November 2, 2005
Finally, on a Bike in the Netherlands
One of the ironies of our busy agenda here in Amsterdam is that we're spending so much time going to meetings and criss-crossing the country on the national railway that we have not had time to get on a bike and ride.
That got fixed today when we visited Apeldoorn and Grongingen.
Apeldoorn is a bedroom community in the center of the country with good access to the rail network. It has about 150,000 population and is working hard to sustain its livability as it grows. The motto of its transportation department is "Milieu, Mobiliteit en Openbare ruimte" (Environment, Mobility and Public Spaces).
Their strategy for maintaining livability includes:
1) Creating a car-free center during much of the day
2) Implementing 30kph zones for much of the city
3) Providing an excellent bicycle network
4) Bus lines within 600 meter of anywhere in the city (there is no tram)
5) Upgrading capacity on the ring road around the city, and requiring cars moving from one quadrant of the city to another to use the ring road.
6) Providing parking at 5 points on the periphery of the car free zone (park and walk)
So complete access to all parts of the city by car is preserved, but other modes clearly get priority in the densest parts of the city.
I was able to tour the core area by bike (a one-speed model with coaster brakes). Since I am not yet skilled at taking photos while riding, I don't have a lot to show. The odd bike rack has a fold down flap that keeps the rain off your saddle! Our host, Wim Mulder is in the red jacket.
Groningen is a similar story at a larger scale. It's a university town of about 180,000 (think Eugene on steriods) that has also closed its center to cars. Here's a presentation on Groningen from the Car Free Cities Conference.
We were able to tour on bike for about two hours (in heavy rain). Some of the notable things we saw:
- An IKEA store near the center of the city (a departure from IKEA's usual strategy) easily accessible by bike
- A rotary that gives priority to bikes
- A drawbridge with a flying bypass span that allows peds and bikes to cross even when the draw span is up
My impressions actually riding under the circumstances:
- astonishment at how often the bike has the right-of-way
- a great respect for the amount of skill required to ride in this environment
Even at 9 mph or so, the sheer volume of bikes around you requires that you understand who has priority and ride with great awareness.
A particularly tricky maneauver is a signal phase in which cars are held and bikes get a green in all four directions. So as you exit the intersection you have to be careful of bicycle cross-traffic!
Children go through annual bicycle training weeks at school, not unlike our Driver's Ed. Young children are usually seen accompanied by a parent who will keep a steadying hand on the child's shoulder while riding to guide them.
Again, a strong conclusion is that it's about culture as much as infrastructure!
November 3, 2005 1:55 PM
Peter W Says:
I am curious about how people over there cope with the rain. Can you say what types of clothes you see people riding in during the rain and if most bikes have fenders, chainguards etc? thanks!
November 3, 2005 9:51 PM
Chris Smith Says:
Chainguards, fenders and skirt-guards are universal.
We rode around in the rain for two hours in Groningen and I didn't see anything remarkable for raingear (but I was mostly focusing on not getting dropped by the group :-)). Ponchos and jackets, mostly, I think.
Rain definitely does not deter ridership.
April 18, 2007 3:02 AM
Anneke Oosterink Says:
In rainy, stormy or whatever weather people just wear normal clothing (i.e. no lycra etc.) and carry an umbrella, put on a raincoat over their clothing, or nothing at all (in my case, if I forgot to bring an umbrella). When I was younger (going to primary school), and coming home from school all wet and cold, because I couldn't carry an umbrella yet, my mom just took of my clothes and put me under the shower.
Raincoats are seen as unfashionable by most people, although they are very convenient... ;)
Here is a picture of a man riding a bike while carrying an umbrella: