Dutch style bicycles are the results of decades of good biking culture and intelligent design: they are durable, they allow to bike in an upright, ergonomic posture, they provide racks for your panniers, and their chainguards prevent your pants from getting stained while also reducing maintenance on the transmission system. As a matter of fact, Dutch style bicycles are great for rainy weather.
But here in the US, and specifically in rainy Seattle, they are nowhere to be found. People don’t ride them, stores don’t sell them, and even some components like chainguards are missing altogether.
Why is so? In my opinion, the social fabric that would use them is missing. Here in the US there are two sides when it comes to biking: the sunny-weekend-only, recreational riders (which ride a good looking bicycle, heavy and with fat tires); and those who ride it daily for ethical or healthy reasons (which usually aim for a speedy and lightweight bike).
So who is missing? John Doe. John Doe isn’t yet using the bike to commute to work or go to the supermarket. And although bike usage keeps growing little by little in the cities, one wonders if in 20 years John will by riding his Dutch bicycle, or he will sitting on a self-driving electric car.
Something apparently so simple, yet so often made wrong. Bike ways are key when it comes to urban planning. And rather than building miles and miles for statistical purposes, one should consider them as the main point to make vulnerable users feel safe.
in order to do so there are a number of points to consider, here are some:
- Bike ways should enable anybody to bike safely.
- Bike dispensers and racks should be placed next to bike ways.
- Bike ways intersections must be designed in order to avoid conflicts.
- Bike ways should cover the whole city, more so in areas with high density.
- Bike ways should be physically separated both from cars and pedestrians.
- Bike ways should be evenly paved since most bicycles have no suspension.
- Bike ways should be placed far away from parked cars to avoid being doored.
- Bike ways should be wide enough to accommodate more than one bike at a time.
- Bike ways should not be used to carry rain water and puddles should be promptly fixed.
- Speed limits should be lowered in the areas surrounding bike ways, if not thruought the city.
- Bike ways should follow a standard through the city, instead of using cyclist as guinea pigs.
- Bike ways should be easy to identify so that people don’t inadvertently drive or walk on them.
- Bike ways should be placed far away from big trees to avoid expensive and often repaves.
- Intersections with bike ways should be kept clear and without plants or objects that obstruct the view.
- Bike ways should be kept as flat as possible and provide alternatives to hills so that everybody can bike.
- Bike ways should be properly illuminated since even the most prepared biker can end up with an exhausted battery.
- Bike ways should be placed far away from highways and dangerous roads, even one block makes a huge difference.
- Bike ways should be paved with red asphalt or bricks, instead of black asphalt painted red or green, to avoid having to repaint them.
Biking in the Netherlands is like a dream: physically separated, perfectly paved bike ways take you all around and make you feel safe while on the road. Children, workers, and retirees commute by bike and they are promoting it more and more.
However, it wasn’t always like that. Back in the 50s and 60s most drove a car, older buildings were destroyed in order to make way for big avenues, pollution and accidents were on the rise.
So, how did they go from then to now?.
I’m sure there were a number of reasons for this radical change, but that first spark was the fact that society realized the number of accidents, dead people, and specially killed children was outrageous. And so they began campaigning: activists demonstrated and occupied in favor of life, everybody’s lives.
Eventually, they got funding in order to design safe urban planning. And they kept demonstrating and pushing towards an increase in bike facilities, lowering speed limits, and so on.
Not to mention the 1973 oil crisis, which multiplied the price of oil and made clear that transportation had to be diversified.
And so now, biking is an essential part of Dutch culture, and increasingly the whole world.