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Bicycle Anecdotes From Amsterdam

Here we present our final — and most informative — Streetfilm from Amsterdam. It provides a nice cross-section of commentary on life in the City of Bikes. If you’d like to skip directly to a certain section, use this table of contents:

0:17 Rejecting the Automobile
2:15 A bike system that works for everyone
4:05 There’s a science to what looks like “bicycle chaos”
5:55 Coming to The Netherlands from the United States
7:33 Dutch Bicycle Culture

Make sure you check out our other Streetfilms from Amsterdam: No, Amsterdam is Not “Swamped” By BikesAmsterdam Draws Bike Boxes to Organize Bike Parking, and Some Things You Might See While In Amsterdam.

I still find it amazing that a five-year-old in Amsterdam can ride straighter and with more confidence than the average U.S. adult!

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Some Things You Might See While In Amsterdam

I’m currently on a European junket, and ahead of the more serious Streetfilms that will come out of it, I thought it would be prudent to put up some everyday street scenes of bicycling in Amsterdam.

Enjoy! Make sure to check back for more extensive coverage in coming weeks.


JFK Protected Bike Lanes Get Seal of Approval From the Bike-Savvy Dutch

The SF Bicycle Coalition's Andy Thornley leads the Dutch-orange bike caravan on John F. Kennedy Drive. Photo: Aaron Bialick

This year’s celebration of the Dutch Queen’s Day in San Francisco was a bit special.

When the event’s 100-or-so celebrants traversed the city by bike in the second annual “Market-to-Mill” ride (Market Street to the Dutch windmill in Golden Gate Park, a.k.a the Bay to Beach route), the orange-clad caravan traveled through San Francisco’s first bicycle lanes designed with a Dutch standard of safety in mind.

Bart van Bolhuis, Consulate General of the Netherlands, told Streetsblog that riding the new parking-protected bike lanes on John F. Kennedy Drive felt like cycling in his home country. “Especially biking with 100 people dressed up in orange,” he added.

Bart van Bolhuis, Consulate General of the Netherlands. Photo: Aaron Bialick

A key feature of the JFK bikeway, Bolhuis pointed out, is the buffer area which separates bicycle riders from the door zone and provides space for people getting in and out of their cars. Most conventional bike lanes in San Francisco place riders in the path of opening car doors on one side and passing cars on the other. Drivers also make regular incursions into the bike lane to maneuver into parking spaces or double park. That creates an obstacle course that’s too stressful for most people to ride in. By placing bicyclists to the right of parked cars, JFK is the first street in San Francisco designed to accommodate car parking while eliminating those hazards.

“People have to feel safe on their bikes, and these kinds of bike lanes are very helpful,” said Bolhuis. “The most important thing is that it will create safety, and the feeling of safety, for other kinds of bicyclists as well — mothers with children, elderly people — and that’s something we have to establish in this city, not only for the brave, but also for the people who want to bike in nature, or to school.”

Read more…

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An American in Amsterdam on Dutch Cycling Policy

In many US cities, Departments of Transportation are thinking about how biking fits in as a viable mode of transportation.  In this second video from the Bikes Belong delegation to the Netherlands, Streetfilms was able to talk one-on-one with US Consul General, Julie A. Ruterbories.  This American in Amsterdam learned to use a bicycle to commute in Amsterdam. She also values how cycling not only helps make people healthier but in cities where biking is prevalent, it has a positive effect on the health of the city. “It is great to see societies embracing the greater good,” says Julie Ruterbories, in reference to Dutch culture mainstreaming cycling.


Lessons from Amsterdam: How SF Can Bicycle Toward Greatness

It’s not often that you get to take your idea of utopia out for a test ride. But that’s what I was lucky enough to do for seven months last year while on sabbatical in Amsterdam.

After more than a decade of helping to build the vision of San Francisco becoming a world-class bicycling city, I had the chance to find out how that vision actually functions on the ground. And, to assess whether we really have what it takes in San Francisco to earn the reputation of a great bicycling city.

What I learned – and what heartens me now – is how close we already are. Much like Berlin, Barcelona, and Paris, San Francisco is on a precipice today. We can choose to use the examples of places such as the Netherlands as a model, or we can continue business as usual.

This week, we are fortunate to welcome Dutch experts to town to show us how great bicycling environments help make great cities. Think Bike — an innovative two-day event co-sponsored by the Consulate General of the Netherlands in SF, the SF Municipal Transportation Agency, and the SF Bicycle Coalition — kicks off today to share the “Dutch Touch” with San Franciscans.

“Whether commuting to work, running errands or taking a family outing, more and more San Franciscans are choosing to bicycle,” said Mayor Edwin M. Lee, who this morning will welcome skilled Dutch transportation planners and interested locals at City Hall for the opening reception of Think Bike. This will kick off two days of intensive planning workshops with the Dutch and local community members. Tuesday evening, their design ideas for specific San Francisco on-street and policy improvements will be shared publicly.

Read more…


SFBC Director Leah Shahum to Write for Streetsblog from Amsterdam

By now, you've probably heard that SFBC Executive Director Leah Shahum is taking an eight-month sabbatical to one of the world's great cycling cities, Amsterdam. Shahum will be missed by many during her absence, but I'm excited to announce today that she'll be chronicling her experiences and thoughts from Amsterdam for Streetsblog San Francisco.

"I'm excited to to have the chance to spend time and learn best practices in a city that has successfully prioritized smart transportation and livable streets, and I'm especially excited to be able to share what I learn with folks back in San Francisco by writing for Streetsblog," said Shahum, a former reporter for the Florida Times-Union and Mother Jones magazine.

