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How they roll when it snows in Utrecht

Posted by on January 4th, 2010 at 9:33 am

It’s not often that I share a random YouTube video, but given the snowstorm last week and its aftermath, I thought this one was worth a look.

When it snows here in Portland, only the strong and fearless remain on the bikeways — the vast majority of people opt for private motor vehicles. And, as we experienced, the result was epic gridlock and lots of unhappy people (except for some who were having fun on two wheels or walking).

Compare our experiences to this video of evening rush hour bike traffic in Utrecht, the fourth largest city in the Netherlands (pop. 300,000). Lots of regular people going about their business on bikes without really paying the snow much attention. That’s what Portland should aspire to in the coming decade!

[As an aside, Utrecht and Portland have a nice little thing going. This summer, a couple of Utrecht traffic safety experts visited Portland and presented at the Safe Routes to School National Conference (remember the traffic gardens?). Also, the new-fangled “channelizing islands” installed in the Spokane Street bike boulevard come straight from Utrecht via PBOT’s unofficial Ambassador to Utrecht, Greg Raisman.]

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Paul Tay
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Paul Tay
Steven Vance
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Eventually the relationship between Utrecht and Portland may include gathering information about how best to clear snow and prevent ice formation on cycle tracks and separated bikeways.

Greg Raisman
Guest

Thanks for highlighting Utrecht, Jonathan. There’s a ton that we are learning from each other as cities.

One reason I love learning from them is what you touch on: they’ve made bicycle transportation “normal”. It’s not sporty, chic, or political. It’s transportation that makes sense and that they’ve succeeded at making work for the widest spectrum of their residents (while creating some of the safest streets in the world).

For a closer look at Utrecht, check out my photo and video collection here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/gregraisman/collections/72157618652695677/

If anyone is interested, this Utrecht collection is part of a larger photo and video library about northern European traffic that I’ve been working on here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/gregraisman/collections/72157619060042143/

Thanks.
Greg

Eric D. Schabell
Guest

I am an overseas American, live only 30 km south of Utrecht and for the last 17 yrs in several parts of the Netherlands. I have seen this sort of activity over the years in every single city / town here, snow stops nothing on a bike.

I can give you tips on how they keep the bike lanes clear in my city; they have small sanding trucks that look like street sweepers but fit on the bike paths here. Every morning (unless it drops more than 10 inches) the paths are very quickly snow free due to the salts and bike traffic.

I originally come from Portland, love to see that the biking there is watching it over here. Had no idea the Portland and Utrecht are so closely related!

I have biked here since arrival, first as as student, then to work, for sport (road bike and mtb) and take my daughter to school every day in the mornings when it is possible on the back of my bike.

I hope to ride the Tour Portlandia some day on a vacation, but for now I ride in Belgium, Germany and France.

I enjoy the postings you put up here and love keeping in touch with the Portland bike scene, thanks guys!

Scooter
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Scooter

Interesting how the only helmet I see is on the guy on a motorcycle.

chrehn
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chrehn

It looks magical. I like it. At first I was a liitle dis-oriented because I didn’t see any large 4-wheel pickups bouncing down the street with the “driver” texting with one hand and drinking a red bull with the other.

Anne Hawley
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Anne Hawley

I couldn’t help noting that rush hour bike traffic in Utrecht is traffic. That one guy at about 1:25 never does make his left turn in all the long moments the camera is on him–too many bikes in the cross-traffic.

Everyone rides upright bikes, nobody’s in much of a hurry, there’s a fairly orderly and patient-looking set of standards for merging into traffic (really, it’s like a bike freeway!)–all characteristics that we’re a little short on in Portland.

I have a fear of riding in bike traffic here–I avoid N Williams and N Vancouver because I feel I’m not fast enough, the bike lane isn’t wide enough, and if I slow a younger, more streamlined cyclist down I’m committing some kind of faux-pas.

So I stick to the back streets and the widest bike facilities as much as I can, and hope that Portland will grow up to be more like Utrecht while I’m still physically able to ride.

As to snow: no way, not yet, not me. Thank goodness it isn’t as snowy in Stumptown as it is in the Netherlands.

spare_wheel
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spare_wheel

“Interesting how the only helmet I see is on the guy on a motorcycle.”

Thats because they were all crawling along at 5-10 mph. I wear a helmet because I hit 30-35 mph 330+ days a year on my bike.

