My recent trip to the Netherlands was funded in part by Bikes Belong’s Green Lane Project. You can read more stories from the trip here.
My favorite thing to do while visiting another city is to just observe the locals. This is especially true when I’m in a new city specifically to learn about their bicycling culture. You can learn a lot about how good or bad a city is for cycling simply by watching how people use and interact with their bicycles while going about their daily lives.
Last Sunday, I spent a long time just sitting and watching people on Jodenbreestraat (map). This street is fascinating; both for its historic and cultural significance and for the example it sets for what could be the future of a major Portland street.
The street itself is steeped in history. In the 1600s, Rembrandt lived just one block from where I sat on that sunny afternoon watching people and their bicycles. By the 20th century, Jodenbreestraat — which translates to “Jewish Broad Street” — was a bustling Jewish neighborhood. World War II changed on all that. After its residents were sent to concentration camps by the Nazis Jodenbreestraat became deserted and all but forgotten. Then in the 1960s, as the force of car culture began to overwhelm Europe just like it was doing in the U.S., the Amsterdam city government hatched plans to turn Jodenbreestraat into a major highway. The city widened the street and demolished nearly all of its houses.
But just as construction ramped up, the people revolted. We learned from a local bike advocate during a tour that large-scale demonstrations and riots against the highway plans took place on Jodenbreestraat in 1975. The people won. The city government stopped construction and the highway was never built.
Today Jodenbreestraat is an amazing mix of locals, tourists, bicycles, cars, and buses. And, unlike most of Amsterdam’s narrow, winding, canal-lined streets, it could actually be replicated here in the states.
The width of Jodenbreestraat (probably about 60-feet curb-to-curb) is similar to many streets in Portland. Its cross section includes wide sidewalks, cycle tracks, median islands, and two standard auto lanes in the middle. Obviously, since this is central Amsterdam where over 50% of all trips are made by bike, bicycles make up the majority of traffic on the street.
Here’s a closer look at the street design:
There are many things I love about this street. The block I spent time on was a major shopping area with department stores, a pharmacy, a food store, cafes, and many other large (for Amsterdam) retailers. But as you can see in the photos, there is zero space to park a car. If I wanted to drive here to do my shopping, I would have to find a space (impossible) and then pay dearly for it. I don’t know the numbers, but I would guess that around 60% of the customers at these shops come by bike (many also walk or arrive by bus/subway).
Bikes are everywhere on Jodenbreestraat. The median islands and the large sidewalk space in front of the main stores were filled with parked bikes. Rather than clutter the street with steel bike racks, most of the bike parking was just a painted square with a bike symbol (keep in mind all the bikes in Amsterdam have kickstands).
I sat for a long time and marveled at how scores of people pulled up, did their shopping and other errands, then deftly packed bags and boxes on their bikes and pedaled away…
Of course we don’t have this rate of bicycle use in any Portland neighborhood. But we might someday. And my perspective is — we get what we build for. If we continue to design our commercial streets primarily to maintain current levels of auto traffic and auto parking, that’s exactly what we’ll have in the future. On the other hand, if we allocate more space to people and bicycles (both of which are much easier to accomodate than large automobiles) we’ll create more vibrant commercial areas similar to Jodenbreestraat.
What street in Portland could you imagine this type of cross-section on? Sandy? Foster?
— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 – email@example.com
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Looks like they need to invest in some longtails over there!
Amsterdam is well-known for its great many Bakfiets.nl Cargobikes (long amd short wheelbase) and Babboe Citybikes. There are longtails but most Dutch people would question why anyone would need such a thing when a standard Dutch bike can carry an adult, 2 children, shopping and whatever else.
I think the pictures clearly show that they can’t carry all of those things. Yes, dutch cargo bikes can, but I’m seeing the vast majority of people carrying awkward loads on standard dutch bikes. I guess I’m just surprised to not see more longtails, since these people are doing their shopping by bike. It’s safer and more convenient with large loads.
