Monday and Tuesday a team of Dutch bicycling experts worked with local transportation engineers, planners, and bicycling advocates in the ThinkBike workshop to infuse some of the Netherlands’ bicycle magic into Miami. The Miami Herald published a good story on the subject here. Information from the workshop can be found on Facebook and more will be available soon on the Consul’s website. While the workshop wrapped up with the final presentation Tuesday night, we’ll get you up to speed first on Monday’s opening presentation.
Joseph Weterings, Consul General of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, kicked off the workshop by congratulating the Florida Department of Transportation, the Metropolitan Planning Organization, and the city of Miami for taking efforts to make the area better for cycling. It’s not enough, though. By contrast, Weterings made clear, “the Dutch and the bicycles are almost inseparable.” He shared how he was separated from his own bicycle when he was assigned to Miami and now misses being able to cycle into the office every day. He touted some of the advances the Netherlands has made for bicycling, and turned it over to his bicycling experts for the details.
The Dutch “Bicycling Ambassador” team leader was Hillie Talens, a transportation engineer. Her team members were Robert Coffeng, a traffic engineer, and Jeroen Kosters, a transportation engineer. She began by giving us a window into her life and explaining where cycling fit in. She shared her hobbies, and emphasized that cycling was not one of them. Though she owned 3 bicycles, cycling was just as common an activity as brushing your teeth before going to bed. For most people in the Netherlands, cycling is just another form of transportation.
Some of the statistics she shared were impressive. Twenty-seven percent of trips in the Netherlands are taken by bicycle. Women ride bicycles more than men, unlike here. The most common emotion associated with cycling is joy-something only children typically associate with bicycling as transportation in this country.
One import graph showed the curve between cycling and fatalities in the Netherlands vs. many other countries. While logic might tell you that an increase in the number of cyclists on the road would lead to an increase in the number of fatalities due to exposure, the reality is very different. The more cyclists are on the road, the fewer deaths we see.
Netherlands went through a decline in bicycle use after World War II, much like the US and many other European countries. Netherlands had a car centric transportation policy, with the Prime Minister advocating one car per family (“… a car in every garage,” anyone?). Their country shifted their transportation policy to be pro bicycling after a significant decline in bicycling, a decline from which they have only partially recovered. The United States has made many small shifts towards a more bicycling friendly policy, but it may be too little too late. When the Netherlands changed their bicycling attitudes, their bicycling decline was stayed and they saw a quick jump up in the number of cyclists. Since then, however, bicycling use has only gradually climbed. Perhaps this is because they have hit the “sweet spot” of keeping most of the short trips on the bicycle, or perhaps it is because they implemented pro bicycling policies before their cycling percentage dropped below five percent.
The pro bicycling policy seeks to prioritize bicycling in many ways. While I cannot even persuade engineers here to install features to make sure bicyclists are detected at signalized intersections, the Netherlands offers bike-specific signals, prioritizes bicycle traffic at bicycle paths intersecting roadways, and seeks to minimize bicyclists’ delay at signals. While in Florida we prioritize cracking down on bicyclists riding side by side through mandatory bike lane laws (promoted even by bicycle advocates) and interpretating the “two abreast” law to prohibit anything more than single file riding, the Netherlands passed a law to specifically legalize side by side riding, regardless of whether cars were approaching. They recognize the inherent social activity of bicycling and seek to promote it. While the Florida Department of Transportation seems OK with designating “bicycle detours” that make bicyclists take the long route because there is no room for them on the main streets, Talens said they endeavor to provide direct bicycling routes without detours. While we often find the easiest place to put separate bicycle lanes is low volume residential streets, the Netherlands has prioritized these as bicycle boulevards where bicycle traffic has priority and cars must share the huge “bike lane.” While the only solution we offer for roundabouts is to let bicylists ride on the road or on the sidewalk, they offer options including bike lanes and separate paths set back from the roundabout like sidewalks as well. While bicylists here get into theoretical discussions or loud confrontations over whether to pass a line of cars at a signal when there is no bike lane, the Netherlands builds bike boxes for these shared lanes that clarify the bicyclists’ position at the front of the line. While we hope drivers hitting cyclists get a slap on the wrist, the Netherlands holds the driver responsible every time. While our engineers have learned how to follow standards manuals and meet the bare minimums, Talens taught that bicycle facilities should be tailor made for the situation. While the Miami urbanized area has roads maintained by about 200 different cities, three counties, and two districts of the Florida Department of Transportation, cities in the Netherlands maintain their own roads. This key political difference is a challenge for us, but one that progressive cities such as Portland have sought to overcome by combining some government agencies.
Talens reminded us of two things that too many forget: cyclists are more than pedestrians with wheels, and cycling is not just a sport. If only transportation engineers could get past that first step.
Stay tuned for more coverage of the rest of the ThinkBike workshop.
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