Keith
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Keith

You should see our bicycle rushin winter… sometimes I feel like it is just me out there.

Keith
Guest
Keith

These pics should warm you all up as much as a cup of Stumptown coffee… I sure do miss the rain.

http://www.ravingbikefiend.com/bikepics/wintercommute7.jpg

http://www.ravingbikefiend.com/bikepics/winter08-trek2.jpg

jered
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jered

The most striking piece for me is how the bikes follow the same rules as any other wheeled vehicle and folks are moving along as traffic dictates, nobody is trying to be the uber bike racer speeding by. Lots of common sense being used. Maybe there is a difference culturally between bikes as transport and bikes as fitness, whereas in PDX those two concepts blend with mixed results.

Jeff
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Jeff

spare_wheel (#8): agreed. Scooter is just trying to be inflamatory.

spencer
Guest
spencer

people riding in town are riding for transport. I was in utretcht in june and the only high speed riding thats done is outside the cities. keep in mind that there is NO sprawl there, so its very easy and quick to get out and ride quicker. as a ‘roadie’, i despise those who do intervals and act like jerks on the main bike routes, ie springwater and williams.

Joe
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Joe

I commute year round, downtown and back over the Hawthorne bridge and I see the same thing here in Portland. Cyclists on poorly maintained bikes, not wearing helmets, and going too slowly. This was a better city when there weren’t so many cyclists.

Andy B from Jersey
Guest

Slush hour!

wsbob
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wsbob

“I commute year round, downtown and back over the Hawthorne bridge and I see the same thing here in Portland. Cyclists on poorly maintained bikes, not wearing helmets, and going too slowly. This was a better city when there weren’t so many cyclists.” joe

O.K. joe, so what’s your recommendation for bring Portland and the Hawthorne Bridge back to where you thought they made for a better city?

Hah! You seem to know how to abrade the sensibilities of people on this site. Are you saying that people in Utrecht ride around poorly maintained bikes? That 5-10 mph is too slow for their needs on the bikes they’re seen to be riding in the pic above? That not wearing a helmet at those speeds represents an extraordinary risk?

Speaking for myself, I don’t feel much desire to ride one of those ‘upright position’ bikes, or ride that slowly when I need to get somewhere. For a number of reasons, I’d rather wear a helmet than not wear one.

If though, there were some way of getting about 30-40 percent of the people that fill the major thoroughfares near my neighborhood in Beaverton to find those slow moving european bikes to be a feasible means of filling their home-to work/school/entertainment/shop/church needs, I’d be delighted. If and when they do, I’ll find some alternative routes to go speedy on when I need to do that.

Motor vehicle traffic congestion out here in B-town becomes very wearying. Lots of slow moving bikes ridden by people without helmets would be a welcome relief to this. For me, the city changed in this way could be far better city than it is now.

Jim Labbe
Guest

I’ve been biking this week here in Nijmegen, Netherlands (east of Utrecht) and this abundance of snowy-weather bike commuters is a familiar scene. But here in Nijmegen they appear to be much quicker at plowing the cycle paths!

Mike
Guest
Mike

I was on vacation with my girlfriend in Amsterdam from Dec. 22-28th and the first few days there was snow and ice on the ground but EVERYONE was still riding, and I only saw one person crash. I did not see even one helmet though! All the bikes that people ride are total pieces of crap. They told me it was because bike theft was so common. Sometimes people’s locks are worth more than their bike!

And yes, most of the bike lanes were completely clear, but the pedestrian paths weren’t!

Mark
Guest

Thanks for publishing my movie here!

Just one comment on the text: it isn’t evening rush hour you see, it is morning rush hour. In winter it is dark till about 9 in the morning in the Netherlands. This was taken in 15 minutes around 8:30 am. The rest of the movie was filmed later the same day.

@spare_wheel: the moped rider wears a helmet because Dutch law states he has to. And the cyclists ride slowly here because that is the only thing you can do on such a busy junction. It is safer in the icy conditions too. It is what the moped rider does as well and I believe even you would be forced to do that here.

There are hardly cars in this movie because it was filmed near the central railway station and the main bus and light rail station. That is an area of the city where there are no private cars allowed. The only cars you do see in the rush hour part are taxis.

n8m
Guest
n8m

I used to live and work in Amsterdam, and I came to greatly enjoy the morning & evening rush hour commute. If only we would shed our American pride, invest heavily in actual infrastructure and learn from them.