I think the pictures show they clearly can carry all those things. Keep in mind these folks are amazingly skilled riders. Much more skilled than we are (sorry, it’s true). They have been riding in the city with loads like this every single day since they were kids.
Also, I don’t think longtails or cargo bikes are as popular in Amsterdam because of space issues. The city is very compact and there’s often nowhere even for standard bikes to go, much less bulky cargo bikes. Also, I think the aesthetics and favored cultural archetype of a standard bike plays into it as well.
I guess I don’t see a picture of a standard dutch bike carrying an “adult, two children, and shopping” as is claimed above. I know a bakfiet could, and a longtail…
My mum regularly did so with me, my cousin and an assortment of shopping bags. My mum is hardly a circus performer. And we didn’t think it was extraordinary at all, because everyone did the same.
An adult, 2 children and shopping is easy. But I guess things only exist if you can see a picture of them.
Bags on the back fender, child above that, mother on the saddle, child on the handlebars, basket at the front of the handlebars. (Swap the basket for a rack on the front wheel for a bit more carry capacity.)
I’m sure the Dutch will appreciate your advice regarding longtail bikes.
I forgot to follow the first commandment of cycling:
“Thou shalt not criticize the Dutch.”
Criticism is fine – but if you claim that something that’s done regularly and casually “can’t be done”, you will get corrected.
On the map, it looks like the building-to-building street width is 92 feet, and the “roadway” width (including the car lanes, cycletracks and the bike parking between) is about 56 feet, with at least 18 foot sidewalks on each side. Looking at it, I think the street could be successful with even less total width, but it is nice to have all that space for bike parking and street trees and wide sidewalks.
I wonder if there is a bus route on this street. It would be nice to see something like this on Sandy thru Hollywood, but I we might need to include a pair of bus-only lanes in the middle, as well.
How about SE 7th to Se Sanyd? There’s no bus on that street north of Madison, and cars can take MLK/Grand instead. The right-of-way is big enough. Widen the sidewalks, get rid of the center turn lane and turn most of the car parking into bike parking or street trees, and move the bike lanes over to be cycletracks which continue thru each intersection, like in the Amsterdam example, and let the street turn into a new destination.
It would be much easier than trying to make MLK and Grand into pedestrian-friendly streets, and would not affect any Trimet routes.
Dream on if you think there is either the political will or majority public support in Portland for anything close to this on a major arterial like Sandy Blvd. or Foster Rd.
I think there’s both political will and public support for this type of thing. The problem we have in Portland is that we give too much power and credibility to the wrong narratives. If our leaders chose the narrative that’s out there — the one where people want a safer and more comfortable city — than they would find the support they need to make this stuff happen. Unfortunately, the negative, anti-change narrative is the one too many advocates, city staff, and electeds are fixated on and so that’s what we get.
I think the problem is too much space in the USA. Dutch have to pack 17 million in country the size of Connecticut (and still better green space than here). Land here is cheap and no pressure to do these things.
Empty space in Montana doesn’t contradict the fact that Cambridge/Somerville/Boston are denser and more populous than Groningen, yet have maybe 1/10 the bike trip share.
And if all the Dutch bike rides are short (as so many claim), the density of any area as large as Connecticut is irrelevant; what matters is how often bicycle-friendly density occurs on the scale that people are interested in riding. At least 1/3 of the US population lives in places as dense or denser than Assen (about 2000 people/square mile), a Dutch town with 40% bike share. About 10% of our population (28-30 million people, depending on census) lives in places with population exceeding 50,000 and density greater than 7600 people per square mile.
In comparing cities with high density populations in the U.S and the Netherlands, population density apparently is one factor, but not the only factor that enables and encourages people to regularly choose a bike for transportation, rather than a motor vehicle, mass transit, or walking, in or close to their neighborhood.
Elsewhere and in recent articles and comments to bikeportland, the 2-3 mile figure has been the mileage noted that people in cities with high bike share will ride. In Portland, that distance would be about from Downtown to a bit beyond Chavez/39th.
