Amsterdam: The Good, Bad, and Ugly

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In April I had the opportunity to spend a week in The Netherlands focused almost entirely on motor, bicycle, pedestrian, and disabled infrastructure. And food.

I began with a few days in and near Amsterdam, riding, taking photos, watching, and talking to people. Special thanks to Workcycles for letting me use Perminator while I was there. I cannot say how sad I was on having to return him

After returning Perminator I headed to Assen for a three day infrastructure study tour with David Hembrow. David’s knowledge, humor, and passion for bicycling is infectious and priceless. I recommend that anyone interested in good bicycling infrastructure join one of his study tours.

David Hembrow from Hembrow Cycle Tours talking about Bicycle Infrastructure in Assen.

David Hembrow from Hembrow Cycle Tours talking about Bicycle Infrastructure in Assen. To the left is Nick Kocharhook from London, and in the back is Dr. Jon Rogers MD from Birmingham UK.

Within The Netherlands there is a wide variety of infrastructure quality, mostly due to age. Newer infrastructure in Assen is much safer feeling and comfortable than older infrastructure in Amsterdam or Rotterdam. But there’s more than just age as very new infrastructure in Kloosterveen, which I’ll show in a few days, leaves a bit to be desired. The Dutch aren’t afraid to experiment and some experiments don’t get repeated.

Today’s photos are all from around Amsterdam. Many readers are likely familiar with the story of how Amsterdam in the 1960’s, like many cities around the world, had become clogged with cars and people killed by people driving cars. This led to the ‘Stop The Child Murder’ movement that is largely responsible for the bicycle infrastructure throughout The Netherlands today and their low rate of traffic fatalities.

For some perspective, some of the facilities in Amsterdam and in these photos dates to these earlier days and is, as many Dutch say, the worst infrastructure in The Netherlands.

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Amsterdam does have a few non-protected bike lanes from the 70’s and 80’s. These are considered poor infrastructure and are no longer installed. Note the not-really-a-pedestrian-crossing (denoted by the alternating long/short lines) that is raised a bit above street level. This is technically a speed table, not a crossing, but does provide a safe place for pedestrians to cross, a bit of notice for motor vehicles and bicycle riders, and keeps it dryer during rain or snow.

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Bicycles are prioritized during construction. This is along Ferdinand Bolstraat where they are installing a new metro line (subway). Dutch engineers will do everything they can to insure efficient, comfortable, and safe through routes for bicycle riders at all times.

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My trusty steed Perminator. 3 speeds, coaster brake, and I couldn’t have been happier. Well, I could have used a louder bell once or twice.

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Another shot along F. Bolstraat. Here there is not even a painted bike lane. This street is being reconstructed and will include proper cycletracks (protected bike lanes) when complete. Reconstruction of F. Bolstraat was delayed because of the planned construction of the new North-South Metro line and because it has low enough traffic volume that it was determined to not be critical prior to Metro construction. An engineer told me that the worst bicycle facilities in Amsterdam are those delayed while waiting on the planned new Metro line.

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Generally bicycles and motor traffic only share space on streets with very low traffic and traffic that is local access only. Along many of these streets cars may not pass bicycle riders.

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Give Way markings (also called yield markings or Sharks Teeth) are used extensively throughout northern Europe to indicate right-of-way. This eliminates confusion over who has right-of-way (ROW) and results in much safer junctions. In each of these above the bicycle riders have right-of-way over motor traffic. As we’ll see later, there are also instances where bicycle riders are given the shark’s teeth and motor traffic has ROW. Note too that the cycletrack in the upper part of the picture is somewhat unusual in the path material/color not being continuous when the path has ROW.

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The continuous grade and material for pedestrians indicates that pedestrians have ROW here and also helps to keep the pedestrian path (sidewalk) dryer during rain and snow.

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Here is a typical Dutch cycletrack of more current design. It is protected from motor traffic by the parked cars and trees. Note that the curb between the cycletrack and sidewalk is sloped about 45 degrees to reduce the likelihood of a crash if someone should ride up against it. This street has a fairly low volume of traffic, a 25 mph speed limit, and yet still warrants a cycletrack.

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Looking north. There is a sidewalk (pavement for some), southbound cycletrack, northbound motor lane, northbound bike lane, 2-way tramway, then a sidewalk.

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On this street there is a sidewalk, cycletrack, 2-way tram, motor lane, bike lane, and sidewalk. As noted earlier this is an older design and would not be repeated today. Since the amount of motor traffic is very low it is not a high priority for reconstruction however. There is though some discussion about removing the bollards as they pose a hazard for bicycle riders and provide no practical benefit.

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After rounding the corner above we see the bike lane in the door zone of cars. Again, old design that is not repeated today. One major difference between this and a similar lane in the U.S. is that Europeans are taught to always open doors with their opposite hand. So, a driver will reach across with their right hand to open their door. This forces them to also turn their body and head and look to see if anyone is coming along the bike lane before opening their door. As an interim until this street is rebuild there has been some discussion about swapping the bike lane and car parking lane to create a pseudo-cycletrack which would be safer.

There you have some of the best and worst of Amsterdam.

My 1985 Motorola DynaTAC

My 1985 Motorola DynaTAC

Many of the bicycle facilities above are designs that have been discarded by Dutch engineers and planners as not sufficient in real or subjective safety or in comfort. Yet these very same designs have just been touted by U.S. engineers in the recent AASHTO recommendations as the latest and greatest. This would be like Verizon introducing a 1985 cell phone as the latest and greatest.

Someone should be pushing AASHTO and others to carefully study Dutch infrastructure, learn why it is the way it is, and apply this knowledge to the U.S.

To steal a bit from Winston Churchill, Dutch bicycling infrastructure is the worst there is, except for all of the others.

 

Related Posts:

Kevin Krizek – Bicycle Infrastructure Series

Janne Filsrand – A Radical Intersection Recommendation

Old Guy – Do We Really Want Bike Lanes?

 

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