Many of you already know me. For those of you who do not, my name is Marissa Christiansen. I am the Initiative Director for the South Bay Bicycle Master Plan. As our project gains momentum, I will be making regular posts on this forum.
Having recently returned from a European vacation with my husband through Belgium and the Netherlands, I thought I would share some simple, yet overlooked lessons I learned from these titans of bike planning. My husband and I heavily relied upon our fire-engine red rented Mac Bikes to traverse the City of Amsterdam. It was a cold, wet and amazingly entertaining experience.
While the demography, density and general culture of this bike-centric port town is a far cry from our own beach-centric South Bay suburbs, I realized their transportation culture does not have to elude our own streets. Numerous studies have already told us that bike-friendly cities have safer streets, and now I can attest to this from personal experience…
I have never seen more bikes in one compact location than at the bike parking facility outside Amsterdam Centraal (pictured here).
Such a sight prepares you for what you would assume to be chaotic, medieval streets within the dense inner rings of the city, where cars and bikes are constantly at feudalistic odds with one another. This assumption, however, is not reality; with bikes being a more common form of transportation than cars the pace of street traffic is copacetic. Planners and urban designers have long been proponents of multi-modal streets for this very reason.
More importantly though, this city with notoriously narrow streets often flanked by waterways and donned with cobblestone lacks the transportation indignation that we so often experience in our own backyard. Having been to a number of community meetings, workshops, and discussions around bike planning and policy, the most common anti-bike sentiment that we hear in the South Bay goes something like this,
“They [cyclists] take up the entire lane and have no consideration for the traffic they’re holding up…”
While our own rules of the road request that cyclist ride “as far to the right as practicable” these same rules also recognize bicycles as a vehicle entitled to full use of the road. There are no laws that insist cyclists yield to motor traffic. It seems that bike-friendly cities such as Amsterdam have made these finer points of traffic law more salient in their transportation psychology.
Not once when I was riding the streets of Amsterdam did I neither experience nor witness any bike-car hostility, nor did I ever see a frustrated motorist honk their horn or yell an obscenity at a cyclist “blocking” traffic [or vice versa, for that matter]. The city seems to have found its rhythm; all the modes of traffic are aware of one another and have accepted each other as rightful citizens of the roadways. This acceptance is most eloquently illustrated in the studies which show that there are fewer accidents in Amsterdam and bike-oriented cities like it than there are in our own South Bay cities…and far fewer bike fatalities.
I sincerely hope…no, believe that while the South Bay may not be a 16th century densified trading port with decades of practice in progressive bike planning and policy, we too can accomplish a more harmonious, safe and dare-I-say slower road-sharing culture. It starts with the simplistic introduction of prominent and consistent multi-modal road use.
I look forward to working with all of you in this transportation cultural evolution!