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Friday Opinion: The Dutch and us

Posted by on September 30th, 2011 at 2:00 pm

Just another day in the Netherlands.
(Screen grab)

The Dutch Cycling Embassy launched this week. Their mission?

“To facilitate cycling worldwide as the most modern, efficient and sustainable means of transportation by sharing our expertise and technology as the world’s number one cycling country.”

They’ve also released Cycling for Everyone, a 7-plus minute video that gives an excellent overview of cycling in the Netherlands from a historical and a planning context (watch it below).

Cycling For Everyone from Dutch Cycling Embassy on Vimeo.

If it was 2005 I would have seen something like this and gotten all excited and giddy for the future. We can do that! We’re Portland!

But now it’s 2011. We’ve sent our transportation leaders and policymakers to Europe many times. They know what to do and how to do it. Yet we still struggle to make bicycling a highly prioritized part of central city transportation. We wring our hands over any decision that has even the slightest impact on reducing access for automobiles. We green-light projects that include myriad compromises put in place to avoid any major shake-up to the auto-centric status quo. We think a comfortable bikeway is when signals are timed at biking speeds on three-lane downtown thoroughfares.

Yes, we are making progress; but it’s incremental change when we need much more.

NE Couch street, after we spent $17.8 million to “improve” it.
(Photo © J. Maus)

That’s why, today, when I watch this video I think — What’s holding Portland back? Is it political will? Cultural differences? A lack of public support? All of the above? (Yes.)

Even recent “bikeway” projects we celebrate here don’t come close to the type of “seamless integration” and level of priority and separation bicycles are given in the Netherlands.

And, not to be the wet blanket, but the story of the Dutch fighting back against cars in the ’70s has limited applicability to the American experience. Their modern history has one major difference to ours. Just a decade or so prior to their civic activism for bicycling they had, within themselves, a keen sense of what a true bicycling city felt like. They had something to fight for, a memory of how things used to be — not an abstract idea of what the future could be.

Here in America we can’t rely on that type of public upswelling of support (even though we’re trying). Not because people don’t like bikes; but because they haven’t experienced a city where bikes are taken seriously and therefore have no idea how bicycling (and “roads designed for people” as they put it in the video) can transform a city.

That’s why it’s imperative that we have political and civic leadership that’s not afraid to challenge the status quo, push ahead and be bold.

Watch the video for yourself and see how close (or how far, depending on your outlook) we are to a city where cycling truly is for “everyone.”

As always, I welcome your thoughts and feedback.

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Comments
  • 9watts September 30, 2011 at 2:21 pm

    Thanks, Jonathan.
    the end of the automobile is staring us in the face if we bother to look. The Dutch and Germans have no trouble seeing this.

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    • Paul Johnson September 30, 2011 at 2:30 pm

      Depends on the part of the country. America is spread out enough that the writing is on the wall for intra-city trips, especially in places like Kansas where cities are relatively compact and completely flat. But for longer trips, cars are still necessary until more trains online.

      The car isn’t going away, but I believe the writing is on the wall that we desperately need to enable the timid to have more than one tool in their transportation toolbox. Portland still has a long way to go on this compared to much of middle America, by virtue of getting started late in the city’s development.

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      • 9watts September 30, 2011 at 2:40 pm

        “The car isn’t going away”
        http://tinyurl.com/end-of-the-car
        from the article: “I don’t see any reason for assuming that the car, considered as a metal box inherent to the physical movement of one or a small number of people, is going to be the way that societies organise themselves forever,” says Goodwin. “Eating miles is not an end in itself; it’s a means of participating in activities of one sort or another. And if there are other ways of participating that don’t eat so many miles, what’s not to like?”

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      • mabsf September 30, 2011 at 3:16 pm

        I have no problems with cars – if they are used right: They should be reserved for heavy hauling and long distance travel (at least until we have decent rail system)They should never be used by only one person and they should not govern the design of our cities.

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        • middle of the road guy October 5, 2011 at 9:06 am

          If they are used right?

          I think it’s up to the individual to decide what is ‘right’ for them.

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  • kiel Johnson September 30, 2011 at 2:36 pm

    Nice piece. Seeing is believing. I was never interested in bicycling until I went to Copenhagen and saw how it can transform a city.

    I’d like to see some cycling in the rain videos though. Biking in the rain can be pretty fun, it always seems like the weather is bicycling’s dirty secret. All the videos and images are mostly of biking in the sun. One thing we in Portland can do a better job of is promoting bicycling as a year round activity.

    Or maybe instead of the CRC we could build a stargate to the netherlands?

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  • Allan September 30, 2011 at 2:40 pm

    The danish don’t put the bikes on the left to protect the parked cars, they put the parked cars on the left to protect the bicyclists

    to paraphrase the movie last night @ cinema 21 – “Urbanized”

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  • Chris I September 30, 2011 at 2:40 pm

    I had the same thoughts while watching the video, and then promptly cursed at my parent’s generation. That’s where the problem lies. People in the Netherlands were quick to recognize the drawbacks of auto-centric society, and were able to hold it back. We were so busy living the “American Dream” that we either didn’t notice them or didn’t care, and let cars take over every aspect of our lives.

    The reason we are having so much trouble mimicking what they have now, is because cars have taken over, and we are trying to take it back. They never let cars take over in the first place.

