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Headed to Europe to learn about great bike cities

Posted by on May 7th, 2013 at 3:44 pm

I hope to see this magnificent, suspended
bicycle path in Eindhoven (as seen in this month’s
National Geographic!).

Finally. After years of covering bike projects and policies, I’m going to Europe to observe, research, and document the world’s leading bicycle-friendly cities. At the end of this month I leave for a two-week trip that will include time in Copenhagen, Utrecht, Amsterdam, and more.

This trip came about thanks to an invite from the City of Portland to join a delegation put together by PBOT (with the blessing of Mayor Charlie Hales). Myself and three others in the delegation will represent Portland as part of a study tour put together by the Green Lane Project. As I’ve covered here in the past, the Green Lane Project is an effort funded by the national advocacy group Bikes Belong to hasten the development of protected bikeways in America. Portland is one of six cities chosen for the initiative.

Joining me on the study tour will be:

  • Sam Chase, Metro Councilor (Portland)
  • Gerik Kransky, Bicycle Transportation Alliance
  • Heather Hoell, Venture Portland
  • Heath Maddox, San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Livable Streets Section
  • Leona Bridges, San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Board of Directors
  • Len Matz, Mayor’s Office of Workforce and Economic Development (San Francisco)
  • Kate Howard, Director of Intergovernmental Affairs, Office of Mayor Edwin Lee
  • Sarah Reiter, Saris Cycling Group
  • Simon Dunne, Specialized Bicycle Components Global Advocacy Manager
  • Jessica Hererra, Transportation Program Manager, Facebook
  • Martha Roskowski, Bikes Belong Foundation Green Lane Project Director
  • Zach Vanderkooy, Bikes Belong Foundation International Programs Manager
  • Jenn Dice, Bikes Belong Foundation

During the trip we’ll learn from bike planners and leaders in the cities of Utrecht, ‘s-Hertogenbosch, Rotterdam and Amsterdam. (I also hope to take a day trip to Eindhoven to see the Hovenring of course!) You can see the full agenda and more details on the study tour here.

Before my duties with the delegation begin in Utrecht on June 2nd, I’ve booked a trip to Copenhagen. I plan to spend a week in that “City of Cyclists“. While in Copenhagen, I’ll soak up as much as I can about its famous bike network, while documenting the places and people that make it such an amazing city for bicycling.

Come to think of it, this trip will take me to the top three, and four of the top 10 most bike friendly cities in the world according to the recently released Copenhagenize Index.

These are remarkable places from a transportation culture standpoint, and I know this trip will broaden my perspectives in exciting ways. I have read and learned a lot about these leading cities over the years, but there truly is no substitute for first-hand experience.

This is a big trip for me. It will take me away from my family and my Portland beat for over two weeks. I’ll also, unfortunately, miss the big World Naked Bike Ride and gathering at the Portland Art Museum on June 8th. But this was a great opportunity, and I didn’t want to pass it up (all my expenses are paid for by Bikes Belong for the second half the trip).

I don’t leave until May 26th, but I wanted to let everyone know to expect lots of stories and photos from these awesome bike cities in a few weeks. I hope you’ll enjoy following along!

Note: I’ll be seeking sponsorship for this trip from 1-2 companies. If you’re interested or have questions about that, please get in touch.

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  • Champs May 7, 2013 at 4:13 pm

    Jonathan, I’d really like to hear from Utrecht about its bike parking problem due to ostensibly abandoned bikes.

    I was there a few years ago, and thanks to injury, I could only eke out half a block’s worth of riding. Seemingly every rack, rail, and post that could be used to secure a bike was already taken, and there is no short supply.

    I know Americans have a far less ephemeral view of their bicycles, but surely among the Dutch, a disposable bike to one is suitable to “borrow” for another.

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    • Alan 1.0 May 7, 2013 at 10:12 pm

      My Dutch friends tell me that there are 1.5 bicycles sold (new and used) per year for each and every Netherlands resident. No idea if that’s really true but theft and abandonment are widespread.

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  • Indy May 7, 2013 at 4:58 pm

    Seems like an obvious question, but are you bringing a bike? How will you be transported once there?

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) May 7, 2013 at 5:03 pm

      Hi Indy,

      Not bringing a bike. I figure they’ll be easy to find once I’m there ;-). In between cities, I/we’ll be hopping on trains and bikes and whatnot. I do plan to fly between CPH and Amsterdam.

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      • Alan 1.0 May 7, 2013 at 10:57 pm

        A few years back I rented a nice city bike for €6.50/day in Groningen at the train station (8sp IGH, lights, lock, rack, no reservation needed, CC deposit). “Yellow Bike” brand tourist bike rentals has several shops in Amsterdam. They’re clunky but work fine, but you can find nicer gear for a better price at other shops. So yeah, that should work out fine. Utrecht rocks!

        If you fly into Schiphol (recommended) be sure to check out the airport-to-train connection even if you’re just going city train to Amsterdam. It’s mind-altering to see how transpo systems should be integrated, and it’s not out of your way at all.

