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.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Amsterdam - Day 5 (?)

Today was another great day.  We started the day off with a two hour lecture and engaging discussion on transportation decision making norms in the United States so that we can begin to understand the information we'll be receiving from local officials as the work week begins.

We then stopped at a market for picnic supplies to take on our first length ride outside the city to see what bicycle infrastructure in more rural areas is like.  The short answer - it's incredible and just as robust as in the Amsterdam itself.  We left Amsterdam by bike along a canal and just kept going along that canal until we hit the next town about 15km away or so.  To the right is the group - still smiling - half way on our way to Ouderkerk to take in a windmill.

The rural roads are design in a pretty cool way to accommodate multiple types of users.  Basically, there is a center car lane that is two-way and a bike lane in each direction on the side.  The middle lane is not wide enough to allow cars to pass one another without utilizing some space in the bike lane.  Cyclists have the right of way, so if there are cyclists present in a bike lane cars cannot merge over at all.  If no bike is present, then cars can move over to pass one another.  If cyclists are present on both sides and two cars come at each other, the cars will slow down until one can merge over when a gap of cyclists appears.  In the extremely rare event that there are cyclists on both sides for a long time while two cars approach each other, those cars will come to a complete stop until one of the vehicles can merge into a clear bike lane for the temporary passing.

The great thing about this system is that there is almost never a need for this last situation to appear - it is a rural area with few vehicles and always space and gaps between cyclists.  Cars do frequently slow down and scan the distance to see if and how to pass another vehicle and it works itself out.  Cars definitely yield to cyclists and do not really do anything intimidating.  Biking in that environment never felt uncomfortable or threatening; in fact it felt the opposite - thrilling, joyful, safe, and comfortable.  The movie above shows a bit how it works.

More kids cycling.  And smiling.

A woman biking with her dog up front.

 We then made it to our destination, found a canal, and pulled out quite the picnic spread and just rested, ate, talked and watched families coming and going by boat in the canal.  Here is Chloe hydrating and having a good time.  It was a picture perfect location, with one student saying it looked just like a movie set.  of course, it was the real thing.
Here is KK taking a break to document the place via watercolor.  All students are keeping a journal of their experiences as part of the course assignment, although students are free to choose the method of their documentation.  The graphically talented are choosing visual ways, like sketching and water coloring to capture their experiences.

This is a great group of students in many ways, but one of them is that they are just interested in lots of things. So when the two architecture students said they wanted to visit some famous architectural site, many others decided to go along and learn a little about how architects see the world and view their craft.  We ended up visiting two places.  The site in the picture below is an adaptive re-use project that I couldn't quite wrap my head around its uniqueness and why it is known.  I am really trying to understand what makes architects tick, but it is still a process and can't quite get as enthusiastic about small design details on buildings.  I'll keep trying.
 The picture below is from the roof of NEMO, a hands-on science museum in the form of a sunken ship.  The top of the building is this fantastic public space with a fantastic view of the city, plus it is populated with oversize game pieces to play - chess, Connect Four, Dominoes.  We had not planned to be here, but it too was designed by a famous architect, and while I still couldn't get excited about small things, we all enjoyed this fantastic, rooftop public space.  It was a great place to take a rest after a long ride and day in the sun. 
And rumor has it that a frisbee is making its way out and will be accompanying some students to an adjacent park for an evening toss (it's 8:30pm and couldn't be lighter outside).  It's been a great day - lots of learning, experience by doing, and developing some great relationships.