First European Best Practices trip educates and inspires
October 08, 2009
Bikes Belong hosted nine U.S. and Taiwanese transportation leaders, Aug. 30-Sept. 3, in a successful inaugural tour of state-of-the-art Dutch and German bicycling facilities. The research trip was part of Bikes Belong’s new Bicycling Design Best Practices project that focuses on improving U.S. bicycling infrastructure by encouraging the implementation of innovative, successful models of bike facility design, engineering and promotion.
Elected officials, engineers and transportation planners from Missouri, Wisconsin, Minnesota, California, and the Taiwanese city of Taipei participated. Bike facility professionals from the Netherlands, Germany, and the U.S-based Bikes Belong staff and board guided the group. Each of the four cities and counties that received $25 million in funding through the Federal Non-Motorized Transportation Pilot Program was represented.
The trip began in Utrecht, the fourth-largest Dutch city and a major transportation hub for the country. Trip participants studied Utrecht’s innovative intersection signals and bicycle parking facilities, which are designed to make fast and easy transfers from bike to the busy Central Train Station. Central Utrecht has more than 11,000 bicycle parking spaces, but only about 6,000 stalls for cars.
The group then visited the small towns of Deventer and Nijmegen. Deventer recently completed a $7 million, 90-foot tunnel underpass of a major highway, providing safe connections for cyclists and pedestrians between the adjacent neighborhood and central city. In Nimegen, participants studied a newly constructed “bike highway” – an elevated structure with wide bicycle paths designed to carry high volumes of bicyclists between the two key areas of the town.
The third day was spent riding in the European metropolis of Amsterdam. Visiting engineers and planners observed design and traffic management techniques pioneered by Holland’s largest city for improving bicycling conditions in a dense, urban environment. Half of all trips made in Amsterdam are on bike; the city has more than 250 miles of bicycle paths and lanes.
The trip concluded at the end of day four in Muenster, Germany, where more than 38 percent of all trips are made by bike. Unlike the ancient medieval streets of many Dutch towns, Muenster was almost entirely reconstructed after World War II and closely resembles the scale and traffic density of many U.S. cities. Its innovative intersection modifications and extensive bikeway network have made it the one of the most advanced bicycling cities in Northern Europe.
“This first trip met all of our objectives,” said Tim Blumenthal, executive director of the Bikes Belong Foundation that sponsors the Bicycling Design Best Practices project and its research trips. “The U.S. elected officials and planners in our group were unquestionably inspired by the innovative, cost-effective facilities they saw in the Netherlands and Germany. Getting the chance to actually ride them and then hear directly from local officials about the costs and processes of creating these facilities made this an instructive, real-life experience. We know these transportation leaders returned home with new enthusiasm and knowledge to help improve riding conditions in their hometowns.”
Many European nations have steadily increased bicycle use for short trips by making bicycling safer, more convenient, and more appealing for adults and children. These nations are now realizing important, direct benefits from increased cycling, such as reductions in air pollution, road congestion, urban parking infrastructure costs, and perhaps most important, better health and lower rates of obesity.
Bikes Belong plans to conduct several European transportation research trips in 2010, and will invite elected officials, planners, engineers and journalists to participate. Bikes Belong also plans to host domestic U.S. best practices excursions that will guide elected officials, planners, and engineers through leading bike-friendly cities such as Portland, Oregon; Minneapolis; Davis, California; and Bikes Belong’s headquarters city, Boulder, Colorado.
Bikes Belong also plans to help evaluate and disseminate state-of-the-art practices in roadway design, with the hope that U.S. cities will find it easier to design and build bicycle facilities that reflect the latest innovations in this rapidly evolving field.