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From the Netherlands to America: Translating the World’s Best Bikeway Designs

The Netherlands is widely recognized for having the highest cycling rates in the world. What's not so well known is that the Dutch don't bike so much because cycling is in their DNA. They do it because after the country started down the path toward car dependence, they made a conscious decision to change course. After many decades of deliberate policy to invest in cycling as a mode of transportation, the Netherlands has the most advanced bike infrastructure you'll ever see.

Recenty Streetfilms joined a group of city leaders from Chicago, Washington, DC and Miami on a study tour of the Netherlands, through the Bikes Belong Foundation's Bicycling Design Best Practices Program. The program shows American transportation professionals and policy makers real life examples of what it looks like to invest in cost-effective bicycle facilities. This video takes you on a tour of the incredibly well thought out street designs in the Netherlands. You'll see the infrastructure, hear from the experts on the ground, and watch the tour participants react and imagine how they might implement similar designs in American cities

Elizabeth Press is a Filmmaker for Streetfilms. She joined Streetfilms in 2007 to focus her video work on advocating for better biking, walking and mass transit.

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  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/7995989@N03/ J

    Great video! It's really exciting to see transportation officials from nascent bicycling cities, see the world's best bicycle infrastructure, and hear the specifics about why it was done that way. There's really nothing like 30 years of experience.

  • Ben from Bed Stuy

    Wow oh wow. An amazing video, and I hope the Bikes Belong Foundation does this trip again and again with other city transpo. leaders. Until you visit Holland or Denmark, it's kind of hard to imagine a place where bikes are actually the predominant mode of transport. But when you see it, in person, you can start to experience a whole new outlook on the possibilities that American cities could see if we were to start ramping up our bike infrastructure.

  • Joe R.

    I really love the bicycle superhighways built paralleling the railroad. To me that would be a great way to combine two of my interests-fast cycling and trains. It would also offer fast, cheap transportation over medium distances.

  • Political consultant

    Please send every New York City Council Member on one of these junkets.

  • icarus12

    Seeing is believing.  If we could get this in front of American car drivers' eyes (and bicyclists) it would help us overcome so much political resistance.  Right now, the gains of bicycling in San Francisco are still seen by many as a detriment to others (bus riders and drivers) getting around faster.  This film shows it doesn't have to be so -- it really helps everyone, driver, transit rider, bicyclist alike.

  • Anonymous

    But we need to spend Billions building HOV lanes in one direction for ten miles, even though no one except transit buses will be able to use it due to changes in employment practices, but that's OK because we can sell the "excess capacity" to those who can pay for it.

    http://www.metro.net/projects/I-405/

    http://www.metro.net/projects/expresslanes/

  • Rprpclark

    It looked like the overwhelming majority of riders were 20-50 somethings in ideal weather. I wonder how they, as well as the very young, old and even mildly handicaped fare. Especially in Chicago weather.

  • Albert

    18,000,000 Dutch bicycles, and in 13+ minutes of video, not a single bicycle helmet on a Dutch head.  But every US cyclist shown was wearing a helmet.

    Is it possible that helmet manufacturers are against this kind of safe bicycling infrastructure in the US?

  • Liz Bbarth

    Another awesome Streetfilm!

  • Anonymous

    The Netherlands pretty much has the same weather as the Pacific Northwest (but our terrain is MUCH hillier and we still have some of the highest cycling rates in the country). Rain, rain, rain, clouds, winds, rain, rain, a tiny bit of snow, clouds, clouds, clouds, sun, cloud, clouds. Amsterdam, Seattle, Vancouver, or Portland may not be Chicago weather-wise but my friends in Montreal say people bike through the winters there, which are much harsher than Chicago.

    As far as the age factor, I've witness many families riding bikes together in the Netherlands. Lots of children and teenagers. Mothers usually have the youngest ones with her on her bike. I've also even had an ancient Dutch man overtake me in a cycle track because I was going too slow for him.

    Now, could this sort of infrastructure work in certain American cities? Sure. Chicago, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, and New York are all cities already putting this sort of infrastructure in place.

  • Albert

    Send Manhattan Community Board 8 too.

  • ubringliten

    Well, the mass transit there is excellent and the elderly can always use that.  In Copenhagen, the percentage of cyclists drop from 40% to 30% during the harsh winters but it doesn't mean they get into their cars.  Only 30% of Copenhagen residents own cars.  Oh, the bike paths are snow-plowed.

    Having roads built and designed around bikes would only improve mass transit even more.

  • http://www.brokenoffcarantenna.com Roy Crisman

    In Copenhagen I saw an older woman walking her bike from the train to the street to ride.  One of her legs was bent as such an angle, I don't think should could have walked the distance without some sort of assistance (walker, arm crutches, something).  She WAS wearing a helmet, which wasn't very common.

