An interesting article on bicycles

An article from the Wall Street Journal on how
The Netherlands and Denmark (and others) are using bicycles to reduce

Building a Better Bike

cities in Europe are launching

new attack on car
culture. Can the U.S. catch up?


May 4, 2007; Page

COPENHAGEN — No one wears bike
helmets here. They’re afraid they’ll mess up their hair. “I have a big head and
I would look silly,” Mayor Klaus Bondam

People bike while pregnant,
carrying two cups of coffee, smoking, eating bananas. At the airport, there are
parking spaces for bikes. In the emergency room at Frederiksberg Hospital on
weekends, half the biking accidents are from people riding drunk. Doctors say
the drunk riders tend to run into

Flat, compact and temperate, the
Netherlands and Denmark have long been havens for bikers. In Amsterdam, 40% of
commuters get to work by bike. In Copenhagen, more than a third of workers pedal
to their offices. But as concern about global warming intensifies — the
European Union is already under emissions caps and tougher restrictions are
expected — the two cities are leading a fresh assault on car culture. A major
thrust is a host of aggressive new measures designed to shift bike commuting
into higher gear, including increased prison time for bike thieves and the
construction of new parking facilities that can hold up to 10,000

The rest of Europe is paying
close attention. Officials from London, Munich and Zurich (plus a handful from
the U.S.) have visited Amsterdam’s transportation department for advice on
developing bicycle-friendly infrastructure and policies. Norway aims to raise
bicycle traffic to at least 8% of all travel by 2015 — double its current level
— while Sweden hopes to move from 12% to 16% by 2010. This summer, Paris will
put thousands of low-cost rental bikes throughout the city to cut traffic,
reduce pollution and improve

The city of Copenhagen plans
to double its spending on biking infrastructure over the next three years, and
Denmark is about to unveil a plan to increase spending on bike lanes on 2,000
kilometers, or 1,240 miles, of roads. Amsterdam is undertaking an ambitious
capital-improvement program that includes building a 10,000-bike parking garage
at the main train station — construction is expected to start by the end of
next year. The city is also trying to boost public transportation usage, and
plans to soon enforce stricter car-parking fines and increase parking fees to
discourage people from driving.

that immigrants might push car use up, both cities have started training
programs to teach non-natives how to ride bikes and are stepping up bike
training of children in schools. There are bike-only bridges under consideration
and efforts to make intersections more rider-friendly by putting in special

The policy goal is to have
bicycle trips replace many short car trips, which account for 6% of total
emissions from cars, according to a document adopted last month by the European
Economic and Social Committee, an organization of transportation ministers from
EU member countries. Another report published this year by the Dutch Cyclists’
Association found that if all trips shorter than 7.5 kilometers in the
Netherlands currently made by car were by bicycle, the country would reduce its
carbon-dioxide emissions by 2.4 million tons. That’s about one-eighth of the
amount of emissions it would need to reduce to meet the Kyoto

Officials from some American
cities have made pilgrimages to Amsterdam. But in the U.S., bike commuters face
more challenges, including strong opposition from some small businesses, car
owners and parking-garage owners to any proposals to remove parking, shrink
driving lanes or reduce speed limits. Some argue that limiting car usage would
hurt business. “We haven’t made the tough decisions yet,” says Sam Adams, city
commissioner of Portland, Ore., who visited Amsterdam in 2005. There has been
some movement. Last month, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a proposal
to add a congestion charge on cars and increase the number of bicycle paths in
the city. It would also require commercial buildings to have indoor parking
facilities for bikes.

Even in
Amsterdam, not everyone is pro-biking. Higher-end shops have already moved out
of the city center because of measures to decrease car traffic, says
Geert-Pieter Wagenmakers, an adviser to Amsterdam’s Chamber of Commerce, and now
shops in the outer ring of the city are vulnerable. Bikes parked all over the
sidewalk are bad for business, he

Still, the new measures in
Amsterdam and Copenhagen add to an infrastructure that has already made biking
an integral part of life. People haul groceries in saddle bags or on handlebars
and tote their children in multiple bike seats. Companies have indoor bike
parking, changing rooms and on-site bikes for employees to take to meetings.
Subways have bike cars and ramps next to the

