Saturday, July 2, 2011

Amsterdam Trip - Mostly More Bike Parking Edition

I'm now in the Portland airport waiting for a flight back to Eugene and have multiple days to report on in Amsterdam.  The last 4 days have been so packed, there has been little time to write.  In addition, I have moved on to reflecting more than reporting, although I'll try to do a bit of both below and/or in another post given there is so much to say.  (Linked at the bottom of the page are blogs from students that have some incredible insights and images and perspectives.)

First a few general things:
  1. The students on the trip were (are) incredible.  They were together a very filled eight days, often starting at 7:30am and ending around 2am that evening (I would leave them around 11:30pm when dinner finished).  They were engaging, responsible, funny, inclusive, committed, and just great.  In our 13 students, I think five different disciplines were present and the discussions were awesome.  They are all posing on the Amsterdam sculpture in the picture above.
  2. We all agreed that it makes no sense to begin a conversation in the US by saying "In the Netherlands...", yet we all deeply felt that people in the Netherlands seem to have gotten it right.  We visited a variety of places that each had their own approaches, but overall we all felt it would be hard to argue with organizing urban spaces to be so easy and logical for all people to move around by bike.
  3. I was asked what the bike culture was like in Amsterdam.  I didn't see one.  I just saw people biking - men in business suits, women in nice dresses, students, tourists, and everything in between.  No gear, no helmets, no fancy bikes.  Separate bike paths for the most part.  No stop signs.  And very little anger.  People need to share space in a city and it seemed to all flow well.  Yes, no stop signs.  Thing about doing that on all neighborhood streets where you live - what do you think would actually happen if all the stop signs were removed?  Chaos with collisions or organized chaos without?  We've observed that human beings seem to have a desire not to want to crash into things, so removing stop signs seems to actually improve the flow of everybody (bikes, pedestrians, and vehicles!).
  4. In each city we visited, we were greeted and showed around by a traffic engineer.  It was difficult for me to imagine the same being done in any US city, where our traffic engineers have received no training on bicycle transportation and have very little personal experience with it.  For some reason, we have declared the car to be the default mode of transportation and the one we train our professionals on, and any other mode of transportation is a deviation from the norm.  I'm curious where the document that dictates this universal training is that says transportation = cars.
 Here is just one area of bike parking at the central train station in Amsterdam.  An earlier blog post showed the three level structure from the other side, but here it is along with all the additional parking around the structure.  Amsterdam is building a new 10,000 bike parking facility at its train station, which the City of Utrecht laughs at because they are building one for 20,000.
Staying on parking - the picture above is something to consider for any community or city.  This image is of a combined car parking and bike parking structure.  The bike parking occupies about 3/4 of a level (basement level) and car parking occupies the three levels above.  They hold roughly the same number of "vehicles".  The cost to park three levels of cars is tremendous compared to the cost to park the same number of bikes.  And given that the average US car occupancy (for work trips) is 1.05 people per vehicle, then it is fair to say that car drivers require at least three times the space to house their vehicles compared to bikes.  (This is actually a conservative number as one on-street car parking space can be converted to 8 bike parking spaces.  One customer or eight? )

Keeping on the bike parking theme, here is another facility - in Houten - that was just completed directly under the train station.  Completely filled with bikes, legitimate space treating people on bikes as real, legitimate people.  Nicely modeled by Rithy.

There is talk about the EMU (student union) on campus at the University of Oregon is going to be completely re-done and may include a car park in the center of campus.  What if it did two things: 1) provided this type of bicycle parking integrated into it (10,000 spaces?); and 2) eliminated all other campus car parking so that we no longer stored metal boxes for hours on end on the most important and valuable campus land?

The reality of most bike parking we saw, though, looked like the picture to the right. Bikes parked near stores, or apartments, or offices, or wherever people were going, not tethered to anything but chained to itself, giving users door to door access by bike.  Some may think it looks junky, but I found it to be beautiful to see so many bikes being used and parked.  I found it much more beautiful than surface lots full of parked cars impeding on an urban fabric that requires life and places close together.


  1. Hi this blog is really good. I share this blog to my friend. This is really great job man. Keep update to your blog and keep posting realistic and good. The travels is more competion to our world. All the best for your future process good keep it up bye...

  2. Mark-
    Have you read Jane Jacobs or James Kunstler? It's all rooted in the history of GM, Standard Oil, Robert Moses, Disney, etc. We're going to be working through the next 25 years undoing what we did to ourselves over the past 40 years. Most engineers today grew up in a family that left the City for the suburbs and have enjoyed the lifestyle a two car family affords. The hope is that with programs like yours we won't be retraining professionals from their university experience. Unfortunately, your class (and mine) is the minority of curriculum right now.