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.

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On a bike in the Netherlands portlandtransport’s On a bike in the Netherlands photoset

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!

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