Riding a bike for some has more
cachet than driving a Porsche. Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende
sometimes rides to work, as do lawyers, CEOs (Lars Rebien Sorensen, chief
executive of Danish pharmaceutical giant Novo Nordisk, is famous for his on-bike
persona) and members of parliament, often with empty children’s seats in back.
Dutch Prince Maurits van Oranje is often seen riding around town. “It’s a good
way to keep in touch with people on the streets,” says Tjeerd Herrema, deputy
mayor of Amsterdam. Mr. Herrema’s car and driver still make the trip sometimes
— to chauffeur his bag when he has too much work to

Jolanda Engelhamp let her
husband keep her car when they split up a few years ago because it was becoming
too expensive to park. Now the 47-year-old takes her second-grade son to school
on the back of her bike. (It’s a half-hour ride from home.) Outside the school
in Amsterdam, harried moms drop off children, checking backpacks and coats; men
in suits pull up, with children’s seats in back, steering while talking on their
cellphones. It’s a typical drop-off scene, only without

For Khilma van der Klugt, a
38-year-old bookkeeper, biking is more about health and convenience than concern
for the environment. Her two older children ride their own bikes on the
25-minute commute to school while she ferries the four-year-old twins in a big
box attached to the front of her bike. Biking gives her children exercise and
fresh air in the morning, which helps them concentrate, she says. “It gets all
their energy out.” She owns a car, but she only uses it when the weather is
really bad or she’s feeling especially

Caroline Vonk, a 38-year-old
government official, leaves home by bike at 8 a.m. and drops off her two
children at a day-care center. By 8:15, she’s on her way to work, stopping to
drop clothes at the dry cleaner or to buy some rolls for lunch. On the way home,
she makes a quick stop at a shop, picks up the children and is home by 5:55. “It
is a pleasant way to clear my head,” she


The programs for
non-natives target those who view biking as a lower form of transportation than
cars. “If they don’t start cycling it will hurt,” says Marjolein de Lange, who
heads Amsterdam’s pro-bicycle union Fietsersbond and has worked with local
councils to set up classes for immigrant

On a recent Sunday afternoon, 23
women — many in head-scarves — gathered at a recreational center north of
Amsterdam to follow seven Fietsersbond volunteers to learn to navigate through
traffic. The three-hour event cost ?3 (about $4) and included practice
weaving in and out of orange cones and over blocks of wood. It ended with all of
the women gathering in a park for cake and

Though she faltered at times,
Rosie Soemer, a 36-year-old mother of two who came to the Netherlands from
Suriname, was sold. “It is so much easier to go everywhere by bike,” she says.
Learning to ride was her husband’s idea: He bought her a bicycle for her
birthday a few months earlier and has been spending his lunch hour teaching her
in a park. “It helps me if she can get around better,” says her husband, Sam
Soemer. “And it’s safer than a

Amsterdam and Copenhagen are
generally safer for bikers than the U.S. because high car taxes and gasoline
prices tend to keep sport-utility vehicles off the road. In Denmark, the tax for
buying a new car is as high as 180%. Drivers must be over 18 to get a license,
and the tests are so hard that most people fail the first few times. Both cities
have worked to train truck drivers to look out for bikers when they turn right
at intersections, and changed mirrors on vehicles and at traffic corners so
they’re positioned for viewing

As bike lanes become more
crowded, new measures have been added to address bike safety. A recent survey
found that people in Denmark felt less safe biking, though the risk of getting
killed in a bike accident there has fallen by almost half. (The number of
bicyclists killed fell to 31 in 2006 from 53 in 2004, and the number seriously
injured dropped to 567 from 726 in that period.) According to one emergency
room’s statistics, the primary reason for accidents is people being hit by car
doors opening; second is cars making right-hand turns and hitting bikers at
intersections; third is bike-on-bike crashes. Bike-riding police officers now
routinely fine cyclists in Amsterdam who don’t have lights at

Parking for

Amsterdam is also working to
improve the lack of parking. The city built five bike-parking garages over the
past five years and plans a new one every year, including one with 10,000 spaces
at the central railroad station. (While there’s room for 2,000 bikes now, there
are often close to 4,000 bikes there.) But even garages aren’t enough. Bikers
usually want to park right outside wherever they’re going — they don’t like
parking and walking.

Combating theft is
an important plank in developing a bike-friendly culture. In 2003, the city
created the Amsterdam Bicycle Recovery Center, a large warehouse where illegally
parked bikes are taken. (Its acronym in Dutch is AFAC.) Every bike that goes
through AFAC is first checked against a list of stolen bikes. After three
months, unclaimed models are registered, engraved with a serial number and sold
to a second-hand shop. At any one time, the center has about 6,000 bikes neatly
arranged by day of confiscation, out of an estimated total of 600,000 bikes in
the city.

