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Posts from the the Netherlands Category

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Five Key Lessons From Europe’s Vision Zero Success

Cross-posted from the Vision Zero Network

Berlin, Germany

From the moment that Vision Zero began capturing attention in American cities, we’ve heard many admiring references to its success in Europe, particularly in its birthplace of Sweden.

I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to research those experiences and their lessons for the growing number of American communities working to eliminate traffic fatalities and serious injuries. As part of a fellowship with the German Marshall Fund, I’m spending two months visiting Stockholm, Sweden; Rotterdam, Netherlands; and Berlin, Germany to interview experts and observe first-hand their approaches to traffic safety. The goal of my research: to gather and share replicable lessons for American communities, particularly in urban areas, where we’re seeing the most momentum for Vision Zero.

First, a disclaimer: I’m still actively researching and interviewing, so it’s too soon to share my sense of the “full story.” Please consider these early impressions.

And, second, a clarification: What the Swedes — and to a lesser extent the Germans — call Vision Zero, the Dutch call Sustainable Safety. While there are many similarities to what can generally be termed a “safe systems approach” to transportation, there are more differences than I realized between their efforts. (But more on that in a future post…)

So what have I observed thus far? Here are five initial  takeaways, focusing on areas that seem relevant to the U.S. experience and worthy of more exploration.

1) Managing speeds — and speed differentials — is a top priority

In all three of these countries, the leaders of traffic safety efforts emphasize that managing speed is the number one determinant in their successes in improving safety.

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What It’s Like to Bike in the Snow Where Cycling Is a Priority

Hertogenbosch, in the Netherlands, is a town of 140,000 about mid-way between Amsterdam and Antwerp, just north of the Belgian border. Hertogenbosch doesn’t get a lot of snow, but when it does the city does a good job keeping cycle paths clear, according to Mark Wagenbuur, a local who blogs at Bicycle Dutch.

Of its 300 km (186 miles) of bikeways, Wagenbuur says, 233 km (144 miles) are “gritted” — brushed and treated with salt. The equipment used is not uniform, and not all routes are cleared at once, but the city has a staff of 20 people working around the clock when necessary.

New York City has about 30 miles of protected bike lanes, not counting greenways and bridge paths. While in recent years DOT and DSNY have been pretty consistent in keeping the bridge paths and some protected lanes free of snow and ice, some lanes, including Lafayette Street and Grand Street, are not getting cleared. And the Parks Department is unreliable when it comes to keeping paths safe for riding.

Wagenbuur’s video shows a small tractor with a brush up front and a salt spreader in tow, dispatched to clear bikeways. DOT also has snow-clearing equipment for bridge paths. But DSNY hasn’t done as well keeping on-street protected bike lanes clear.

Read more…

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Designs From Dutch Burbs Should Unite Vehicular Cyclists and Bike Lane Fans

Photos from Dutch suburban areas and countryside by Marven Norman.

This is the second in a two-post series about Dutch suburbs.

It’s understandable why vehicular cycling techniques thrive in suburban America. In the absence of good bike infrastructure, taking the middle of the travel lane really is the safest way to ride — uncomfortable though that is for many of us.

But if American suburbs are ever going to be made truly better for biking, today’s suburban bicycle drivers will need to find common ground with me and my fellow fans of Dutch infrastructure.

Here’s what that might look like.

1) Infrastructure opponents should take the time to offer meaningful suggestions beyond “no”

Sharrows in Indianapolis. Photo: Michael Andersen/PeopleForBikes

I’ve seen it myself numerous times: The bicycle drivers only demand “Bicycles May Use Full Lane” signs and sharrows while shunning anything else exclusively for bikes. Meanwhile, the planners and engineers are hearing from the rest of society that they want “more bike lanes.” But without any valuable input about design features, they resort to their manuals… and the result is bad infrastructure.

It’s long past time for the more experienced riders to adopt an approach of pragmatism.

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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: ## 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.

Read more…

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.”


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.)