  • Joe R.

    The funny thing is I really didn't notice the lack of helmets. I grew up long before the bike helmet craze started, so to me it actually seems more normal seeing people riding without helmets than with them. I don't recall seeing significant numbers of people wearing helmets until at least the early 1990s. I still don't wear one. I suspect as we get better infrastructure here in the states, helmets will be mainly used for niche purposes, like trail riding.

  • http://twitter.com/gecko39 fj

    gee.  just came home after yet another person said i should be wearing a helmet, admittedly not for a while now.  well

  • http://twitter.com/gecko39 fj

    conventional mass transit in nyc is actually quite difficult for the disabled and it's not much to make cycling technology highly accessible with recumbent trikes, small electric motors, provisions for personal assists for the visually challenged and the list continues.

    of course they require the absolute bizarre idea that the streets are safe.

  • https://plus.google.com/112576806265718893386 Brandt Absolu

    I didn't watch this video expecting to see familiar faces. Good to see people from my city (Miami) seeing how things are done!

  • Steve O

    I was most amazed by the bike parking lots.  I've never seen so many bikes in one place before.  Totally awesome.
    Also, note the texting cyclist at 2:37!

  • Carljluc

    Merci pour cette belle contribution visible depuis le val de Loire.
    Nous nous sommes permis de reprendre votre vidéo sur notre blog.
    http://bougezautrementablois.over-blog.com/
    Avec l'association VELO41, nous organisons une conférence sur la "Loire à Vélo" à Blois, le vendredi 20 avril au "lobis bar" de 20 h à 22 h. Si vous passez par là, n'hésitez pas...
    Merci encore pour cette belle vidéo
     

  • Jessefbrown

    Wonderfully simple!

  • Morris Zapp

    A lot better than they'd fare in cities with minimal or no facilities for biking and walking, I'd wager.

  • gecko39

    The video above is direct demonstration of extremely early-stage net zero transit is one of the most important critical technologies necessary to dramically reduce emissions now.
    "
    http://thinkprogress.org/romm/2012/03/08/440396/james-hansen-ted-talk-co2-10-years-is-too-late/#comment-371329
    "
    @climateprogress:disqus 

  • JJS

    I think it's great and would love to see this kind of bicycle usage in NYC but it will never happen.  NYC is a very unique situation.  The theft of bicycles alone is a big issue (there's a reason lock manufactures' warranties apply everywhere except in NYC).  The bike parking lot look great but I didn't see any locks.  Also, in NYC motorists don't care about cyclists.  That's why so many cyclists are killed each year.  NYC police ticket cyclists for no reason, many times when no law is broken.  This is part of the culture issue where even the local government is putting in bike lanes just so that they have another revenue stream from the tickets.  If it would happen, it would take decades for things to become bike friendly in NYC.

  • Timo

    the locks are usually placed on the back wheel under the seat, it's actually attached to the bike's frame.

  • Timo

    Also, there are guarded spaces for parking your bike as well

  • gecko39

    believe it.  a major transition could happen overnight. bikeshare will be a major jump. 

    and, imagine if real resources and money ($billions like in southern california) are applied to making nyc a net zero transportation city.

  • http://profiles.google.com/rguico Robert Guico

    Agreed. Here (Chicagoland) the Green Bay Trail and Skokie Valley Trail are both excellent examples... but also in the richest parts of town. I've heard that other railroads are concerned about the liability of having a train knock down passers-by through the sheer force of wind... but apparently that's actually physically impossible.

  • Guatica

    Que bien documental. Elizabeth, felicitaciones. 

  • Anonymous

    Really liked the Chicago councilman who so clearly 'got it' when he talked about the vibrant streets with small scale retail and restaurants thriving because of the cycling. It is so hard to have vibrant street life when the street is a traffic sewer, --loud, stinky, menacing, and too damn fast.

  • Tallycyclist

    Culture is something that often manifests as a result of its surrounding environment and subsequent changes.  The car-centric development in the US has transitioned us to a culture today where most people never cycle for transport and motorist are use to being able to drive fast and not watch out or yield to other modal users.  100 years ago, people could not have imagined how pedestrians would go from having equal or greater priority of the streets to now being dead last on the totem pole and expected to cross at crosswalks, etc.

    Sure NYC isn't going to become like Holland overnight even if all the Dutch infrastructural designs are installed.  Likewise, if Holland imported NYC's driving culture to their cities, I bet they're going to have major issues to sort out.  It may very well take a few decades to transform the US traffic culture into one where cycling is legitimate and respected and equally as mainstream as in Denmark or Holland.  But you have to start somewhere, and the longer we wait the more difficult it will be.  