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    • Indy September 30, 2011 at 3:36 pm

      Actually, if you watch the entire video, they DID let cars take the upper hand until the oil embargo of the 70′s.

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  • MossHops September 30, 2011 at 2:46 pm

    I think a lot of this has to do with political will. Here in Portland, we seem very comfortable with doing the best to shoehorn bicycle infrastructure into the existing roadway, as long as it has zero or a net positive impact to auto users.

    That strategy has actually served us reasonably well for a while. But, for us to move forward, we need to start focusing first and foremost on building world class bicycle/ped infrastructure and not worry quite so much about the effect this might have on auto users. This approach is obviously challenging as bicycles/pedestrians are in the minority of transportation users.

    It seems like issues like this needs very strong government and leaders because, let’s face it, building better bike/ped facilities at the expense of auto traffic is not politically popular, but it is looking towards the best long-term interest of the constituency.

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    • 9watts September 30, 2011 at 3:07 pm

      “building better bike/ped facilities at the expense of auto traffic is not politically popular, but it is looking towards the best long-term interest of the constituency.”
      Yes to both of those, though I’d add that one key reason it ‘isn’t politically popular’ right here right now is that our ‘leaders’ haven’t seen fit to make it an issue, champion the *fact* that cars–and the lives most of us have built around them–are on their way out. All the arguments I’ve heard about why our leaders here can’t do this when they manage to other places aren’t persuasive to me.
      They must emphasize that this isn’t so because they’re being mean, or trying to ruin people’s lives, or ‘hate cars,’ or ‘want everyone to ride a bike,’ but because we’ve managed to screw up on a massive scale; we no longer have as many transportation alternatives as we once (thought we) did. The prudent course of action would be to make this case, and accept the implications… “and here’s how we’re going to solve this together.”

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      • 9watts October 1, 2011 at 9:38 pm

        MOTRG – you really need a new line -
        (1) gas taxes don’t come close to paying for our transport infrastructure (this has been noted in these pages dozens if not hundreds of times–with footnotes).
        (2) many many people who drive (and thus also pay gas taxes) appreciate bike infrastructure as much as the rest of us.
        (3) the reason ‘infrastructure ain’t cheap’ is in part because all the money (and I’m not talking about gas taxes here but all the other pots of money we all contribute to that help pay for roads and paint and signs and traffic lights and cops and ambulances and studded-tire-induced-wear and so on) is because of the heavy toll cars and their requirements take on our coffers. Do you have any idea how expensive it is for a society to support automobility as much as we do? There’s very little money, political will, space, atmosphere left over to do much with.
        (4) Squeezing bike infrastructure in between all the auto-oriented development is expensive, but the only reason we need it in the first place is because car infrastructure and the vehicles it is designed around amount to a largely inhospitable landscape for biking.

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    • MIddle of the Road Guy October 1, 2011 at 9:22 pm

      Then start funding it.

      Cars pay gas taxes……what will cyclists pays for bike infrastructure?

      Infrastructure ain’t cheap.

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  • Indy September 30, 2011 at 3:37 pm

    Very few, if any, helmets.

    Also note bikers there don’t seem to rush to get places. It is casual, calm, serene.

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    • Hart Noecker October 1, 2011 at 3:06 pm

      Helmets, and the mentality of them, hold Portland back.

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      • Paul Johnson October 1, 2011 at 3:12 pm

        I think Portland, and the mentality of Portland, holds Portland back. Nothing to do with the helmets.

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      • esther c October 2, 2011 at 10:47 am

        I think until the bike ridership increases helmets aren’t that bad an idea. Until we get enough bikes on the road that we outnumber the cars we’re still at enough risk that some of us feel our brains are safer in our styrofoam hats and statistics show that we are.

        As the mass of bikes increases the cars are going to have to slow down and pay attention to us. Then I’ll feel safe enough hopefully that I’ll be able to go helmetless.

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        • Hugh Johnson October 2, 2011 at 9:55 pm

          If you think a car is the only reason you need a helmet well then I am a truly sorry for you.

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          • Paul Johnson October 2, 2011 at 10:13 pm

            No doubt, out of the three times I broke a helmet, one was on a Broadway Cab that failed to yield to oncoming traffic (and i broke my helmet on his windshield), and the other two were on pavement or against trees riding past my abilities.

            Oddly enough, never due to failure to negotiate a railroad track, and save for the cab that hit me, always because I violated the basic speed rule on my bike.

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      • Otto October 3, 2011 at 10:17 am

        So if everyone went helmetless and had the “right mentality” that would magically solve everything? Interesting theory.

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        • El Biciclero October 3, 2011 at 11:19 am

          “So if everyone went helmetless and had the ‘right mentality’ that would magically solve everything?”

          Just about. The current “mentality” seems to be that any cyclist not wearing a helmet somehow “deserves” to be run over. There is a small contingent that even believes any cyclist deserves to be run over just for being out on the street. We also tend to believe that if a cyclist is run over and wasn’t wearing a helmet, then the driver who hit them is somehow absolved of responsibility. The “mentality” is that cyclists had better watch out for themselves; it is their responsibility/duty to be safe and avoid getting themselves run over, it is not my responsibility as a driver to expect cyclists on the road, keep my eyes open, and drive carefully. After all, in any conflict between a bike and a car, the car wins every time.

