Something hopeful in Rotterdam
September 01, 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.
We biked across the Atlantic today—at least if felt that way to a delegation of transportation leaders from the San Francisco Bay Area visiting the Netherlands to study the world’s most successful bicycle system.
Today our tour swung through Rotterdam, a city that struck us as almost American. We came face-to-face with familiar road conditions as we cycled through the city: crowded streets, heavy traffic, and aggressive drivers.
Our optimism about increasing biking in the U.S. heightened when we learned that 22 percent of trips around Rotterdam each day are made on bicycles—below average among Dutch cities but more than double the rate of any major American city. Because Rotterdam reminded us of home—skyscrapers and modern architecture, wide streets, and speeding drivers—it doesn’t seem outlandish that American towns might enjoy similar levels of biking someday.
Bob Ravaiso, a Marin County businessman and city council member in the town of Corte Madera, quipped that “Utrecht seems like a fantasy land now,” referring to the charming Dutch city we biked through on Monday where almost a third of residents travel by bike.
“Rotterdam could be San Francisco or Oakland with more bikes,” added Damon Connolly, vice-mayor of San Rafael, California.
Even more encouraging was the news from Tom Boot of the city’s planning department that Rotterdam has been increasing its share of bike traffic by 3 percent annually for the last several years. They’ve achieved this phenomenal growth by expanding and improving the network of bikeways—separating some of them from car traffic and coloring the asphalt red everywhere else to clearly mark bike lanes.
“Good things are happening here,” observed Bruno Maier, vice-president of Bikes Belong, “and you can really envision it happening back home in a place like the Bay Area.”