For an urban street center such as Jodenbreestraat to work as it does, besides infrastructure in support of biking, there probably has to be a high percentage of people within a circle having a 2-3 mile radius of such a center, working, going to school, shopping,as well as living within that circle/radius.
Past a certain density, I think the possibility for short trips is almost self-generated. If density is sufficiently high, and trips for all those people are sufficiently long, the number of vehicles in/out of the dense area becomes intolerable — i.e., traffic jams.
Beyond that, yes, if you build it stupid (and we often did) then what ought to be an adequate density turns out not to work. Maybe we should stop being stupid.
A big part of what you all seem to me to be going around in this section of the thread is closely related to what Dr2Chase said “if you build it stupid, what ought to be adequate density turns out not to be.”
Most of Portland and Vancouver are sufficiently dense for many short trips on bicycles to replace a lot of auto traffic. But there are two things. First, in Dr2Chase’s words, we built it stupid. The roads, intersections, sidewalks (or lack of) are built in a way that makes walking or biking unpleasant and often at least feel dangerous.
Along with what is actually built there is learned behavior as well (I mentioned this on another thread this week). We have in 100s of way learned to make too many trips too far. We drive 4, 5, 8, 15 miles for trivial reasons because we are used to doing it and we forget how to live within a natural 2 to 4 mile radius regardless of our commute. For example kids soccer leagues regularly combine kids from huge territories and then schedule games and practices all over the metro area. Church, shopping, entertainment, restaurants are all destinations we regularly drive fairly long distances to reach. This combines with the built world with the outer areas concentrating all retail in small zones. Small retail along major arterials is often blighted and under utilized, while certain squares of big box stores draw tons of traffic.
What I am saying is that Density is totally sufficient. Portland / Vancouver problem is not one of density at all and same true for almost every US city. It is how we built the roads, where we have located services, how smaller in neighborhood options of disappeared, and how habits and lifestyle have made us accustomed to being able to travel 20 miles from home in under 30 minutes on virtually a whim.
One only need to look at small cities (not small towns) to see this. I’ve many times brought up Missoula MT as a bicycling city that tops any Platinum standard city. Missoula is NOT dense. Not at all. Nor is it a small town either in population or in area. BUT it Missoula is the destination for the region. There is very little reason to go anywhere outside of Missoula city limits from regular day to day life needs. Missoula was a great city for biking 30 years ago with no cycling infrastructure. They have built infrastructure and cycling is very good there and you see people biking all over the place. It succeeds better than fancier efforts in PDX because from most neighborhoods in Missoula you can access virtually every service and product offered in the region, and most of the parks, school, sports fields, churches, and entertainment venues within 5 miles.
Everything (not) in bicycling reach is one example of build-it-stupid. We often use zoning to do that. Pursuit of tax revenues with big boxes and malls on city margins is another stunt — not only is the shopping artificially farther away, the traffic concentration often turns the whole area into a bicycling black hole (my work commute partially intersects one of these — it used to be worse, before a road in an office park punched through connecting two sections). Another example is lack of permeability — what ought to be a short, direct trip on a bike is neither direct nor short because traffic (in the minds of the planners, unpleasant and dangerous car traffic) is routed out onto “arterials” — and bicycles, as “traffic”, are also forced to go the long way around.
dr2chase-my point is not just that density facilitates bicycling. My point is that the USA does not face the degree of crisis that would occur in The NL if everyone travelled by car:
Very little pressure on transportation policy making because there is no impending perceived catastrophe. Very little political motivation to make driving more expensive. There is very little pressure here to stop sprawl, suburban expansion because of unlimited land.
Oregon has the Urban Growth Boundary helping to limit urban-suburban sprawl. It slows down the consumption of still open land for urban development, but the land is there, and is subject to conversion to urban-suburban use.