          If instead, we had the mentality that those with larger, more deadly (to those around them) vehicles were made to shoulder more of the legal burden of safety, if drivers had a sense of the death and destruction they can dole out with a moment’s inattention or a flick of the finger–and the healthy fear that should put into them, if law enforcement and the laws themselves were less biased toward giving credence to drivers’ stories and being dismissive of cyclists’ accounts of collisions/assault/menacing by drivers, etc., etc., etc., then, yeah–pretty much only extreme mountain riding and racing would show any statistical need for helmet wearing.

          As it is, the U.S. has an arms race going on the road, with an accompanying mentality that says, “if you get hurt on the road, your vehicle wasn’t big enough.” “He who has the most lug nuts wins.” “The laws of physics aren’t open to interpretation.” “He came out of nowhere!” “I just didn’t see her, officer!” “What’s a bike doing out on this road anyway? Don’t they know it’s too dangerous?” “Why would a cyclist be riding at this time of night? This is when all the drunks are out driving around!” …And on and on…

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          • Otto October 3, 2011 at 4:14 pm

            I agree with you that blaming a cyclist for not wearing a helmet is extremely inappropriate whenever a cyclist is struck by a car. It would be professional of reporters that whenever a car-on-bike accident is reported they would not immediately ask, “was he wearing a helmet?” At that point it’s irrelevant. A bicyclist was hit by a motorist and that is what requires investigation, not whether the cyclist wore a helmet.

            That said, is integration with cars really the goal? Shouldn’t bicycle seperation from cars be the desired outcome? Once that happens and we have networked trails mostly free of dangerous debris, curbs, railings, fences, parked cars, etc., then yes, more people may feel comfortable going without a helmet.

            Until then going helmetless is a tough sell and I don’t see how it would help improve bicycle infrastructure.

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          • 9watts October 3, 2011 at 4:22 pm

            Otto: “Shouldn’t bicycle seperation from cars be the desired outcome? Once that happens and we have networked trails mostly free of dangerous debris, curbs, railings, fences, parked cars, etc.”
            Not in my opinion. Were we to go down that road, so to speak, we’d be overtaken by the disappearance of the automobile before we’d crossed the first intersection. It would be hugely expensive and obsolete.

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    • Randall S. October 3, 2011 at 4:55 pm

      Having done a lot of research on this:

      The Dutch have a nearly 0% helmet wearing rate, and the lowest rate of injuries and fatalities in the world. The US, at anywhere from 50-80% helmet wearing rates, has 6x the fatalities and over 20x the injury rate of the Netherlands.

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      • 9watts October 3, 2011 at 4:59 pm

        Fascinating. Got some sources?
        Now I want to know who gets hurt if Dutch and US folks meet for a bike ride and we make the cars stay home?

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      • MossHops October 3, 2011 at 5:01 pm

        I think you are confusing correlation and causation. I would suspect that there aren’t many helmet wearers because the infrastructure is safe, not the reverse.

        Furthermore, as one who lived in Amsterdam for a year, they are going much slower speeds than we are here in Portland.

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        • 9watts October 3, 2011 at 5:05 pm

          MH
          note that he didn’t say anything about causation (or correlation for that matter). He observed population injury rates and whether helmets are worn at the population level.

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          • MossHops October 3, 2011 at 5:13 pm

            Yes, but without attributing causation,injuries and helmet use doesn’t mean much, as there are plenty of correlations to Dutch injury rates that have nothing to do with helmets.

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          • 9watts October 3, 2011 at 5:31 pm

            “but without attributing causation,injuries and helmet use doesn’t mean much”
            (how) do we know that? I think Randall’s observations–assuming he’s generally correct on the statistics–are extremely interesting. And I admit I know nothing about cause. In fact I think they are interesting precisely because I (we?) don’t know what is going on. Mysteries can be useful too; can mean something.

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          • Hart Noecker October 3, 2011 at 7:12 pm

            You don’t have to look to the Dutch to see a cycling population free of helmet use still able to ride safely. I just returned from two weeks in Michigan, and I split my time between northern Michigan, Detroit, and Lansing. I couldn’t believe how many people I saw out on their bikes, hundreds of them in just a dozen days, and NONE of them were wearing helmets. This is the heart of the midwest, nobody is wearing a helmet, and yet somehow people ARE NOT being killed left and right. If states in the midwest can buck the fear trend, the SURELY Portland is holding itself back with such a mentality.

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  • mabsf September 30, 2011 at 3:37 pm

    I had a hard time keeping a straight face at the hearing yesterday, when a woman complained that the diverter at 52nd Ave would make her commute less convenient. She was so fixated on her one way to get home that she forgot her neighbors on Sherman, a nice little off 50th she cuts through every day and that there about 5 more ways to get to her house…

    Cars turned us in a society of egotists, unable to share the road or our transportation.

    …and I am really tired of it.

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    • MIddle of the Road Guy October 1, 2011 at 9:23 pm

      Cars did? Seriously?

      How do you explain cycling egosits?

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      • Mabsf October 3, 2011 at 8:24 am

        Yupp…. Think about it: if you always have a few feet of sound insulated steel around you, it isolates you and isolation leads to egotism. You can correlate the break down of community ties with the introduction of the car…
        Now, do I think that there egotistic cyclists? Yupp..but give us a few generations with bicycles as a transportation alternative and we back on track…

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      • Greg October 4, 2011 at 7:44 pm

        As much as I generally disagree with MOTRG, he’s got the right of it here. Egotism has very little to do with transit mode, and predates all of them except walking.