"I think there are a lot of similarities between Amsterdam and San Francisco, and I'm eager to figure out how we can emulate the best of their successes back home."

Under her leadership, the 11,000-member San Francisco Bicycle Coalition has become the "loudest, most effective" advocacy group in the city, not to mention one of the largest bicycle advocacy organizations in the country. Shahum has been with the SFBC for 12 years, spending the last six as executive director.

"It's an understatement to say that we are still nowhere near Amsterdam's levels of bicycling greatness nor where San Francisco deserves to be. That's why I'm so excited by this opportunity to step away from the day-to-day for a while to think deeply about where we take our movement next," she said in a statement.

Shahum will be temporarily replaced by the very able Renee Rivera, the former chair of the SFBC Board of Directors, who lead the successful campaign to install bike lanes on Polk Street.

Please join me in wishing Leah the best. We look forward to her dispatches from Amsterdam! 


Everyday “City Bikes” Need a Stimulus

dutch_bike_pic.jpgThis Oma-fiets (or, Grandma-bicycle, in Dutch) sits for sale at the Market Street storefront of "My Dutch Bike" while a typical "American" bike is pedaled by outside. Photo by Frank Chan.
Like so many people, when Soraya Nasirian saw Dutch people on bicycles, she had an epiphany. "Why aren't more Americans riding bicycles like this?" she wondered. "Why do Americans ride hunched over, on bikes with no racks, carrying their stuff in all kinds of bags and riding so fast and aggressively?"

Seeing an opportunity, Nasirian teamed up with Dutch husband Oscar Mulder to open up a new business to peddle Dutch pedals: My Dutch Bike on Market Street just east of Second Street. Their shop sells a few high-end Dutch city bikes, as well as the bakfiets, the Dutch answer to cargo bikes. Their sales are good enough to keep them in business, she says, although most of their business is online, and they will be moving soon to another location.

My Dutch Bike is just one manifestation of a veritable frenzy of marketing to the fastest-growing segment in the bicycle market: everyday, utilitarian bicycles. It sparks some interesting questions: What can we do to encourage the trend? What will the quintessential American, or San Franciscan, city bike look like?

In every country where bicycles are commonplace transportation, almost every single bike comes equipped with lights, fenders, a rack, and chainguard. In Germany, those items, plus a bell and a kickstand, are mandatory on any bike not sold as a stripped-down "sports bike."


Should I Wear a Helmet Today?

bakfiets_naparstek.jpgThe Naparstek boys riding last year's Summer Streets event... wearing helmets.
Sarah's "Too Much Emphasis on Safety" post yesterday brings up the question in the headline above.

A Canadian Broadcasting TV crew doing a documentary on biking is filming me as I take my two sons to school on our Dutch cargo bike today. While the kids always wear helmets, and I do too when I'm commuting or riding longer distances, I often don't bother to wear one when I'm taking the kids to school in the bakfiets (also known around our house as the Cadillac Bikescalade). 

There are a few reasons why I tend to go helmetless. First, I'm a pretty careful, slow-riding cyclist in general, and even more so when I'm carrying kids. The ride to school is a short trip on residential streets marked almost entirely with bike lanes in a neighborhood where motorists are relatively respectful and aware of bikes. Walking across a street at an intersection with two young kids in tow often feels more dangerous.

Second, getting the kids out the door in the morning involves quite a bit of schlepping and hassle as it is. My own helmet sometimes just gets lost in the shuffle (as does my four-year-old's lunch). If the two-year-old is whiny or we're running late I'm not turning back to get the helmet. It's all about momentum.

Finally, I just don't like the way the helmet looks when I'm riding the bakfiets. This is less and issue of fashion (because lord knows I have no fashion sense) and more, I think, an issue of public perception.


Valencia Signals Re-timed to Improve Traffic Flow and Safety

As Streetsblog San Francisco reported last month, cities around the world have timed their traffic signals to favor slower moving modes, and now San Francisco has started a trial on one of the busiest bicycle routes in the city, Valencia Street.

On Thursday February 19th, the MTA re-timed six traffic signals from 16th to 21st, a pilot for a few weeks that will enable the agency to gauge the real-world impacts of reduced speeds on traffic flow.

The main goal is to improve vehicle flow and calm traffic to prevent energy intensive starting and stopping. The slower synchronized timing will also likely prove to be a great convenience to cyclists along the route.

Motorists are already seeing a benefit. Initial studies show the re-timed signals improve overall travel time by more than a minute during peak commute hours. Additionally, motorists will save gas and reduce pollution if they drive at a steady 15 mph pace.

In 2002, Portland, Oregon implemented a citywide traffic signal optimization project, which saves motorists over 1,750,000 gallons of gas and 15,460 tons of CO2 each year. It cost $533,000, paid for by the Climate Trust of Oregon carbon offset program. The majority of streets in downtown Portland are timed at 12-15 mph for pedestrian safety and optimal traffic flow.

Untitled_2.jpgUK DOT statistics on vehicle/pedestrian collisions

In Amsterdam, both trams and buses save time from signal re-timing. On average trams move 1.5 minutes faster and buses 3 minutes faster.

This is expected to benefit pedestrians as well. Studies show the severity of pedestrian injuries in crashes with cars increases exponentially with only slight increases in vehicle speed. Pedestrians face a 5 percent chance of dying when hit by a vehicle traveling 20 mph, though that figure jumps to 45 percent for a vehicle going 30 mph and 85 percent at 40 mph.

Flickr Photo: pbo31