Understanding the magic

…and there I was, at an intersection just on the north side of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. It was a random Friday evening in January; about 28 degrees (F) with a sleet rain gently falling. It was here and at a few other places during my walk to the city center where I tried to peal back the layers of the onion. I wanted to further understand Amsterdam’s cycling success.

I used to say that mild weather was a contributing factor, but as I could no longer take video because my fingers were too frozen and I could hardly make out images of bikes from cars owing to the rain and dim lights (see below), I was prompted to further uncover other explanations.  It was not impressive that Amsterdamers biked in the rain and bad weather. We knew that. What was impressive was the shear numbers of people doing so on a Friday evening (after work) in dark and miserable conditions.

Then I came across this–a powerful (yet somewhat related) distillation of what is going on.  I am glad I am not the only one who is mildly confused. The quest continues.




Museum of Parking, mountain west style

CU-Boulder is joining the ranks of other universities by opening the rocky mountain branch of the Museum of Parking.  The signature branch from the University of Minnesota documented here, albeit of the surface parking variety.

As has been reported on and extolled by the Transportationist, this is exciting news for those in the local Museum-going community. [the following is adapted from the Transportationist:] The new facility will help 21st century university faculty, staff, and students study the details associated with the storage of cars, as practiced in 20th century America, taking advantage of CU’s location in a dynamic setting–but this time in a facility intimately connected with the practice of American sports (football). The site will be a living laboratory, not just for the observation of other people parking cars in the traditional mold, but also enabling students and visitors to park cars, by themselves, for a more than a small fee. The value for transportation engineering courses is immeasurable.

Insights into Boulder’s protected bike lane reversal

My current hometown, Boulder (CO), has reportedly been one of the forefront communities for bicycle planning since the mid 1990′s. It is  one of the reasons my family and I decided to move here in 2007. But I have  gone on record questioning whether its reputed position is deserved, particularly over the past few years; legacy affects live on for years. From a sideline perspective (and nothing more), it appears as if city council has lost their “gusto” for aggressive cycling types of initiatives.

The recent dust-up–or more than that–to reverse the protected bike lanes on Folsom street in Boulder, reaffirms this assertion.

In what could easily provide the foundations for an interesting case study in city politics, ‘supposed’ progressive planning, and bicycling,  an article in the ColoradoDaily sheds light on the inner baseball that went on and how the project came undone. I suspect that some facts or perceptions might be slightly mis-represented here, but at least it provides a start.

ps. In reading the recap, remember one of the proverbial tag-lines describing Boulder’s population: “Boulderites are among the most liberal of all people–but only about things that don’t directly affect them.”

How bicycling can save the environment…according to one report

A new report (commissioned by: Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI); European Cyclists’ Federation (ECF); Bicycle Product Suppliers Association (BPSA)) was just released showing that a 10 percent shift in urban cycling globally would save $25 trillion and cut carbon dioxide emissions by about 11 percent by 2050. A summary is here.

The report provides a thorough run-down of current cycling rates (by country) and possible projections. The focus on e-bikes is a welcome addition. After all, two-wheelers (a variation of e-bikes) are the most rapidly growing form of urban mobility in rapidly  developing cities of Asia and increasingly Latin America and Africa. The outstanding question, however, is:  are they often stepping stones to eventual full-blown automobility? Then, are their safety, nuisance, pedestrian-clash impacts greater than those of traditional cars? Motor-assisted versus pedaled two-wheelers are different worlds and present emerging issues, even in Holland.  And, while bikes are becoming more like cars and vice versa, things that resemble bikes still have huge social, cultural, and other hurdles to overcome. 

Here are other notable quotes from notable people about the report that can be found at a third party account of the article.

“The conclusions that if we could increase cycling for more urban travel we could reduce carbon dioxide is intuitively true,” Elliott Sclar, professor of urban planning at Columbia University’s Earth Institute, said. “The importance of the report is that it begins to put numbers on the order of magnitude concerning what such a shift could mean if it came to pass. The degree this can succeed depends upon the degree to which the political climate will permit us to move away from the present BAU (business as usual).”

Ralph Buehler, associate professor of urban affairs at Virginia Tech, called the report “daring” because it comes up with big-picture estimates of global bike use at a time when data on global cycling trends are poor, particularly for developing countries. “The nice thing is, it gives us a look into what’s possible,” Buehler said. “They estimate that bike trips will replace more carbon-intensive trips, and that’s where the carbon dioxide emissions savings will come from. I think the estimates sound reasonable to me.”