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  • Andrew N September 30, 2011 at 3:51 pm

    My thoughts exactly, Jonathan. Great opinion piece!

    Sometimes I think that Portland being bestowed with “platinum” status by the LAB was the worst thing that could have happened to us. Maybe a campaign of sorts, dedicated to getting the city downgraded to a more accurate level, would be enough to get our elected leaders off their laurels?

    (Janette Sadik-Khan for PDX mayor!)

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  • was carless September 30, 2011 at 4:08 pm

    As if the bike cultural thing isn’t bad enough, I still get a ton of cultural misunderstanding from my own family members who don’t understand how you can live in the “city” of Portland when:

    -living in the city is very expensive, because it is too nice and there are high-priced condos everywhere

    -living in the city is very dangerous, as there are gangsters everywhere robbing you blind

    etc. I think we have to wait until the baby boomer generation dies off. The vast majority of them forgot how to ride bikes.

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  • Kronda September 30, 2011 at 4:51 pm

    Having just spent most of the last week in Amsterdam, I can confirm that the cake is not a lie. It’s a pretty amazing place to ride and you can’t really understand it until you experience it.

    Going back to helmet wearing and second-class road status has been a bummer.

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  • Machu Picchu September 30, 2011 at 4:57 pm

    Great piece, JM. BikePortland in a nut? I like it.

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  • Curtis Fisher September 30, 2011 at 5:00 pm

    With their ridership and safety record I don’t think I saw a single rider wearing a helmet in that video. Just sayin’.

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  • Ed September 30, 2011 at 6:04 pm

    The video doesn’t even give justice as to how good bicycling is in The Netherlands. A truly accurate “best bicycling city” list would put the worst Dutch bicycling city ahead of any North American city that I have seen.

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  • jon September 30, 2011 at 6:23 pm

    you have to see this short video…
    Cycling in the Netherlands in the 1950s http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1HgLqts3qJs

    just overheard today on a bus in gresham a passenger perhaps in his 50s or 60s say to the driver, “isnt she a little old to be riding a bike”? as a woman demounted her bike off the rack of the bus. the woman was most definitely in her 40s. its definitely a cultural thing for the boomer and pre-boomer generation.

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    • Dolan Halbrook October 4, 2011 at 1:49 pm

      LOL. Too old to be riding a bike. My Dutch grandmother rode daily until she was 89. How she would have laughed at that.

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  • Rob September 30, 2011 at 9:01 pm

    To me the message of the video is that they had a powerful narrative that was accessible to everyone, enough to move the body politic. There were Dutch alive who could remember the way it was, and since it was easy to remember in their minds eye, they could literally re-member –as in reattach the various members of the cycling transportation network they had lost. It is harder to ‘member’ than ‘remember’. We generally lack the shared narrative and the memory to help us out. That doesn’t mean our history of sustainable transportation couldn’t help us in some ways, but I often think we seem to be the least interested people on the planet when it comes to history.

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  • Brett September 30, 2011 at 10:43 pm

    If you want to learn more about biking in the Netherlands, you might drop by the brown bag talk at PSU at noon October 21, with Ronald Tamse, who works on bike planning for the city of Utrecht.  It’s part of psu’s excellent transportation seminar series in Room 204 of the Urban Center at the corner of SW 6th and Mill. 
    As noted above, until you’ve actually ridden in places like Utrecht that are planned around safe transportation options for everyone, it’s hard to fully appreciate just how much more convenient, efficient and enjoyable getting around a city can be.

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  • esther c October 1, 2011 at 9:06 am

    Aren’t people in Dutch cities all riding on upright bars and going slower. They’re not zipping down the street at 20mph on drops in city traffic. I think that is one cultural change we’ll have to make if we really want to become a european style cycling city.

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    • MossHops October 1, 2011 at 9:45 am

      I think this is an area where American cycling will never be like the Dutch style. We have longer distances, bigger hills. We can make a cycling utopia here, but it’s a utopia that will be unique. It will be ours and I don’t think it will have a lot of upright riding positions…but it could have a lot of cargo bikes…

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    • Alan 1.0 October 1, 2011 at 4:06 pm

      Depends on just where you’re talking about. In inner Amsterdam there are still many older Oma-style uprights, but also a mix of modern city/hybrid, mountain and road style bikes. Rough guess, inner city, I’d put uprights at maybe half of the mix. Even in the densest parts of Amsterdam, a ringing bike bell is enough to part crowds of stumbling tourists (but do be prepared to stop suddenly) and typical downtown bike speeds are 15-25kph. Moving out of the city center, the mix moves to more aggressive riding positions. Out on intercity paths there are many more lightweight hybrid and road bikes, some full-on racing kit. In a newer neighborhood of Utrecht, I learned that pedestrians do need to walk properly and pay attention amidst bike commuters traveling at “get home soon” speeds. In Groningen, riding at a leisurely tourist pace of 12-20kph, I was almost always on the right side of the track or street, passed by far more than I passed.

