Saturday, June 25, 2011

Amsterdam - Day 3 & 4

 All the students arrived, stayed awake all day (most flights arrive here between 8-9am), and gathered for a group dinner to launch the academic program.  It's a great group of students from a variety of disciplines (planning, architecture, sociology, environmental studies, law), good natured, and already very friendly toward each other.  All students received bikes  and we collectively ventured out around town as a group.  While biking here will take some getting used to by everyone, one thing that was common for everyone on their first ride was a giant smile.  It's just so much fun to ride around this city with so many other people.

There are no stop signs in Amsterdam and not too many traffic lights.  So every non-signalized intersection is more or less a four-way yield.  In most cases there is somewhat of a priority direction, but in reality most intersections are just treated as a yield for everyone, meaning most people roll through intersections from every direction.  This includes bikes, cars, and pedestrians.  It looks a little chaotic - especially to our very regulated environments in the U.S. - but the group is preferring to characterize things as a dance.  There is a transportation dance that happens when anyone can go anywhere when it is clear to do so, and not surprisingly, people don't tend to crash into each other.  It's kind of like a dance floor that may be crowded with people moving in all directions, but rarely do people actually bump into one another.  The video above is a short demo of this dance.

 I think this is a cool picture - very colorful and captures the intensity of bikes.   We couldn't figure out, though, how one would actually get their bike out, since they are all leaning on each other.  Another mystery to answer.  Luckily we got an answer to "how does one find their bike?" (see previous blog entry).  Bikes are locked in a variety of ways.  All bikes have a rear tire locking mechanism where there is a clamp permanently attached to the bike with a key permanently inserted while it is unlocked.  For short-term visits to shops or at the park, you just stop your bike seemingly anywhere (against a building, along the sidewalk (but not blocking where people would walk), near a tree, or similar open space), quickly turn the key and engage the clamp and go on your way.  For these daytime trips, few people tether their bikes to anything permanent.

It's quite liberating to not deal with a helmet (very little helmet use, but much better safety statistics) or a lock, and to have a step through frame that is easy to get on and off the bike.

For overnight locking, most people have a heavy chain that they tether their bike to a permanent object - bike racks, street poles, basement window grates, etc.  There is a big bike theft problem, but apparently a good chunk of thefts are overnight with untethered bikes.  The picture on the right shows my bike locked overnight to a bike rack - the heavy chain connects the frame and front tire to the bike rack and the rear tire clamp is engaged (it is the black circular thing going through the back tire just behind the seat).  Also notice the bike rack design - there are two elevations for front tires - this is to accommodate the density of bikes as well as the upright handlebars, which make it difficult for bikes to be parked next to each other at the same elevation and in a way that one can get their bike out easily (see leaning bikes above).

 This picture is just a plaza. A minimal amount of white striping indicates where bikes should be parked. In some plazas there are rectangle shaped bike parking designated areas - somewhat obeyed - and some there are no markings. I have no doubt that at one time these plazas became overly cluttered and difficult to access on foot and I love how a small bit of paint can nudge behavior in a certain direction. And if it has not become clear yet from these posts, there is absolutely nothing unique about the number of bikes parked in this plaza - it's just a normal scene.

Something somewhat abnormal is this somewhat famous image to those who engage in any way in bicycle transportation planning. In the background is a three level, exclusively bike parking structure. It is always full and totally impressive.

Here is just another scene from the inner core of Amsterdam - a dad and daughter coming home from school. This is definitely a commercial and tourist heavy area of town, but you still see the volume of bikes parked - none of which is tethered to any fixed object.

And finally, one more image of one of those go-carts with a shell, expertly modeled by Ted to show just how small these vehicles are. I'd call Ted average-height, so you get the picture.

Today the group has some free time to meander around town, get lost, get found, get lost again, and hopefully by 5:15 find themselves at the Anne Frank House for a group tour.

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