Susan Shaheen, director of Innovative Mobility Research at University of California-Berkeley, said the feasibility for a broad urban shift toward cycling depends on the city. “Increased investment in infrastructure that promotes safety and separation from automobiles would likely make scenarios envisioned in this report more plausible,” she said.


Colorado public radio, Going Dutch

Reported from Colorado Public Radio on my first “full, live Howard Stern type” interview this morning….

Boulder, Denver, and Fort Collins consistently turn up on lists of the most bike-friendly cities in the United States. But when it comes to cycling, Americans arguably have nothing on the Dutch.

 In the Netherlands, almost everyone rides a bike – to school, to work, to shops. Cycling, says University of Colorado environmental studies professor Kevin Krizek, is part of the DNA of every citizen in the Netherlands. And yet, there have been very few academic studies of Dutch bicycling.

Krizek has just begun a three-year research project to find out why the Dutch are so fond of cycling. He hopes his findings will help inform urban planners in the United States.

Americana (school buses), stigma, and scooters

In honor of July 4th, here is something that highlights a piece of Americana:

Last week I delivered a talk to Kadinsky College, a middle / high school in Nijmegen (the Netherlands) on the perspectives between Dutch and American school travel. There were the standard and expected differences to highlight (e.g., availability of ubiquitous safe routes for cycling to schools, teaching cycling as part of 2nd grade education, being brought up in a culture where cycling is an integral part of the culture).

But the opportunity to reflect on these matters reminded me of a huge difference that affects how kids get to school; it revolves around something distinctly American: the yellow school bus. In contrast to public school districts in the US  (who spend, on average, 5% of their budget on transport ), schools in other global settings devote little to nothing on transport. Americans often forget how “American” the yellow school bus is. Since its induction in the early 1940′s, it has played a critical role in framing transport options for U.S. school trips more than a few kilometers. While other forms of public transport are more widely available in European settings, their use for school travel tend to be context dependent and limited.

However, the biggest revelations and differences came in the discussion and answer following my talk.

  • Several boys–as young as 12 years old–reported cycling more than 15 km to school, one way, in all seasons. Clearly, there’s something in the water (or the culture).
  • But even here (in the Netherlands), competitive schools have issues with students being chauffeured longer distances to school in cars by parents (i.e., thereby causing congested drop-off zones and the sort) and from nearby auto traffic. See below vid from the entry to school.
  • When the students were asked if they would welcome an electric bike (or a pedal assist), the reaction was luke-warm. The pride of standard, human-propelled cycle holds strong among these kids who were polled.
  • When the students were asked if they would welcome a motor-scooter or moped, the reaction turned even more interesting. The responses from the few vocal students were not interested whatsoever. The reason was attributed to image and stigma.

This notion echoes what I have detected from other sources. In Holland, riding a scooter (or moped) carries a stigma similar to smoking: it is seen somewhat as a behavior reserved for the last strata of the Dutch education system, often referred to in colloquial language as being (VMBO).⁠1

Cultural implications are apparently important. Motorized two wheelers are the most rapidly growing form of urban mobility in many sectors, especially in rapidly developing cities of Asia and increasingly Latin America and Africa. In these developing cities, it appears as if they are stepping stones to eventual full-blown automobility—possibly even seen as tokens of pride. But here in Holland, the land of traditional cycling, the opposite holds true. At least for now. Admittedly, pedaled 2-wheelers (pedelecs) are a different breed.

1 In the current Dutch educational system, following an educational assessment prior to 7th grade, students are roughly routed to one of three schooling options: (1) VWO (the highest level, pre-academic schooling, who usually advance onto the highest form of schooling: ‘university’, (2) HAVO (second highest level, who go on to a ‘ high school’ followed by a Bachelors degree (closest to a usual American college), (3) Vmbo (lowest level of education) which has 4 levels within it. VMBO-T is the highest level within the VMBO, and is often included in secondary schools that offer the highest levels. But, they are apparently all referred as being VMBO.


The ‘tour’ and the buzz – Utrecht

Even on the other side of the country (almost), here in the Netherlands (admittedly, a very small country), one can feel the buzz of the Tour de France that will be starting in Utrecht on Saturday.

The tensions between sport cycling and city cycling still persist in Holland, but in a different way that is difficult to pin down. Either way, here is yet another attempt for Utrecht to put their stamp as the ‘capital of the bicycle kingdom.’ Its all good (love the sarcasm), though a bit overdramatic.


Travel connections, eyes, and wool

It was interesting to see a blue KLM on the streets last night here in Holland. The Dutch airline apparently now provides complimentary bus service to more regional cities—cities that lack an airport. In the land of convenient and ubiquitous rail, the reasons for this seam unclear.