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      • Greg October 2, 2011 at 10:58 am

        Exactly. It should be no surprise that folks that bike a whole bunch aren’t exactly slow riders when they want to get somewhere.

        I’m reasonably speedy by US standards but I too was getting passed pretty frequently in Denmark and Holland on a recent trip. (In my defense I was riding a folder :-)

        The Danes in Copenhagen were particularly rapid riders – it’s a little disorienting to have someone who looks like they belong on a fashion runway overtake you at speed on an upright bike :-)

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  • Bill Stites October 1, 2011 at 2:00 pm

    Thanks JM, for once again putting forth a [seemingly] unpopular opinion – that our infrastructure needs to stop accommodating cars first and foremost. I take it one step further, and feel that we need to *actively deter* auto use. High gas prices will help over time.
    Who in their right minds supports policies like those that change places like the South PARK Blocks by adding parking all along both sides of the park … a couple of years ago … that was sold as temporary …
    This city has become very frustrating; but us nonpoliticos will keep at it until the tide turns.

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  • Al from PA October 1, 2011 at 2:14 pm

    Now all the Dutch have to do is get those blankety-blank motor scooters out of the bike lanes in Amsterdam…

    Physician, heal thyself…

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  • Lenny Anderson October 1, 2011 at 2:42 pm

    Its really pretty simple. Back in the 70′s the Dutch did the math and saw that they could not afford to build the infrastructure demanded by their own post war growth in auto ownership and use.
    Interestingly, that was the decade that Portlanders stopped the Mt Hood freeway, removed Harbor Drive, opted of Pioneer Courthouse Square instead of a parking garage and built the Transit Mall and started light rail.
    Now its “On with the CRC” which we can’t afford and a lot of process to make N. Williams a safer street. What’s going on?

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  • Mike October 1, 2011 at 2:51 pm

    “We can do that! We’re Portland!” I’m really glad we have cities around the country that are pro-bicycle but I think a better saying would be “We can do that! we’re America!” I recognize that this site is of course directed more toward Portland, no problem on that but “islands” of pro-bike culture are like bike trails that aren’t connected or go nowhere…they ain’t that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things.

    We can do this, I live in a city of 250,000 in the Mid-West and I have noticed a massive change just in the last 5 years as far as pro-bike, forward looking and being a little more progressive with infrastructure. This change…has EVERYTHING to do with the Mayor and City Council.

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  • Alan 1.0 October 1, 2011 at 4:01 pm

    Yes, Jonathon, there is progress, but HELL YES it’s too slow. Looking at other headlines in BikePortland this week, compare that Dutch video to our achievements on NE 12th Avenue, NE Wheeler Ave, Holladay Street, and the social patterns of use of bike lane on Greeley and the bike/ped path in Vancouver at I-5. Sure, I’m glad that those projects recognize multi-modal use but…BUT! Those street designs are sure complicated and non-intuitive, and our current bike lanes lack social buy-in as evidenced by actual use. As someone who uses those streets only a few times a year, those new traffic patterns, lane markings and signs look confusing and intimidating, whether I’m behind handlebars or steering wheel. Trying to look at it through a driver-only windshield, I can imagine that frustration could turn to blaming bicycles for those complex and elaborate traffic rules, and that becomes counterproductive. “Yes” to social, cultural, political, and other factors (economics of transportation being a huge one that’s only going to get bigger).

    I was just recently introduced to the works of Hans Monderman, Netherlands traffic engineer. By comparison to those recent street designs in Portland, his Dutch designs seem peaceful, fluid, natural and intuitive. They integrate cars, bikes and peds in a much less confrontational way. When designs work as well as his, then the frustration and confrontation between traffic modes decreases, and the social and cultural barriers between user groups drop. Political will is needed to allow creative designs like his and others to be built, even when they do not fall inside existing design standards (MUTCD, etc).

    Excellent article!

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  • OnTheRoad October 1, 2011 at 4:24 pm

    JM
    You’re labeling this as an opinion piece exactly why?

    Because all your other blog posts are straight objective reporting and contain no opinion?

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    • MossHops October 1, 2011 at 4:33 pm

      Calling this opinion, and not the others is fine by me. Have your read the Oregonian recently? Every article is opinion.

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      • OnTheRoad October 1, 2011 at 5:01 pm

        The commingling of fact and opinion is okay because The Oregonian does it? Awrighty then.

        Blogs, almost by definition, are mixtures of fact and opinion. That’s why labeling one post as opinion, implying that the rest are not, doesn’t make much sense.

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        • Alan 1.0 October 1, 2011 at 6:03 pm

          You got chocolate on my peanut butter!

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        • Zoomzit October 2, 2011 at 7:55 am

          My point is that newspapers are not different than blogs in this regard. Perfect example from yesterday:
          http://twitpic.com/6twjke

          All media make decisions with regards to how to portray facts. These decisions are peppered throughout their publications, but are never required to be referred to as “opinion.” I don’t really see it as being appropriate to hold BikePortland to a different standard than even the NYT.

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  • Arjen Haayman October 2, 2011 at 7:46 am

    kiel Johnson
    I’d like to see some cycling in the rain videos though. Biking in the rain can be pretty fun, it always seems like the weather is bicycling’s dirty secret. All the videos and images are mostly of biking in the sun

    Allright: take a look at this vid: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5KiA-uQ3X3c

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  • wsbob October 2, 2011 at 10:46 am

    Money, economics and real estate, is why the U.S. doesn’t have biking infrastructure or the rate of bike use for transportation that the Netherlands does.