Because the U.S. has a relative abundance of land, this conversion happens rather than increasing urban density and rather than planning urban neighborhoods so that they’re self sustaining in the sense than they meet people’s needs for residence and employment within the neighborhood or 2-3 mile radius many people might be prepared to ride a bike.
Partly because U.S. residents aren’t constrained by land availability as Amsterdam residents are, commuting by motor vehicle, relatively long distances away from the neighborhood, is a way of life in the U.S.
At the national level, no, but in certain places I think that we would face just such a crisis. There’s huge traffic in and out of Boston every day on mass transit, and in rush-hour traffic a bicycle is faster into Cambridge (I raced my wife once to the same destination, was indoors and waiting while she was still looking for parking, never mind the long walk from what she finally found). Traffic in places is bad enough that adding bike facilities (useful, practical ones) induces demand — when lightly locked, sheltered, video-observed bicycle parking was added at the local transit station, it filled right up — and all the other lesser existing racks remained just as full. And each time this happens, it makes the penalty of revert-to-cars that much worse — the freed-up parking spaces at the transit terminal are soon enough filled with new cars.
Another way to put this is that the people who regularly bike into Cambridge, Boston, and Somerville, think that anyone who drives regularly is crazy. Everytime I drive in and have to go on a parking McGuffin, or get stuck in some nutty traffic jam, I feel like an idiot.
In Atlanta, Houston, or Phoenix, it would be completely different. Traffic’s often bad, but the distances are too large, and the heat is not pleasant (I can always add more clothes, but WNBR is only once a year).
Places like Boston or NYC, once we get to a particular bike share (10%?) and stay there for a few years, I think that disaster-if-all-drive is locked in. If the roads are at 95% of freeflowing capacity, adding 10% produces a guaranteed traffic jam.
What I *am* curious about is if there’s a share at which you hit a tipping point, and the conversion starts to happen more or less organically. For example, if businesses decide that they get more customers from 40 feet of (covered? videoed?) bike parking at the curb, rather than two car parking spaces. Whoops, suddenly there’s less car parking.
And the point of the density stats is to show that these opportunities ought to be out there — it’s not all sprawl.
A second stab at calculating how many of us live in dense places, 2010 data, grouping places differently (not the 50K areas used for the other calculation). 17 million of us now live in places 5820/sqmi or denser. 48 million, 4000/sqmi or denser. 89 million, 3000/sqmi or denser.
I’m not so fond of the new definition because it often deals in metro areas (e.g, LA+LongBeach+Anaheim, or NY+Newark, or Boston-MA/NH/RI) which will contain pockets of both higher and lower density — “Boston” contains some very dense cities and towns, yet the entire metro area has a density of 2230/sqmi, which does not seem so high.
But — we’ve clearly got plenty of opportunities to use bikes for transportation, if we care to take them.
Or, by zip code:
17mil live in zip codes with density greater than 13,000 per square mile.
34mil live in zip codes with density greater than 7,370 per square mile
68 mil live in zip codes with density greater than 4,320 per square mile
One third of the country, denser than 2786/square mile.
Half the population lives in zip codes denser than 1292 per square mile, half is less dense. So it is true that quite a lot of us live in places where bikes won’t work so well. However, quite a lot of us live in places where bikes will work just fine, if we care to build the right infrastructure.
I think there is a far better chance of our neighborhood streets – Mississippi, Belmont, Division, etc turning into this than a major arterial. Places that already have the ‘bones’ for placemaking and have an identity can be built upon and modified over time.
That street is about 80% of the way to a carfree street, and those only typically work in very dense areas with lots of foot traffic and some sort of major draw to bring people in. Portland has the Pearl District, South Waterfront, and a few inner neighborhoods that could work. Perhaps Goose Hollow – thats an under-appreciated neighborhood with little car traffic.
