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Five Key Lessons From Europe’s Vision Zero Success

Cross-posted from the Vision Zero Network

Berlin, Germany

From the moment that Vision Zero began capturing attention in American cities, we’ve heard many admiring references to its success in Europe, particularly in its birthplace of Sweden.

I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to research those experiences and their lessons for the growing number of American communities working to eliminate traffic fatalities and serious injuries. As part of a fellowship with the German Marshall Fund, I’m spending two months visiting Stockholm, Sweden; Rotterdam, Netherlands; and Berlin, Germany to interview experts and observe first-hand their approaches to traffic safety. The goal of my research: to gather and share replicable lessons for American communities, particularly in urban areas, where we’re seeing the most momentum for Vision Zero.

First, a disclaimer: I’m still actively researching and interviewing, so it’s too soon to share my sense of the “full story.” Please consider these early impressions.

And, second, a clarification: What the Swedes — and to a lesser extent the Germans — call Vision Zero, the Dutch call Sustainable Safety. While there are many similarities to what can generally be termed a “safe systems approach” to transportation, there are more differences than I realized between their efforts. (But more on that in a future post…)

So what have I observed thus far? Here are five initial  takeaways, focusing on areas that seem relevant to the U.S. experience and worthy of more exploration.

1) Managing speeds — and speed differentials — is a top priority

In all three of these countries, the leaders of traffic safety efforts emphasize that managing speed is the number one determinant in their successes in improving safety.

Read more…

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Designs From Dutch Burbs Should Unite Vehicular Cyclists and Bike Lane Fans

Photos from Dutch suburban areas and countryside by Marven Norman.

This is the second in a two-post series about Dutch suburbs.

It’s understandable why vehicular cycling techniques thrive in suburban America. In the absence of good bike infrastructure, taking the middle of the travel lane really is the safest way to ride — uncomfortable though that is for many of us.

But if American suburbs are ever going to be made truly better for biking, today’s suburban bicycle drivers will need to find common ground with me and my fellow fans of Dutch infrastructure.

Here’s what that might look like.

1) Infrastructure opponents should take the time to offer meaningful suggestions beyond “no”

Sharrows in Indianapolis. Photo: Michael Andersen/PeopleForBikes

I’ve seen it myself numerous times: The bicycle drivers only demand “Bicycles May Use Full Lane” signs and sharrows while shunning anything else exclusively for bikes. Meanwhile, the planners and engineers are hearing from the rest of society that they want “more bike lanes.” But without any valuable input about design features, they resort to their manuals… and the result is bad infrastructure.

It’s long past time for the more experienced riders to adopt an approach of pragmatism.

Read more…


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…


Misguided Enforcement Precedes ThinkBike Improvements on the Wiggle

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The Wiggle — the growingly popular, mostly-flat bicycling route connecting SF’s eastern and western neighborhoods — should become more bike-friendly in the next year. After consulting with Dutch bicycle planners, the SFMTA is planning new upgrades to increase the safety and comfort of people walking and biking on the route, including “green-backed” sharrows, zebra-striped crosswalks, and bikeways on Fell and Oak Streets, which planners now say are coming next winter.

San Francisco's first green bike box installed along with a left-turn bike lane on Scott Street two years ago. Photo: SFBC/Flickr

As bicycle traffic increases along the Wiggle, improved crosswalks and other potential traffic-calming measures could help assuage complaints police say they’ve heard from some residents that stop sign violators are making it a less comfortable place to walk. Though no significant bike-pedestrian crashes are known to have been reported, police have begun stepping up enforcement in the area against people on bikes (and drivers, they say) who officers determine to be running stop signs and red lights.

“That’s not going to solve the problem,” says Morgan Fitzgibbons, co-founder of the Wigg Party, a group focused on promoting environmental sustainability in the neighborhoods around the Wiggle. He said rude or dangerous behavior is limited to a minority of bicycle riders, and while an education and outreach initiative on the streets would be a good idea, the root of the problem is that “these streets are simply designed for cars.”

Current stop sign laws, pointed out Fizgibbons, are tailored for car movement. While Idaho has allowed bicycle riders in that state to treat stop signs as yield signs with positive results for nearly 30 years, California requires both bicyclists and drivers to come to a full stop. Advocates say the Idaho approach — which still requires bicyclists to slow down and yield to others who have the right-of-way — simply legitimizes common practice, since people on bikes can safely negotiate smaller intersections like those on the Wiggle without the need for a full stop, while also clarifying expectations between different users.

“If you start designing the streets for the use that it actually receives, then you’re going to engender an attitude of respect from cyclists,” said Fitzgibbons. “I think when you start making the Wiggle a known place [for bicycles], and create that identity around the Wiggle, then you can start holding the cyclists who use it to a higher standard.”

Last September, SFMTA planners looking to transform the Wiggle into a more walkable, liveable, and bikeable place sought inspiration from Dutch planners, who in recent decades have pioneered and refined street designs to safely accommodate people on foot, on bikes, and in cars.

Read more…


Dutch Cycling Embassy Releases Inspirational Video, Launches Website

Cycling For Everyone from Dutch Cycling Embassy on Vimeo.

Last week, a team of Dutch experts led a series of Think Bike workshops in four U.S. cities, including San Francisco, to help advocates and planners design the bike infrastructure of the future. Cities across the globe continue to look to the Netherlands for inspiration, and guidance, and that demand is being embraced by a unique organization known as the Dutch Cycling Embassy.

The embassy is comprised of bike ambassadors from non-profits, private companies, bike manufacturers and local and national governments in the Netherlands. It recently released a new video that beautifully tells the story of how the bicycle became a part of everyday life in the Netherlands. It’s an inspirational seven minutes by Marc van Woudenberg and a must-see for elected officials and planners in the U.S.

The goal of the embassy, which has also launched a new website, is to “to support, facilitate, contribute to and inspire international cycling projects and policies helping countries, cities and its people to move forward in a safe and healthy way.”

As the video illustrates so well, cycling has always been popular in the Netherlands, but there was a time when cars ruled and the transformation to bike-friendly streets didn’t happen overnight. As the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition’s Leah Shahum pointed out in her timely Streetsblog essay last week, “the arc that we are on in San Francisco right now is surprisingly akin to that of Amsterdam 40 years ago when engaged citizens led by passionate advocates convinced local leaders to solidly commit to making bicycling the easiest and most favored way to get around the city.”

In addition to the video, you can download this great brochure [pdf] from the embassy, which has a lot of important and fun facts about bicycling in the Netherlands, “where 16 million inhabitants own 18 million bicycles.”


Accomodating Bike Speeds by Re-timing Signals on Valencia Street

As the cyclists in this video point out, re-timing signals for bike speeds (Green Wave) would make roads safer for all street users on Valencia Street. Before even mentioning re-timing signals, this was many cyclists' top request to improve their journey.

Recently, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (MTA) found that during peak commute times vehicles run more efficiently when signals are timed at the speeds they actually travel during congestion -- 12 to 15 mph -- rather than the current 25 mph. Major bike streets in Portland, the Netherlands and Denmark have been timed for bike speeds and now it is time for San Francisco to ride the Green Wave! For more information read my previous SF Streetsblog article on the topic.