        Have a *GREAT* time! The “away from home” part is hard, I attest, but it will be so worth it to you, absolutely no doubt. Totally exciting!!

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  • Nate May 7, 2013 at 5:11 pm

    So will pictures of kids or bikes be compared first amongst this group?

    “How many bikes do you have? Kids?”

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  • ed May 7, 2013 at 5:36 pm

    I strongly support this kind of learning from other places. Unfortunately when planners and politicians travel for this purpose it is often negatively portrayed in the media as wasteful when it is exact opposite. Instead of learning from their practices (i.e., The Dutch) we are left with painfully slow designing of infrastructure by trial and error.

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    • anon1q2w3e4r5t May 7, 2013 at 11:43 pm

      It is wasteful just like Portland’s future bike sharing program. In this day and age, all the information is at your finger tips.

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      • Chris I May 8, 2013 at 7:53 am

        I disagree. I have visited 6 of the top ten biking cities in the world, and ridden bikes in 3 of them. You can watch all of the Youtube videos and presentations you want, but you will never fully understand the whole picture until you ride a bike in these places.

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        • anon1q2w3e4r5t May 9, 2013 at 7:27 am

          I agree there are some things that need to be experienced first-hand to have a better understanding, but this is not one of them. Riding a belt drive bike versus a chain drive bike for city riding is an example of something that needs to be experienced first-hand.

          I think you’re missing my point. So, let’s say all these people going on this study trip get that first-hand experience, etc. now what? How does that benefit the rest of us? In essence, it’s basically a paid vacation for those going on this trip that’s being paid for by tax payer/donation money. WASTE. If this trip was paid for in a manner that did not involve tax payer/donation money, I would have no problem with it.

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      • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) May 8, 2013 at 9:18 am

        Hi anon1q2w3e4r5t,

        Right now I disagree with you that these trips are wasteful… But the perspective you share in your comment is something I plan on exploring while I’m there. The media likes to make fun of trips like this — so much so that both the City of Portland and TriMet didn’t want any staff on the trip — but as we know the media often adopts narratives that are not based in fact or reality.

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        • anon1q2w3e4r5t May 9, 2013 at 8:05 am

          So after this trip, is Portland going to get a beautifully suspended bicycle path? Yes? Then go on as many trips like this as you can, please! No? WASTE.

          I learned that in the cities you are going to, when people riding their bikes approach an intersection, they don’t really pay attention because they know the car drivers will watch out for them. I didn’t have to have to go to those cities to know how awesome that is! Thanks Greg (commenter in this post) for this info. It’s great to not have to spend any money and have information like this at my finger tips.

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          • Paul May 10, 2013 at 1:20 pm

            Maybe not, but perhaps we’ll get the attention we need to kickstart these kinds of changes. I thought I knew a lot about infrastructure until I actually spent a few months living in A’dam. These things need to be experienced first-hand.

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        • anon1q2w3e4r5t May 9, 2013 at 8:27 am

          PS: Please inform Heath Maddox and Leona Bridge that the bike sharing program they/their agency plan on launching in SF is going to be a huge mistake. This being said even after all the “success” stories of other bike share programs in other cities.

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  • Jim Lee May 7, 2013 at 6:48 pm

    You deserve a Brompton, JM!

    And who knows–perhaps they will put on a naked bike ride on the famous Hovenring.

    At least that would contain the damage!

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  • q`Tzal May 7, 2013 at 7:23 pm

    Try to enjoy yourself while you are at it.

    Do you have a few guest writers on standby?

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  • Edward May 7, 2013 at 8:00 pm

    Suggestion: you could document your observations for a short movie? I’m sure there’d be a lot of interest.

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  • Greg May 7, 2013 at 9:14 pm

    Awesome! Look forward to reading about your adventures. I’ve been to each of the cities you are visiting & have spent a fair amount of time in Utrecht (my brother worked at the university). What amazed me on my first visit was that hardly anyone wore helmets & that at intersections they hardly looked out for cars because they knew they would stop for them. I kept thinking to myself if you did that in the US you would get killed eventually :)

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    • Barbara May 8, 2013 at 12:14 pm

      Exactly. Same in Germany. It was my epiphany when I realized that I didn’t constantly had to second guess car drivers, but could just ride along and they would pay attention to me. Especially when turning right.

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      • J.V. May 14, 2013 at 9:36 am

        Yes, I’ll confirm that. I am currently in Germany and I find it amazing the amount of spatial and situational awareness that both drivers and cyclists exhibit compared to the States. The driver licensing standards are much higher here, as are the penalties for being in an accident. Also, interestingly, I find that while the bike infrastructure is well marked, it is not consistent. A given 2km stretch in Freiburg may go from a bike lane to a “sidewalk” bike lane and back again. You have to pay more attention, but the pace is more relaxed.

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  • scaryseth May 7, 2013 at 10:26 pm

    What a great opportunity. Congrats and look forward to the reports and pics of the trip. Speaking of pics, Imagine/hope there will be multiple people on bikes from various location?