I fully understand that connections are widely considered to be an important bane of travel behavior. People may prefer longer bus or train routes at the expense of having to switch vehicles. Internet sites offer toggle buttons to search only for flights with direct routes. When a transfer involved, regardless of mode, a sigh usually follows. When a transfer is accompanied by the need to wait the sigh turns to grumble. The value of time is weighted even more so when uncertainty is introduced.

The Royal Dutch airlines (KLM) used to fly into Eindhoven, Rotterdam, Maastricht, and Amsterdam (Schiphol). Now they fly only to  Schipol. But apparently they want to claim that they serve a broader array of Dutch cities, seemingly without a major connection or train transport. For example, you buy a ticket directly to Nijmegen (a town lacking an airport). You land in Schiphol and a pimped-out bus will take you the central station in two hours.

But here’s the catch. The bus takes 2 hours; and it only goes 2 times per day (it leaves at 9:00 and 20:00; you might have to wait 12 hours?). The train, the other hand, takes 75% of the time (90 min) and runs, on average, on 20 minute headways.

My guess is that KLM is trying to: (1) play mind-games with customers, encouraging customers to think they are purchasing a seamless connection (i.e., pulling the wool over their eyes), (2) creep into the train market or (3) cater to a higher end customer, who possibly is train adverse but has spare time?  Am I missing something?

City versus sport cycling

CIK5973W8AAqGW2.jpg-largeFew events draw as much attention to cycling as the Tour de France. Lance Armstrong—love him or hate him—did wonders for bringing Americans from all walks of life into cycling; the lure included more people cycling in lycra, but also for city (utilitarian travel) purposes. A rising tide for all (of cycling) usually buoys both sport and city cycling. In many conversations, the two are undifferentiated, even though they demand wildly different infrastructure and (often) draw from different cultures.

But there are conditions when the two clash or  don’t exist harmoniously. I am thinking of: (1) cycle ways with speed restrictions (slower cyclists don’t like the fast ones whizzing by), (2) image issues (at least in the US) of “requiring” lycra to bike to work, (3) excessive gear requirements (e.g., special shoes, coats, types of bikes); and of course (4) the helmet debate (considered imperative for cycling for sport—even in the Netherlands—but never for city cycling). There are other examples where the two clash.

Utrecht (the Netherlands) will be hosting the first stage of the Tour de France on July 4 and one dimension of the clash between sport and city cycling is front and center. The city is banning all bicycles along the route for safety and other reasons (i.e., parked bikes or other, apparently).

Cycling for sport trumps city cycling, even in the Netherlands; at least in this instance.

Safest bike ever built

Yet another derivation of the bicycle was unveiled today, the Babel Bike, claiming to the safest every built. The prevailing worldwide research suggests that a huge impediment to spurring more cycling stems from the safety concerns of current (or potential) cyclists.  These populations are, rightfully so, worried of getting hit by autos. Reducing this psychological fear via any measure to—better protection via infrastructure planning or vehicle design—would likely go a long way.

But an outstanding question is how to retain historical, cultural, or efficiency qualities of the bike while making safety improvements. Newer better forms of bikes are emerging all the time. The protective quality of the Babel bike is a distinguishing feature of such, particularly the role bar.  Over the past two or three years, the cycling industry has been witnessing developments and innovations where bicycles are becoming more like cars and vice-versa. The two modes are migrating toward one another providing new transport opportunities and challenges.

However, relatively speaking, in-trepidation varies by culture and setting. Cyclist safety is considerably lessened in the Netherlands, for example. While realizing that safety concerns largely motivated the initial focused attention toward bicycling in the 1970’s, the overall bicycling environment in Holland is relatively safe. The ‘helmet-free’ habits are testament to this. The Dutch are already protected by the cycle-centric rules of the roads and the way infrastructure is designed. Traffic and other safety concerns (faster moving cars, trucks) are simply less of a nuisance on most streets and intersections, though certainly not all. One can therefore expect the safety benefits of the Babel bike to likely  have less appeal in Holland.

On top of this, the Dutch have developed a passion for the so-called “grandma” bike—cycling in an upright and comfortable manner. This is distinctive and a appreciated part of the social fabric (e.g., cycling next to one another; cycling on the back of the bike). These are traits which have historic and cultural significance which the Babel bike will not be able to replicate.

Thus, one can expect its strongest effect likely to be in those places where cycling presence is strong, cycling conditions are percieved relatively unsafe,  and  where people still are ok being exposed to the elements. Are there such places out of 3 or 4 places in Northern Europe?