I’ve been contemplating that type of thinking this week. If we want a real bike street / neighborhood we might want to start thinking in a different direct. In order to accomplish a real full right of way transformation we are going to need to take some place that is so broken, abandoned and vacant – a ghost town – that no one opposes anything because no one cares, although realistically we might need to buy off 2 or 3 hold outs. So, as Joseph E mentioned, SE 7th and that whole triangle between Sandy / MLK and Morrison might be a possible, and extending up to between Morrison and Burnside eventually has some of that potential although there are still a number of business interests in there. Another might be more realistic – the area west of the Clark County Courthouse in Vancouver, roughly South of Mill Plain to 11th Street (including 11th but not Evergreen) and West of Haney St.
That’s exactly what we are going to do.
Portland is laced with thoroughfares. Amsterdam has canals and little streets instead. Great numbers of people daily use Portland’s thoroughfares to commute by motor vehicle, distances far greater than the 2-3 mile typical bike commute made by people in Amsterdam.
Portland struggles to even pause to consider, let alone proceed with plans for designs, and the commitment…time, inconvenience, money, etc…required for to build a cycle-track accompanying a major thoroughfare such as Foster Rd.
Beyond the infrastructure in the photos is the underlying built form that supports active mobility to function with commerce in a district like this. The more intense residential density in your photos than we have in Portland provides a customer base to support businesses and more importantly for this kind of infrastructure, density within proximity of commercial services to facilitate consumer purchases via active transportation.
What drives urban, and suburban and village landscapes all over Nederland is a Dutch appreciation for some part of the outdoor, built environment to be: genuinely charming, comfortable, cozy; a place to linger for a coffee or beer; a place for conversation, a bit of business done or gossip exchanged; a place for us to shop, and otherwise go about our lives without a lot of motorized racket, danger, pollution and dust. One Dutch word (there is no English counterpart), “gezellijk” embraces all of the above.
I partly agree with Jonathan Maus, “there’s…public support for this type of thing.” The gezellijk mind set is well established in significant chunks of greater Portland, and this mindset is as well a potentially huge economic driver for our Region.
thanks for that Dick.
I think I just figured out what my first tattoo will say. 😉
How does someone with a Dutch name misspell the word gezellig?
spelling counts for tattoos…
Google translates Gezellijk to “Companion Corpse.”
Well, it could still work as long as you put it next to something like a top hat wearing skeleton riding a bicycle.
“We get what we build for” is an excellent quote. I was using “build it and they will come” which means the same thing but relies on faith and trust which is a hard sell especially to local businesses whose livelihoods are at stake.
On car parking, I question your assumption that it limited and expensive. David Hembrow shows that this isn’t the case and that it is quite simple to drive to places like this when necessary BUT people choose to cycle because it is more convenient and usually just as quick if not quicker especially when you can park your bike right at the front of the shops you need to go to.
As to how to get from here to there for American and Australian urban areas, it will most likely require adopting a cycling-first policy across the whole city/town (country even) and not try to change one street (or stroad) in isolation and hope that the idea catches on. Of course there are rare exceptions where something like Jodenbreestraat could be achieved on its own and then perhaps this could be used to convince a whole city to go that way. For most places this won’t be the case so we advocates need to sell the many, many benefits of the required paradigm shift to a cycling-first transport and land use policy.
I envy you your trip! Hoping to do one like it myself sooner rather than later.
In downtown, how about the 10th/11th couplet? Could be interesting, and it extends through the Pearl District. Most of the time, there’s no more auto traffic than one through lane would need. Also, 1st, 2nd and 3rd avenues are possibilities; the entire corner of downtown between Burnside and Stark is certainly ripe for this sort of thing. In general, what if we change how we thought about on-street parking downtown, and only allowed it on one side of the street rather than two on certain streets, and removed a lane of through traffic along with it? That would allow plenty of room to be created for both cycle tracks and bicycle parking…
I agree that SE 7th is low hanging fruit on the eastside; or, even Amsterdam-style street treatments for the whole district from 12th down to the river, with some accommodation for freight uses in the area.