  • Jasperkunkeler

    The lack of helmets is actually one of the greater problems we face in the Netherlands. Esspecially children need to wear helmets because they are more frail.
    Though you wont win a popularity contest if you wear a helmet in the Netherlands. Helmets look ridiculous in the eye of a dutch person. And besides you dont want to constantly carry a huge helmet besides all the other luggage you are carrying.

  • Bruce

    You're right JJS; it might take decades.  The Netherlands have been focusing on this sort of change for 40 or 50 years, so they're way ahead of us.  How much have things changed here in the last 10 years though?  And how much more rapidly is it changing now than it was at the beginning?  It'll take time, but a change like this is definitely possible.

  • http://www.walkeaglerock.wordpress.com/ Severin
  • http://www.apbp.org/ Kit Keller

    This excellent 14-minute film is a significant tool to help engineers, planners and elected officials advance the discussion (and thinking) about why, how and when we can achieve similar cycling mode share (and fitness levels) in cities in North America. It embodies a common sense approach to transportation policy that recognizes and responds to the extraordinarily challenging issues of our day: high cost of building and maintaining road only infrastructure, unacceptably high fatality rates, sluggish times for local businesses, sedentary children and adults, chronic diseases like diabetes, heart problems, asthma, and cancer, congestion, pollution, peak oil, energy needs, sustainability, community, and simply connecting with others in the places we live, work, play and go to school. Let's make this StreetFilms required viewing for every city council, plan commission and public works commission member in the U.S. and for city, village and town staff as well. Bravo Elizabeth Press! Bravo StreetFilms! 

    The Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals (APBP) will share the link to this film in an enews to our members this week. One of the speakers in the film, David Henderson from Miami-Dade County Metropolitan Planning Organization, participated as an APBP representative on the Int'l Scan on Pedestrian and Bicyclist Safety and Mobility sponsored by FHWA, AASHTO and NCHRP in 2009 (see citation to report below). A key finding was to "encourage transportation policy (at national, State and local levels) that addresses the safety and mobility of walking, biking, and other nonmotorized modes so that these modes are given the highest priority in the road user hierarchy." APBP members like David Henderson are doing this by advancing best practices in the U.S. through outreach, citizen and policy-maker engagement and education (hosting monthly APBP webinars). David coordinated a ThinkBike workshop in Miami in May 2011. Experts from the Netherlands, notably Hilly Talens and Jeroen Kosters who appear in this film, visited Miami to work with locals to improve a particular study area through an on-bike assessment and classroom charrette. Other cities have hosted ThinkBike workshops too and change is beginning to happen in those cities and in other cities through the power of concerted local action. We can do this.

    Posted by Kit Keller, Executive Director, APBP

    P.S. Here is the citation to the Int'l Scan report:
    http://drusilla.hsrc.unc.edu/cms/downloads/PedBikeScan2009_FINAL.pdf

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/QTH2IBQTLTPHCELX4RS6M4W2SY Winthrop

    I saw a ton of signs, curbs, dotted lines, control devices, and all that.  Landscape painters have taken over the whole place  This does not conform to my richest fantasy of the bike friendly city.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/QTH2IBQTLTPHCELX4RS6M4W2SY Winthrop

    Landscape, or cityscape architects should be designing this stuff, please, not engineers.

  • USbike

    The dotted lines indicate that there exist a bike lane, or if on a cycle track means that it's 2-way.  The presence of the white triangles very clearly indicated that you must yield, unlike in the US where few seem to know what they mean.  The curbs and control devices are there so that cyclists and/or pedestrians can cross streets more efficiently and in a safer manner.  Or perhaps you were referring to the 'medians' that separated the cycle track from the street?  Where did you think there was excessive signage?  Compared to what I've seen in the US, it seems pretty minimal to me.  

    The Dutch have a system that is quite the opposite from a shared space street with almost no signage and separation of different modes of traffic.  In my opinion these only work well when car traffic is very low and literally cannot go fast.  Otherwise, like everywhere else, they are just going to end up dominating the space simply because of their size and speed.  

  • Kevin Love

    Winthrop,

    All those control devices vanish in the car-free parts of Dutch cities.  They only exist where there are cars. 

    My richest fantasy of the bike friendly city is a car-free city.  Which, of course, has zero traffic control devices because nobody needs them if there are no cars.