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  • JT May 8, 2013 at 7:04 am

    Hey Jon – I’ve been living in Eindhoven for the past year now on a work assignment (Portland is my home though). I have some pictures of the hovenring on my photo blog you should check out – http://www.theenvironmentalblog.org/bike-the-netherlands/. Let me know when you’re in Eindhoven. :)

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  • Kirk May 8, 2013 at 8:04 am

    I am so excited for you! Enjoy your time abroad!

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  • Joseph E May 8, 2013 at 8:17 am

    ” I plan to spend a week in [Copenhagen]”

    This is a great idea; the group tour will be helpful, but you will get much more of a real-life experience by spending time riding a bike around by yourself or with a few new local friends, instead of with the tour group.

    Copenhagen doesn’t have the best, world-class bike infrastructure (Utrecht and s-Hertogenbosch will be the best examples), but it does have a high bike mode share, pretty good infrastructure, and it is an exciting, bigger city compared to the smaller Dutch cities that have the best bike networks.

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  • Chris I May 8, 2013 at 8:21 am

    Watch out for the mopeds in Amsterdam! And make sure you visit Christiania in Copenhagen.

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  • Steve May 8, 2013 at 9:12 am

    De Hovenring is pretty cool. Especially if you can go out for a spin around it at dusk/night. The lighting makes it look like something from “The Jetsons” in my opinion.

    Enjoy Eindhoven. =)

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  • Doug G. May 8, 2013 at 10:28 am

    Have fun, Jonathan! This will be like a religious pilgrimage for you. It is going to blow your mind.

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  • 100th Monkey May 8, 2013 at 10:38 am

    I just got this link by Elly Blue
    http://takingthelane.com/2013/05/07/breaking-bike-infrastructure-debate-officially-over/
    with fairly-well documented proof that bicycle modal transportation infrastructure, contrary to what our PBA believes increases revenue for businesses near that infrastructure and also shows positive ROI and not a loss. Imagine what could be done with the space that becomes available when a significant % of auto parking is returned to the urban shared-space! Also Copenhagen is well on the way to their 50% bicycle to work and school goal. This other link to how Dutch intersection design would work in the US to keep cyclists separated from both vehicles and pedestrians when turning or crossing intersections is not perfect but it would come close to elimination of the dreaded right hook. As long as the “protecting traffic island” at each of the 4 corners has at least one concrete-filled steel bollard or use it as the placement for the traffic control device it would make it impossible for anything larger or longer than a high-cube van commercial vehicle to navigate in inner-city streets!

    http://cyclingresourcecentre.org.au/post/dutch_intersection_design
    I look forward to your first-hand accounts and video documentation on how this all flows together in Europe. Have fun and don’t take your helmet!

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  • Jonathan May 8, 2013 at 10:54 am

    Eindhoven is apparently in the Netherlands, while Copenhagen is in Denmark, 500 miles away. Why would you be going to Eindhoven for a day trip from Copenhagen?

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  • Ethan May 8, 2013 at 11:00 am

    How exactly can I tag along?

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  • spare_wheel May 8, 2013 at 11:26 am

    Maybe this group should also visit Germany where they are ripping out cycle paths and installing wide bike lanes. This nationwide move away from separated infrastructure was spurred by ADFC studies reporting a higher rate of injury accidents on separated infrastructure (echoing earlier Danish studies). Not surprisingly, the German cycling federation has come out against separated paths and is trying to reverse mandatory sidepath laws.

    Munich mode share 1996: 6 %
    Munich mode share 2011: 17.4%

    Stripe it and they will come?

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  • Barbara May 8, 2013 at 12:12 pm

    What a great opportunity! Have fun! Copenhagen is my favorite city in general, not just for biking (I have lived there for a year as a child). The Danes just know how to live and enjoy life. It also has an interesting mix of historic buildings and modern design and of course lots of water. If you have time for a museum I recommend Lousiana north of Copenhagen (modern art combined with beautiful ocean views).
    I can’t wait to read you stories and see your pictures from this trip.

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  • Jason May 9, 2013 at 1:52 pm

    I would be interested in any airport related bicycle facilities and programs you encounter in your trip. Things such as bike lanes, trails, parking, concierge services, maps, signage, etc. Airports are often built in out of the way areas (due to noise and safety concerns) and can be tricky to get to/from by bike. Have a great trip!

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  • Kristina May 9, 2013 at 3:52 pm

    I just got back from Belgium & Germany and was so pleased to see wonderful, separated, safe bike lanes everywhere, even small towns. There’s a lot of noise about Portland being “bike friendly,” but compared to what European cities are doing, it’s just lip service.

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  • Emily G May 9, 2013 at 4:38 pm

    Fantastic! Will you be meeting up with any of the Euro bike bloggers (David Hembrow, Bicycle Dutch, Copenhagenize, etc?) That’d make this trip just an explosion of bike blog awesomeness :)

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