How AFAC will encourage bike
riding in Amsterdam is a somewhat perverse logic, because it means some 200
bikes are confiscated by city officials a day compared to a handful before it
existed. The thinking is that the more bikes that are confiscated, the more
bikes can be registered and the better the government can trace stolen bikes.
The less nervous people are that their bikes will be stolen, the more likely
they are to ride. “Is your bike gone? Check AFAC first,” is the center’s

Remco Keyzer did just that on a
recent Monday morning. The music teacher had parked his bike outside the central
station before heading to a class and returned to find it gone. “I can be mad,
but that really wouldn’t help me,” he says. Sometimes people ride away without
paying the required fee. Bruno Brand, who helps people find their bikes at AFAC,
says people get mad, but he explains it is the local police, not him, who
confiscated the bike.

Within the past
four years, the city increased the fine for buying or selling a bike in the
street. Punishment for stealing a bike is now up to three months in

Danish and Dutch officials say
their countries might have been more congested if protests in the 1970s and
1980s had not sparked the impetus for building bicycle-lane networks. The
arguments for more biking were mostly about health and congestion — only in the
past year has the environment started to be a factor. Proponents of better
infrastructure point to China as an example: In Beijing, where the economy has
boomed, 30.3% of people commuted to work on bikes in 2005, down 8.2% from 2000,
according to a survey by the Beijing Transportation Development Research Center
and Beijing Municipal Committee of

Now, the Dansk Cyklist
Forbund, the Danish Cyclist’s Federation, says that to make progress it can’t be
too confrontational and must recognize that many bikers also have cars. “Our
goal is the right means of transportation for the right trips,” says director
Jens Loft Rasmussen.

In comparison, the
rules of the American road can take some adjustment, as Cheryl AndristPlourde
has found when she visits her parents in Columbus, Ohio. Last summer, the
Amsterdam resident enrolled her 8-year-old daughter in a camp close to her
parents’ house. The plan was for her daughter, who biked to school every day
back home, to walk to camp. But her daughter whined about the 10-minute walk —
all the other kids drove, she said — and the streets were too busy for her to
bike. By the third day, Ms. AndristPlourde was driving her daughter to the

Bike-Friendly Cities in the
A number of towns have recently focused on
making roads more accessible to bicycles. Here are some of the top spots chosen
by the Bicycle Friendly Community Campaign from the League of American
Bicyclists, an advocacy group based in Washington,

Boulder, Colo. 97% 21% Boulder has spent an average 15% of its transportation budget on building and maintaining bicycle traffic over the past five years. The goal is to create a system that’s “equitable for all users,” with no hierarchy among pedestrians, cars and bikes, says Marni Ratzel, who runs the city’s program.
Chicago 11% 1-2% Mayor Richard Michael Daley bikes to work, setting the example for this city, which released an ambitious new bike plan last year. The goal: making all of Chicago’s streets safe and convenient for cycling.
Davis, Calif. 95% 17% Mostly flat and temperate, this town’s logo is a bicycle; it has more bikes than cars and is the only place to earn platinum status on Bicycle Friendly Community’s list of top cities. The city is about to build a $1.7 million bike-only tunnel under a major road.
Madison, Wisc. About 37% 3.2% There are 32 miles of bike lanes, 35 miles of bike paths and more than 100 miles of signed bike routes. On University Avenue, the major street in the downtown and University of Wisconsin campus area, there can be over 10,000 bicyclists a day — plus 30,000 cars.
Palo Alto, Calif. 13% 5.7% Along with the bike lanes on roads, the city also has nine miles of bike paths. In 2004 it spent about $5 million on a rail line under-crossing and $1.5 million on a 0.8-mile bike path.
Portland, Ore. 28% 5.4% Though there are lots of hills and rain, this city has 163 miles of bike lanes. All but two bridges accommodate bicyclists. There’s still a long way to go: The city still has 38 miles of bike lanes left in order to achieve its master plan. But in some neighborhoods bike commuters are as high as 9%.
San Francisco About 4% 2.1% In November 2003, San Francisco voters approved a half-cent sales tax measure, estimated to total $2.6 billion over 30 years. Of that, $56 million (a little more than 2%) will go to bike-related projects.


There are no revisions for this post.

Posted in The Netherlands,

Comments are closed.