originally aired in 1972. That very same year, several play streets were installed in the city. In the 1970s, traffic fatality rates in the Netherlands were 20 percent higher than in the United States, but thanks to grassroots efforts like the play street campaign in De Pijp and the “Stop de Kindermoord” movement (“Kindermoord” translates to “child murder”), the Dutch changed their approach to street design. Today the traffic fatality rate in the Netherlands is 60 percent lower than in the U.S. — 22,000 fewer Americans would die each year if we had kept pace with the Dutch.

Here’s a look at one of those play streets in De Pijp today — a stark contrast from the streets pictured in the video:

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The Times Blows a Chance to Tackle America’s Broken Traffic Justice System

In the United States, it’s pretty much legal to drive into and kill a cyclist, as long as you’re sober and stay at the scene. Writer Daniel Duane made that point last weekend in a New York Times op-ed titled, “Is it O.K. to Kill Cyclists?

The New York Times weighs in on the issue of traffic justice, with a largely laudable but imperfect story that has inspired some thoughtful responses. Image: ##http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/10/opinion/sunday/is-it-ok-to-kill-cyclists.html?_r=0## New York Times##

The image of a devil-red fixie rider with knuckle tattoos was one sign that something was off-kilter in a recent piece about traffic justice in the New York Times. Image: New York Times

The question mark in the headline was the first sign that the piece wasn’t going to take a firm stand, even though Duane sets up the essay with some good insight:

When two cars crash, everybody agrees that one of the two drivers may well be to blame; cops consider it their job to gather evidence toward that determination. But when a car hits a bike, it’s like there’s a collective cultural impulse to say, “Oh, well, accidents happen.”

If that was the high point of the article, the low points come when Duane equivocates, suggesting that “everybody’s a little right” despite the fact that people are capable of far more harm when they’re behind the wheel than when they’re in the saddle.

Bike Snob (a.k.a. Eben Weiss) called Duane out for concluding that the response to reckless drivers who bear no consequences should be for cyclists to “obey the letter of the law”:

We deserve respect for being human, and it ends there. Yet we’re supposed to be good little boy scouts and girl scouts–even when it’s more dangerous for us to do so–to prove we’re deserving of not being killed? That’s just stupid and insulting.

Where Duane and the Times failed, the Economist nailed it, pointing to the differences between an American justice system that imposes little or no consequences on deadly driving, and the Dutch system of strict liability. In the Netherlands, writes the Economist, “if a motor vehicle hits a cyclist, the accident is always assumed to have been the driver’s fault.” Even in cases where a cyclist is breaking a rule, the onus is on the motorist to explain why the collision could not have been avoided. As a consequence, American bike fatality rates per mile are five to nine times higher than in this famously bike-friendly country.

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StreetFilms 19 Comments

More From The Netherlands: Bike From Assen to Groningen

If you haven’t seen the latest Streetfilm, Groningen: The World’s Cycling City, you should check it out. Like, now! It has broken every single Streetfilms viewing record — nearly 40,000 plays in just the first week.

One of the folks featured in that video is David Hembrow, who has been reporting on cycling in the Netherlands for many years via his blog, A View from the Cycle Path, which you will want to devour. He also leads group bike tours of many cities in the Netherlands.

I was very fortunate to spend some time with him, and we got along famously. Above is a video with highlights from our 20 mile bike journey from Assen to Groningen. It’s only a small taste of what you’ll experience in the Netherlands, but I think it will leave you craving more.

David recently put up a blog post to accompany the Groningen Streetfilm, which is full of references to a wealth of information about the city. Good stuff!

StreetFilms 11 Comments

Self-Reliance Grows in the Utrecht Traffic Garden

In the Dutch city of Utrecht, kids start learning about traffic safety long before they prepare for a driver’s license. And they pick up a lot more than just “look both ways before you cross the street.”

The school curriculum includes regular field trips to the local “traffic garden.” The City of Utrecht has used this facility, a streetscape in miniature, to teach kids the rules of the road since the 1950s. Students take turns as cyclists, pedestrians and car drivers, learning how to take other types of street users into consideration. The hands-on experience navigating the traffic garden gives kids the skills and confidence to get around the city under their own power as soon as their early teens.

StreetFilms 28 Comments

Groningen’s Cyclist Green-For-All

Groningen is the largest city in the northern region of the Netherlands. With 57 percent of all trips in the city made by bike, it has acquired the title “World Cycling City.” In Groningen, even the large multi-lane roads have been claimed for safe cycling.

At this intersection on the main ring road around Groningen, cyclists get their own green phase. When the bike signal says go, cyclists at any point in the junction can travel in any direction. Engineer Hillie Talens explains how it works in this short video, which kicks off a series of Streetfilms we made on a trip to the Netherlands with a delegation from Bikes Belong.

