From the Netherlands to America: Translating the World's Best Bikeway Designs

By Ryan McGreal
Published March 29, 2012

The always-impressive Streetfilms recently produced a new documentary titled, From the Netherlands to America: Translating the World's Best Bikeway Designs.

One of the crucial messages in this film is the fact that the Netherlands has become a cycling mecca through a long series of deliberate choices to promote cycling, not through some innate quality of the place. As Bruno Maier, the vice president of the Bikes Belong Foundation, explains:

It hasn't always been this way in the Netherlands. Over the last 30 years, the Dutch made a conscious choice to become pro-bike.

Hillie Talens a Dutch traffic engineer, sets the historical context:

In the '50s, the passenger car became affordable for all the people, and every Dutch family wanted to have a car and that was the best for the economy. But then, in the '70s we had this oil crisis, we had an environmental crisis, we had a lot of fatalities in traffic, and then the whole society said, We do not want to depend on oil, we do not accept all these fatalities in traffic, we want a new road system.

This is the same message we see over and over again in cities that are today considered bicycle-friendly: through the mid-20th century, these cities were as committed to automobiles as anywhere else, but at some point, they decided to start shifting and re-balancing their transportation system.

Not surprisingly, those cities that are most advanced in cycling today are the places that started first in the mid-1970s. In places like Amsterdam, Groningen, Copenhagen and so on, it's easy to assume they were always this way.

It's convenient for cities that are not bicycle-friendly to assume these bicycle-promoting measures couldn't work there, but in much more recent examples like Paris and New York City, we can see that these engineering principles are universal.

The best part for cities looking to make a change today is that we can take advantage of the lessons learned by those cities that came before us. This documentary sketches out the best practices that have emerged from decades of on-the-ground research into the safest and most successful bike network designs.

I'll close with a quote from Danny Solis, Alderman for Chicago's 25th Ward:

My thoughts about biking before I came on this trip was more recreational. But I realize now, especially with this country, that biking is a vital cog in terms of getting people to and from. And it's great, it's healthy, it's environmentally friendly, it gets people to be more connected with each other, and so I really want to try to be a big promoter when I get back.

No more excuses, no more exceptionalism, no more squelching. There is no reason - not climate, not geography, not temperamental, not cultural, not economic - that the proven best practices for creating a bicycle-friendly transportation network cannot work in Hamilton as it has worked in a number of diverse cities around the world.

(h/t to RTH user arienc for sharing this video.)

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.


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By mrgrande (registered) | Posted March 29, 2012 at 08:48:28

Look, there is no way it could work here. After all, this is Hamilton!

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted March 29, 2012 at 09:58:01 in reply to Comment 75537

After all, this is Hamilton!

Well, someone had to get that out of the way. Thanks for talking the bullet, mrgrande.

Though I will say this, having biked from Westdale to Mohawk College last week: that mountain is a bitch. It doesn't have to be, but it is.

Queen St. feels too narrow; James St. has a bike lane, but feels like a highway. The stairs are direct, but awkward with a guitar and a briefcase (as was the case).

So I took the radial trail, which was really nice, once I mounted that last bit of vertical climb to the Chedoke Golf Club. But then the trail left me in a twisty maze of suburban streets from which I had some trouble escaping and I ended up blocks South of Fennel and had to back track. The radial trail goes nowhere, except from the perspective of someone who lives well West of Garth.

And then to get back down, I had to first go the wrong-way on a one-way street (to avoid tremendous back-tracking again) and then descend the radial trail in pitch blackness and past sketchy-looking groups of lurking teenagers ... to discover that my bright headlight is not quite so bright as is seems on the street.

I'm pretty sure that we can do better. A grade-separated bike lane on James St, for example. Or a little tow-hook thing like that town in Denmark has. Or - dreamy-dreamy - a funicular (they can't say it can't be done, because it was done here).

Comment edited by moylek on 2012-03-29 10:34:59

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted March 29, 2012 at 14:07:50 in reply to Comment 75540

What do people think of the bike lane on the jolley cut? Anyone use it yet?

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 29, 2012 at 19:50:15 in reply to Comment 75548

the bike lane from nowhere to nowhere? There's no lane at the bottom of the Jolley Cut and no lanes at the top towards Upper Wellington. But IF you happen to find yourself in the middle of the Jolley Cut someday on your bike, you will be pleased to find out that a bike lane magically appears for a brief few moments....this is pretty much symbolic of our entire bike network.

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted March 29, 2012 at 19:00:40 in reply to Comment 75548

I drove along side it about half an hour ago and tried to imagine biking in it. It's broad enough, but Lordy - the traffic just flies up and around the curve.

I'm pretty bold in traffic in general - but that sharp, blind right curve makes me nervous.

I've resolved to try it some day, though.

But still - a funicular from James to Upper James looks better and better the longer I stare at the map and see what's at the top and what's at the bottom, with that little grey line connecting them.

Comment edited by moylek on 2012-03-29 19:01:19

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By bikehounds (anonymous) | Posted March 30, 2012 at 08:53:02 in reply to Comment 75549

Those are pretty expensive - but an aerial tram would be faster AND more affordable - AND would provide a striking view of the city, bay, lake and beyond.

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 29, 2012 at 19:51:35 in reply to Comment 75549

I love the idea. The top still has a large open space that could be used as the upper station (as it once was).
But alas....this is Hamilton. Why spend money on something that doesn't use unleaded and 4 tires?

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted March 29, 2012 at 11:19:18 in reply to Comment 75540

Honestly, I think the bus-bike-racks serve our "holy crap, getting a bike up the mountain sucks" thing pretty well. But yeah, the radial trail could use some TLC.

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted March 29, 2012 at 11:39:50 in reply to Comment 75542

I think the bus-bike-racks serve our "holy crap, getting a bike up the mountain sucks" thing pretty well.

They do a good job for most bikes, but not all - my everyday bike does not fit into the racks for reasons I've yet to quite figure out; nor would it work for a cargo bike or xtracycle (extended rear rack) bike.

Plus, using a bus seems like an extraordinary measure when one is on a bike.

Though I'm thrilled that we have the bike racks, of course.

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By poimi (anonymous) | Posted March 29, 2012 at 12:54:57

this is my dream ... thank you for sharing!

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted March 30, 2012 at 14:17:00

Slightly off topic, but I was interested to hear that the city of Grenoble is planning to build a 10km long gondola from the Fontaine area on the edge of the city to the town Lans-en-Vercors on the Vercors plateau about 800m above Grenoble. The idea apparently is to provide a faster route for commuters and reduce automobile traffic on narrow mountain roads.

The gondola would have a capacity of 2400 passengers per hour and would travel at 20km/h. The Grenoble terminus would connect directly to the A-line LRT.

They claim the 40-50 million euro cost will be entirely covered by private funds and it will likely use the technology of the local company POMA!

Grenoble pioneered modern tramways (LRT), inaugurating the first line in 1987. Maybe they will do the same for long distance commuter gondolas as should begin within a year.

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2012-03-30 14:20:50

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