    The Netherlands has a very modest land area. The U.S. is comparatively huge.

    Spread out U.S. communities have been designed, planned and built around the speed and ease of travel available through the use of motor vehicles.

    The health of the U.S. economy relies, or at least has relied on the infrastructure created for transportation by motor vehicle.

    Cities don’t want to radically alter their street street infrastructure if it stands to diminish the economic health of their community, or parts of it. This reason seems to be why there was such strong resistance in Portland to the Holladay St redesign, and why it took so long to approve a change that would support more travel by bike.

    It costs a lot of money to retrofit for bike travel, existing infrastructure built for motor vehicle travel. This is why for example, the bike lane on Hall Blvd between the central library and Cedar Hills Crossing is so pathetically meager in places; deals with property owners whose land adjoins the road and bike lane, have to be made to get the land to make the bike lanes wider and better. That’s very expensive.

    Relative to the Netherlands, Lenny Anderson raises a key point that would encourage any community to think about expanding infrastructure that supports bike travel:

    “…Its really pretty simple. Back in the 70′s the Dutch did the math and saw that they could not afford to build the infrastructure demanded by their own post war growth in auto ownership and use. …”

    http://bikeportland.org/2011/09/30/friday-opinion-the-dutch-and-us-59918#comment-2044120

    There’s the difference. The U.S. has had the money, and the land to build infrastructure that supports motor vehicle transportation.

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  • esther c October 2, 2011 at 10:51 am

    How about if the new CRC just included room for a train and no increase in car traffic. Bring all those people into Portland and make them rely on public transport and bikes.

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  • Greg October 2, 2011 at 11:03 am

    wsbob
    The U.S. has had the money, and the land to build infrastructure that supports motor vehicle transportation.

    But some folks in the US think we have the money to build something even better. Infrastructure that supports *human* transportation.

    That’s the real difference. :-)

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  • steady eddie October 2, 2011 at 1:08 pm

    Something should be said here about what it co$ts to drive a car in the Netherlands (Holland). They sure don’t make it easy. I would hazard a guess here and say that many of the Dutch people just blow off driving a vehicle because of the very high cost.

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    • Ed October 2, 2011 at 10:09 pm

      Cost of fuel is very expensive in Europe, I’m sure its the same case in the Netherlands. Maybe our government shouldn’t give so much tax break to the gas companies… while Exxon and Shell and many of them are the most profitable company in the world. Tell your congressman/woman!!!

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    • Mabsf October 3, 2011 at 8:31 am

      Eddie,
      don’t assume that the Dutch are too poor to afford cars… Cars just don’t have the status they have here…seems that the Dutch prefer to spend their hard earned money on something else then blowing it through an exhaust…

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      • Dolan Halbrook October 4, 2011 at 2:00 pm

        Actually the Dutch love their cars, but they are quite the luxury items. Given that many of the cites there are centuries old, the infrastructure doesn’t make sense for cars, and so in-town driving is highly difficult as well as expensive.

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  • Lenny Anderson October 2, 2011 at 2:35 pm

    I’m not sure we can afford the motorized infrastructure we have…we spend billions every year just to import fuel, the Interstate system is in need of massive updates, and gas taxes are about tapped out. The US has not had a positive trade balance in decades. We are overdue to get off the tit!
    I’m glad someone mentioned Monderman. PBOT just keeps putting up more and more signs and paint, when the future may be in redesigns that “manage traffic chaos” and clean up the clutter on our streets. Portland has an aversion to chaos, hence all the angst about bikers coasting thru stop signs.
    A follow up to my earlier comment: the 90′s brought us two transformative transportation initiatives…the 1995 Bike Plan and the launch of Streetcar. PBOT, then PDOT, under Blumenauer created and funded the bike program under Mia Burke. A lot of paint hit the streets, the first bikeways (Tillamook still doesn’t have the signage we dreamed of in ’96!) were created and major improvements were made to the Willamette River bridges. Now thousands don’t buy fuel for their vehicles, but for themselves…coffee, beer, etc. and whole new industries are born.
    Streetcar grew out of the 1986 Central City Plan, business folks like the late Bill Naito pushed hard for it as did NWDA and other NAs and major institutions. TriMet was cool to the idea…don’t blame it on them, but to anyone who remembers the old NW rail yard and the Lovejoy and 10th Avenue viaducts, it has surely played a big role in creating a whole new place. Look south from NW 11th & Lovejoy, and you think “Its a city!”…not just the world’s biggest small town.

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    • wsbob October 2, 2011 at 11:20 pm

      “I’m not sure we can afford the motorized infrastructure we have…” Lenny Anderson

      Indications have been for a long time…decades, that the U.S. can’t afford the motorized infrastructure it was set on building back in the 50′s. The 70′s were the start of a turnaround, but there’s still a large consensus in the nation, that thinks communities have to build out rather than up and close. Building out means relying on motor vehicles to get around.

      If communities confined their activities and services to a radius that people could ride back and forth within on a practical level…the need for motor vehicle supporting infrastructure would be less easy to justify. Infrastructure that enabled walking and biking to be practical and enjoyable might be built. A lot of strong economic interests continue to resist that planning model.