But, what this street really reminds me of is the potential for Hawthorne Blvd — which should NOT be an artery, given that it dead-ends at Mt. Tabor. Through traffic belongs on Powell. Hawthorne should have one lane of car traffic in each direction, cycle tracks, wide sidewalks, bike parking and car parking off-street in strategically-located structures… after all, the only businesses on Hawthorne that don’t already have off-street parking are really only wide enough to have one or two car parking spaces in front of them anyways; how do they think all of their customers arrive already? On foot or bike is how..
Other possibilities? Some of the streets in the Lloyd District, like Multnomah; possibly Lombard in central St Johns (where truck traffic already is routed on a parallel street); east 39th avenue from Hollywood to Holgate (would need some very good urban/street designers to pull that off, but it’s do-able if traffic lights are replaced with traffic circles); Belmont would be perfect for this sort of treatment, up to about SE 50th, and then again in Montavilla; and yes, even Burnside.
Of course most European cities and towns have pedestrian zones in their downtown cores. No car traffic whatsoever (that includes walking your bicycle as well) and parking garages at the outskirts.
Agreed! Reading Jonathan’s posts and looking at the pictures, I was imagining how these treatments could apply to Hawthorne (and Division and Belmont!). The current parking for cars of people shopping on Hawthorne, by the way, is not just on Hawthorne, but the Fred Meyer parking lot, as well as all the adjoining neighborhood streets. I own a house on one of those streets, and I’m fine with that. I get tired of people who buy a house 2 blocks from a major street and then are “shocked!” when people park in front of their houses. That’s life in the big city. I’m fine with four-story buildings with residential above retail on these commercial streets too. It can only add to the customers and bike and ped traffic on these streets. If it means more parking on neighborhood streets, that’s fine. Hawthorne would be such a nicer street to be on that we’d have a higher percentage arriving by active transportation anyway.
Guy with sunglasses is an American: flip flops, shorts, 4 bags of groceries, and not a Dutch bicycle.
All this, and the fact that so many bike trips in Amsterdam are just a mile or so, is made possible by the fact that Amsterdam is a dense city where so many people live close to services and other daily destinations, compared to Portland where we are much more spread out with low, fairly suburban densities in most of the city. A city of 4 to 5 story buildings (and not catering to car convenience) are a Portlander’s worst nightmare, as seen in neighbors’ outrage about “towering” 4-story buildings being built along Division, but that sort of scale and density is typical in even side streets in Amsterdam and Copenhagen. Bicycle advocates can’t just look at the street infrastructure in bringing lessons to Portland. We also need to recognize the role and benefits of compact urban development (yes, this means density) in making this possible. Portland doesn’t need to have 4-story buildings everywhere, but along our main streets is pretty reasonable. As Amsterdam and even smaller Dutch cities show, density is not all bad and 4-story buildings are not scary.
All right Ed I confess. I am a semi-literate Dutch speaker (I was 4 1/2 when my parents immigrated) whose language skills slide badly between trips back there. Consequently I am easily fooled by bad spell check programs. Thanks for the spelling correction.
On the substantive issue of density, tours across Dutch urban, suburban, village and rural areas make it clear that great facilities and a certain mind set are far more determinative of great “bike scenes”. Moreover, over 2 million residents living inside the Multanomah, Washington and Clackamas County Urban Growth Boundaries plus Clark County is already comparable (or more) to places in and around Den Bosch, Eindhoven, etc. We already have a lot of people living in a relatively small land area.
I agree “[D]ensity is not all bad” (Pacific Heights in San Francisco, the Pearl, etc.); and there will be more density in this Region. Some of this new density is or will be occuring on relatively blank canvass (South Waterfront, Conway Properties, the commercial parts of central Beaverton, etc.) with perhaps a bit less nimbyism to interfere with great design.
While all of this looks wonderful, all I can imagine is hordes of thieves and street people simply walking away with all of those bikes.
The Dutch Prize Their Pedal Power, but a Sea of Bikes Swamps Their Capital