Bay Area leaders seek bicycle facility innovations in the Netherlands
August 29, 2010
During a period of unprecedented momentum for urban bicycling in the U.S., the Bikes Belong Foundation is leading a fact-finding trip to the Netherlands to bring home European transportation best practices. Eleven city leaders from the San Francisco Bay Area will spend a week in four Dutch cities between August 29 and September 4. This trip is part of Bikes Belong's Bicycling Design Best Practices Project.
Transportation writer and editor Jay Walljasper is accompanying the delegation on the trip to the Netherlands to chronicle the events, observations, and inspirations gained by the tour. The BIkes Belong newsfeed will feature his blog posts this week.
By Jay Walljasper
On a rainy night in Utrecht, a batch of latter-day explorers gathered in a hotel basement to meet one another and prepare for their quest: discovering what American communities can learn from the Netherlands about elevating bicycles from the vehicle of choice for a tiny, hard-core sliver of the population into a true component of the transportation system used daily by men, women, and children.
Patrick Seidler, vice-chairman of the Bikes Belong Foundation, sponsor of this fact-finding mission for public officials from the Bay Area, announced we were in search of the “twenty-seven percent solution”—the health, environmental, and community benefits to be discovered in a nation where more than a quarter of all daily trips are made on two wheels.
Of course, the bicycle enjoys certain advantages in the Netherlands, including a remarkably flat landscape, a long cycling tradition, and a densely packed population (16 million people in a country only twice the size of New Jersey).
But the idea of learning from the success of the Dutch is not at all far-fetched. It resembles the United States as a prosperous, technologically advanced nation where a huge share of the population owns automobiles. They simply do not choose to drive them each time they leave home, thanks to common sense transportation policies where biking and transit are offered as convenient and safe options.
Seidler pointed out that a delegation of public officials from Madison, Wisconsin, recently returned home from a Bikes Belong tour of the Netherlands, and within three weeks were implementing what they learned on the streets of the city.
The current team of explorers includes the president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors (city council) and the city’s director of public works, chief traffic engineer and director of the livable streets program. From San Jose, come a city council member, the chief traffic engineer and representatives of the business community. Suburban Marin county is represented by city council members from its leading cities, San Rafael and Mill Valley, as well as transit agency and real estate leaders. They are joined by Bikes Belong transportation experts Patrick Seidler, Bruno Maier, Zach Vanderkooy, and Kate Scheider (who will be tweeting from the streets of Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and the Hague).
I will be blogging regularly about all that we discover. I have been writing about transportation issues for more than twenty years as the former editor of Utne Reader and currently as contributing editor of National Geographic Traveler, senior fellow of Project for Public Spaces, editor of OnTheCommons.org, and author of the Great Neighborhood Book. Stay tuned.