      Beaverton is still at a far simpler stage of development than the area of Portland south of NW 11th & Lovejoy. Parts of Beaverton has the bones that could, with visionary infrastructure redesign, allow it to be a very walkable, bikeable city; look at a map and ride it first hand to see. Within points Murray Blvd, Allen Blvd, 107th, and Walker Rd, a radius can be drawn that could lend itself very well to that purpose.

      Beaverton leaders want residents to vote to allow a bunch of money over the next 30 years to be spent on Urban Renewal in Central Beaverton, the area of town generally within those points. Though recognition has been noted that residents have expressed interest in greater ability to walk and bike throughout Central Beaverton, the ability for that type of travel is not the focus of the plans.

      The focus is on attracting private investment. Private investment in this day and age in cities like Beaverton, and even Portland still, despite its advances in bike infrastructure, is strongly attracted to infrastructure that supports travel by motor vehicle.

      Urban Renewal in Beaverton will likely offer some improvements to walking-biking infrastructure, but present plans for it don’t seem as though they’ll work towards infrastructure that encourages or enables travel on foot or bike at anything approaching that in the Netherlands.

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  • Ed October 2, 2011 at 10:10 pm

    Another thought… maybe we shouldn’t have bailed out the automobile industry, should’ve just let them fail and see if bicycle and train will pick up.

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    • Hugh Johnson October 5, 2011 at 6:36 am

      Unfortunately your president did not see it that way.

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  • John Landolfe October 3, 2011 at 10:30 am

    A gloomy but well written opinion piece because I think it’s worth noting that Jonathan avoids the Us vs. Them cliches or over-reaching on his speculation on America’s “problem” just to drum up controversy (i.e. web traffic).

    Some commenters will inevitably note the cultural difference on helmets and cite it as related to the American problem but I’d like to debunk that right now and explain why I think Maus doesn’t even mention helmets. Portland’s helmet use doubled in the past decade; in the same time ridership has skyrocketed. Cities like New York, with much lower helmet use, have experienced per capita less ridership increases than Portland. We want to find the causation in any statistics we read (helmets increase ridership vs. helmets decrease ridership). But the data doesn’t support any trends. We shouldn’t form our habits simply based on what another crowd does, or doesn’t do. I’ll continue to wear my helmet and others are free to do what they’ll do.

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  • Steady Eddie October 3, 2011 at 11:01 am

    Mabsf
    Eddie,
    don’t assume that the Dutch are too poor to afford cars… Cars just don’t have the status they have here…seems that the Dutch prefer to spend their hard earned money on something else then blowing it through an exhaust…
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    =====
    Of course you are right, and your point(s) are well taken.

    But if it cost $2500 U.S. to just “get” a drivers license here, like it does in Holland, don’t you kinda figure that the bike ridership would go up here??

    Then, after spending all that, you have to buy a car, and register it, buy a license for it, buy insurance, and have it inspected, all at an astronomical cost. The Dutch don’t figure it is worth it.

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  • Steady Eddie October 3, 2011 at 11:03 am

    email corrected, thanx

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  • Dave October 3, 2011 at 11:40 am

    The Danish and Dutch traffic engineers/planners all say the best thing to do is to not talk about helmets at all, good or bad. If people feel like they need to wear them, they will. They are available, even in the Netherlands, where probably 1 in 1,000 (or fewer) actually wears one. The job of the traffic engineers/planners is to do everything in their power to make ALL the people in the streets as safe as possible by design, not to tell them what to wear or how to protect themselves. That’s each person’s own decision.

    Certainly, a bicycling paradise in the U.S. will look differently than in the Netherlands, or in Denmark, and even in different cities in the U.S. it will probably look quite different. However, we can certainly take some guiding principles from what has been done already – some of which have already been mentioned.

    Prioritize road design to efficiently move people by bicycle and on foot. Give them plenty of space, let them ride side-by-side as much as possible, design intersections to prioritize their movement. Parking – people not only need a place to park their bicycle at the restaurant or at work, they need a place to put it at home. If you don’t own your own home or live in a very recently built apartment complex currently in the U.S., your bike is probably in your living room or kitchen or some basement room that requires going down stairs and hanging your bike on a wall. That’s just silly. Stairs – build ramps on the side to roll bikes up and down. Having to carry them or go way around is silly. Sometimes it’s little things that make it seem like you really belong.

    We need to re-orient our views such as: If you want to drive a car, that’s your choice, but you’re going to have more responsibility for your actions, and you’re going to have to deal with less convenient routes until you leave the city, less parking, and higher fees. You’re going to have to give up right of way to all other road users. You’re going to have to go slowly enough that you can control your vehicle in any situation that might arise.

    A big part of this is not directly related to transportation really, but makes a huge difference, and that’s mixed-use development. In Amsterdam, all residences have a grocery store within 1 km. Theaters, restaurants, pubs, parks, doctors, dentists, pharmacies – every residential area has all of these things very nearby. The center of the city is not designed as primarily a “business district” but is developed much like any other part of the city, with large numbers of residences mixed in with commercial development to support the residents, and entertainment. It’s not that the population density has to be super high, but people need to be fairly close to the things they need to get to, and with reasonable ways to get to them.

