Over the weekend a group of us PSU students headed to Amsterdam to meet Pete Jordan zine legend and recent authors of In the City of Bikes. As part of our course readings we were encouraged to read this historical account of bikes in the Netherlands, which was intertwined with the personal life of Peter Jordan and his journey to becoming a resident in Amsterdam.
Our tour took us to many places mentioned in his book in which he gave us further information – not only from a historical view point, but from the political and social as well. As a student of urban planning I found this information fascinating and this furthered my understanding of policies and planning in the NL. Obviously, land use and the availability of right-of-way is key to the success of the cycle track system in the Netherlands. The government owns all the land, thus if changes need to be made there is no opposition from private land owners. As a national government they can easily implement policies and plans that promote bicycling. Although the local and national governments do have ultimate control of bicycle infrastructure, they do perform community outreach to gain support for projects. The contrasting difference between the NL and the US is that the public (in most instances) support investments in alternative transportation modes.
One thing that became noticeable while visiting different cities and towns is that infrastructure design is not a one-size fits all. Applications of cycle tracts and bike lanes vary. Contrasting Delft to Amsterdam, both provide an extensive network of cycle tracts, however, due to population and size, the application of the network vary and in the case of Amsterdam, their system fails at creating a safe cycling environment. Delft with a population of 97,690 (2011) and Amsterdam with a population of 779,808 (2011) and extremely different in infrastructure needs. Delft has the space and ROW to create large safe cycle tracts that provide accessibility across the city. Whereas Amsterdam is more limited in the amount of space that is available for such projects. This became apparent as cycle tracts randomly ended and pushed us out into traffic, squishing us between parked cars and large tour busses. Because it’s a medieval town, the land use is so tight that expanding row to create a better bike network is not possible. This leaves the cyclists in some vulnerable situations. Not only does the infrastructure abruptly end in some places, you are confronted by hordes of tourists and pedestrians that sometime inhibit the use of the bike (in my case, I would have preferred to be on foot to avoid any conflicts). Regardless of the bicycle infrastructure, in both Amsterdam and Delft having the street as a public space is culturally important. Mixing street furniture, cafe space, bike and peds, makes for an lively streetscape in which social interactions can occur.