Streetsblog SF 16 Comments

Dutch Cycling Embassy Releases Inspirational Video, Launches Website

Last week, a team of Dutch experts led a series of Think Bike workshops in four U.S. cities to help advocates and planners design the bike infrastructure of the future. Cities across the globe continue to look to the Netherlands for inspiration, and guidance, and that demand is being embraced by a unique organization known as the Dutch Cycling Embassy.

The embassy is comprised of bike ambassadors from non-profits, private companies, bike manufacturers and local and national governments in the Netherlands. It recently released a new video that beautifully tells the story of how the bicycle became a part of everyday life in the Netherlands. Cycling has always been popular in the Netherlands, but as the video illustrates so well, there was a time when cars ruled and the transformation to bike-friendly streets didn’t happen overnight. It’s an inspirational seven minutes by Amsterdamize‘s Marc van Woudenberg and a must-see for elected officials and planners in the U.S.

The goal of the embassy, which has also launched a new website, is to “to support, facilitate, contribute to and inspire international cycling projects and policies helping countries, cities and its people to move forward in a safe and healthy way.” In addition to the video, you can download this great brochure [PDF] from the embassy, which has a lot of important and fun facts about bicycling in the Netherlands, “where 16 million inhabitants own 18 million bicycles.”

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Fun Routes to Transit

“Why I Ride” is on hiatus this week. Instead we bring you the latest transit innovation from the Dutch city of Utrecht — the “transfer accelerator.”

Translation courtesy of The Pop-Up City:

The designers explain that their slide is meant to be a nice gesture to the travellers. They brilliantly foresaw that such a playful urban intervention can generate large-scale positive spin-off for a disadvantaged neighborhood like Overvecht, and that’s exactly what happened.

Frivolous fun, or ingenious solution to the MTA’s escalator maintenance woes? (In Utrecht, of course, they don’t get 106-degree scorchers like today, so this slide will probably stay usable all year round.)

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Dutch Planners School U.S. Cities on Bikeability

In the Netherlands, 30 percent of trips under five miles are by bike.

The Dutch like their bike lanes to be continuous, two-way, and separated from traffic so that "bikes flow like water." Image: ##http://planetgreen.discovery.com/tech-transport/do-bike-helmets-save-lives-or-do-they-hurt-cycling.html##Planet Green##

The Dutch like their bike lanes continuous, two-way, and separated from traffic so "bikes flow like water." Image: Planet Green

I know, I know, Euro-envy can get a little old. So the Dutch are trying to give us a little less to be jealous of. What if our streets were as bike-friendly as theirs?

We could get there. Our trip patterns aren’t dramatically different from theirs: most trips in this country are under four miles, or 20 minutes by bike. But here, people drive those short distances. What would it take to get more of us to go by bike?

In September, the Dutch embassy facilitated collaborative workshops between Dutch and local planners and engineers in Toronto and Chicago, evaluating bike facilities in those cities and making recommendations for improvements. This week, they gave their report card to Washington, DC. Next year: Miami and San Francisco; possibly Baltimore and Memphis.

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Rage-Free Rush Hour in Utrecht

From Infrastructurist by way of Buzzfeed comes this video of bike commuters in Utrecht. With a population of around 300,000, Utrecht is the fourth largest city in the Netherlands, and has a 33 percent bike mode share. According to the write-up accompanying the YouTube post, this intersection handles "no less than" 18,000 bicycles and 2,500 buses per day.

Entrancing as it is, we did manage to wonder what this scene would look like if all these people were driving. Probably something like this:

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Strict Liability: Civil Law for Civil Streets

Yesterday we highlighted a Bob Mionske column that eloquently lays out inherent biases common in U.S. traffic codes and proposes measures we can take to start correcting them. One of them is strict liability, which generally assigns responsibility for a collision to the operator of the vehicle likely to do the most damage (just as motorists are expected to look out for cyclists, cyclists must look out for pedestrians).

This video, via Copenhagenize, explains. Says narrator Hans Voerknecht:

We say in the Netherlands: Car drivers should be aware of the situation, that they are in the machine that could kill, and that they should behave responsibly.

As reader Mitch alluded to yesterday, strict liability as applied here is primarily a civil law concept. But its value in establishing a culture of equity on the roads, as Mionske writes, is hard to dispute.

In [a] sense, the law is helping Dutch drivers to see cyclists. "Reasonable human beings in other countries see the cyclist," [SF Bicycle Coalition's] Andy Thornley notes. "How can we help drivers here to look harder?" Through laws that send the right signals when drivers fail in their duties to others.