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  • Dave October 3, 2011 at 11:45 am

    Oh, and education – we need traffic education for everyone that starts when they’re young and continues through their life, and teaches them how to interact on foot, on bicycle, and in a car.

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    • Dolan Halbrook October 4, 2011 at 2:06 pm

      So true. For the Dutch that education is built in, in the sense that virtually *everybody* rides to get places long before they are able to drive.

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  • Otto October 3, 2011 at 4:34 pm

    Moderator a bit slow today so I’ll try again…

    There is a new car soon to be sold in CA called the Aptera. I would link but my comment would get stuck in moderator limbo… Anyway, it gets at least 100mpg and is around $30K. Extremely fuel efficient cars are getting less expensive. In other words, bicyclists have to learn to live with motorists because they’re not going away in America.

    That said, with the economy in a rut and the nations financial system a mess many Americans have bought their last cars if the economic climate remains unchanged. Many may turn to bicycling. But while increase in ridership is nice I’m not sure it’s good for cycling if the cause of increased ridership is a poor economy or if car dependent folks think they’re being engineered in that direction.

    Bicycles have to be promoted on their own merits. A bike vs car mentality is counter-productive here in the US.

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    • 9watts October 3, 2011 at 4:44 pm

      “Extremely fuel efficient cars are getting less expensive.”
      Um, that is an electric car you’re talking about. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aptera_2_Series No gallons to compare to, though conversions are possible. Also, FWIW, it would seem that I can haul more on my bicycle than the driver/owner of that thing could haul.

      My point is that we have no idea how to generate the electricity to fuel a fleet of cars on top of the demands we place on the grid as it is for all the other uses (like bikeportland), all the while phasing out our reliance on coal. Not going to happen.
      “Bicycles have to be promoted on their own merits. A bike vs car mentality is counter-productive here in the US.”
      I agree. Ignore the auto and it will go away.

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      • Otto October 4, 2011 at 11:37 am

        I’m not a car expert so I often get these things mixed up. But electric car or not, I stand by my point.

        As for how much the Aptera could haul, that is beside the point. You’re just stating your own idea about what autos shoud be used for. That’s your preference. Not everyone is the same.

        Again, I love my bicycle but the bikes vs cars tactic is counter-productive imo. Portland may someday be like Amsterdam and I think that would be very cool, but most of Oregon and most of America likely won’t be.

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        • 9watts October 4, 2011 at 11:53 am

          “As for how much the Aptera could haul, that is beside the point. You’re just stating your own idea about what autos shoud be used for. That’s your preference. Not everyone is the same.”

          I don’t think autos of any stripe are going to be around forever and so, no, I don’t think cars should be used to haul as much as I can with a bike trailer (and certainly not less). You have it backwards.
          If this expensive looking toy (SMART car crossed with airplane) can’t even haul as much as I can under my own power then to me it’s the mpg figures that are beside the point.
          We should focus on prudent, plausible, affordable, durable, and (in my view) human powered solutions to our transport needs and wants. Those have the prospects of outlasting our present moment of automobility-in-crisis.

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    • wsbob October 4, 2011 at 11:13 am

      “…Extremely fuel efficient cars are getting less expensive. …” Otto

      Regardless of how much less expensive fuel efficient cars become, the space an average motor vehicle takes up on the road is far more than that used by the average bike. Population continues to increase. It’s just not realistic to presume that the same percentage of the population that’s been operating motor vehicles on the road, particularly within cities, will continue to be able to do so as the number of people rises.

      Vehicle handling capacity of road infrastructure is finite. For many kinds of trips that people within a population center have to do, walking or biking can move a lot more people than motor vehicles can, making more efficient use of road and street infrastructure.

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    • wsbob October 4, 2011 at 1:48 pm

      Well, 9watts posted a link to the wikipedia page for the Aptera…thanks!…so I took a look at it. Sure that thing’s cool looking for a concept car. No way a sane person is driving it on the road in traffic without a huge bumper installed. Talking of worry about people on bikes hooking each other’s wheel, the Aptera looks to be ridiculously bad for that.

      An electric car that’s not nearly so cool looking as the Aptera…though still cool looking and more practical, is the Corbin Sparrow:

      http://corbinsparrow.com/

      Go to the website, and you’ll read that the company went bankrupt, and the car is out of production. Somebody in Portland has one. It’s something to see.

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  • El Biciclero October 4, 2011 at 9:39 am

    “Ignore the auto and it will go away.”

    Heh. That seems to be the general strategy of our car-centric transportation overlords: “Ignore the bicycle and it will go away.”

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    • 9watts October 4, 2011 at 9:46 am

      Perhaps, but history is not on their side.

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  • Mike October 7, 2011 at 1:15 am

    A lot of great comments and insight but at the end of the day America loves it’s cars and that isn’t going to change. I mean this is the country that built the 426 Hemi engine back in the 60′s, we love our excess. I see change and progress but a Dutch type of system…not likely.

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    • 9watts October 7, 2011 at 7:57 am

      A lot of people appear to hold this view. We’re always going to have our cars.
      But it isn’t up to us. Asserting it as fact; wishing it to be isn’t enough. The Bangladeshis presumably like their coastlines too; the Siberians like their permafrost; we like economic growth. Just because it always was like that–and Siberians have had permafrost a lot longer than we’ve had cars–doesn’t, unfortunately, mean squat for the future.

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