    If it is a bit far to travel to The Netherlands, there is a train leaving New York every day to Toronto.  Toronto has North America's largest car-free urban zone.  Which, of course, has zero traffic control devices.  See:

    http://www.theurbancountry.com/2011/06/no-cars-no-traffic-signals-no-deaths.html

  • Anonymous

    I am a cyclist who has been saved from serious or fatal injury by a bike helmet.  I recently spent several months cycling for transportation in The Netherlands, where I did not wear a helmet.  This was partly because no one else was, partly because it is a safer place to cycle than anywhere in the USA, and partly because I didn't have a helmet and was on a tight budget.

    All readers should be aware that laws mandating helmets are a bad idea.  This is because, as multiple studies have shown, exercise from cycling is a primary benefit to health, whereas the improved safety from wearing a helmet while cycling is a tertiary benefit to health.  Helmet laws inhibit cycling by creating yet another barrier to cycling, with the unintended consequence of actually harming more people (via increased coronary heart disease, et cetera) than they help (via reduced head fractures).

    So, I encourage people to wear a helmet whenever it is convenient, but strongly discourage lawmaker-types from requiring a helmet. 

    My personal solution to the 'extra baggage' issue was to turn my helmet into a baggage carrying tool: extra protection from the elements, headlight front, blinky light back, and built in rear-view mirror.  I pandered to my inner geek by also adding a built-in laser, and a video camera is in the offing.

    Bike infrastructure in The Netherlands is wonderful!

  • Arjen

    This video makes me homesick for my country of origin (which otherwise only happens during ice skating), especially for my old university town Groningen. It really makes my place of residence Eugene, supposedly the most bike friendly city of it's size in the US, look absolutely pathetic.

    Interesting point to me is that during the whole video you see hundreds of bicyclists of all ages and I did not see any of them are wearing a helmet. Bike accidents definitely do happen in the Netherlands, but nobody blames the cyclists for not wearing a helmet. Here in the US I get vilified for not wearing a helmet and cyclists who die in accidents and do not wear a helmet are being blamed for it, even though it has been shown that helmets really do not prevent serious injury in car bicycle collisions (besides a few rare exceptions). The whole strategy in the Netherlands is to make biking attractive for people and that is not achieved by dressing yourself up like you are going to war. That is why wearing a helmet has never been seriously promoted in the Netherlands. Curious that in the video no comment is made about the obvious lack of helmets...

  • Arjen

    NYC is definitely not unique in the theft problem. As a dutchman, I can tell you that the big cities in the Netherlands are notorious for bike theft; it is a massive problem. That's why most of those bicycle parking areas are guarded nowadays.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-Harshbarger/100001115946032 John Harshbarger

     Funny thing is here in Omaha, the only ones you see with helmets are the spandex covered geeks. The real cyclists that use bikes for commuting and getting things done almost never wear them. I myself have lived off my bike now for about 6 years and while I started off with a helmet, I now no longer wear them. Quite simply the science is not there to prove they work. For every study that says they save lives there are others that say they provide no benefit to even causing harm.

  • USbike

    Jasperkunkeler   Perhaps little children could benefit somewhat from helmets.  If all places would promote it only as such, then there's no issues.  But that's not usually what happens.  It starts spreading to older kids and then adults, and then pretty soon most of the society expects you to wear it.  When the media, police, bystanders and general public start to point fingers (in accidents, regardless of fault) at the cyclist for not wearing a helmet and can start shifting blames based solely on that, then you know you have a problem.  Denmark, for instance, is going through the relatively early phases of the helmet promotion.  If this keeps up, I wouldn't be surprised if someday people there start making comments after car-bike accidents like, "well he/she wasn't wearing a helmet."   

  • Lissybetanne

    I moved to atlanta from south florida. After 5 years I plan to pursue a move to a more bike friendly city (within a year). I really miss biking. I am in my low 60's and I found it better for my weight and my mood. It's pretty here but giving up biking is too high a price to pay.
    In the Netherlands I saw people in business wear on their bikes. They were as you say not dressed for war.

  • Lissybetanne

    Decades? So get to work. We don't have time for discussion.  

  • Lissybetanne

    That would take care of that 6 to 10 pound winter weight gain.

  • Metro_welly

    Thank GOD for Europeans who are FAR MORE INTELLIGENT Than MOST others, Especially tN.aMeRiKaNs' 'leader$'   New York was Originally New Amsterdam however it Lost 'contact' with European BRAINS and Hopefully will ReCoNnEcT SooN * O      http://www.streetfilms.org/from-the-netherlands-to-america-translating-the-worlds-best-bikeway-designs/     https://www.google.ca/search?q=why+north+america+is+building+more+bike+paths+videos+photos+maps&hl=en&tbo=u&biw=1024&bih=591&source=univ&tbm=vid&sa=X&ei=IJvHUNWKGsiIiAK3_YGwBg&ved=0CFwQqwQ      

  • Frank Dell

    Wow.  Just great.