Saturday, August 13, 2011

On Comparing Sidewalks to Playgrounds

For probably my final post for my trip to Netherlands, I need to comment between Jane Jacob's view of the evilness of playgrounds and what I feel regarding her observations.

Jane Jacobs explains through the chapter that designing playgrounds into areas is not helping the community's children. In fact, she uses many examples how playground areas are instead hurting the cohesiveness of the community by letting the children run rampant. Some of the events she describes as happening in playgrounds disturbed me to think about and an even bigger surprise was that they happened in the late 1950's. One that stuck out was the fight between two gangs and the killing of an innocent 14 year old girl that was not affiliated with either gang.

Jacob's then explains that with well used sidewalks, kids have just as much fun mingling among the adults. The kids on the sidewalks can talk with other kids, play with chalk, jump rope, and several other activities. Here on the sidewalks, the kids are visible to plenty of adults and can easily be corrected if they step out of line. A well designed sidewalk can be more beneficial to the upbringing of children. In contrast with playgrounds, kids are able to run around without any supervision, leading to bullying and even violence.

Growing up in my small town of Texas, I enjoyed the rare occasion of going to a playground. I understand that this was a small town compared to New York where Jacobs explains the parks are evil, but the playgrounds I remember were small and out of the way where parents had to take you and watch you while you play. They were hardly any other children in them and seemed a good way to let my mom or dad take a break from dealing with my sisters and I. Of course, the small town I lived in hardly had any sidewalks, and there was not much activity in the streets. I have seen, however, some of the parks in the larger cities and the vandalism that is present. Some even have fencing around to make the park look like the interior of a prison. I could not imagine being a kid and wanting to play in one of those areas.

In the Netherlands, when I think of playgrounds, I think of the suburb of Houten. I mentioned the city previously in my blog, but to recap it was supposedly built with bike transit in mind. There is a bike highway that cuts through the middle of the north area of the city and along this highway has many play areas for kids. I was amazed and even jealous of the choices that kids got on where to play. The professor, Brian, Sara, and I even had to stop and enjoy one of the playgrounds that consisted of a zip line. As we rode around, I noticed many kids having fun in these play areas, playing in the equipment or playing a game of soccer. I did not notice at the time if there was adult supervision, but the bike highway ran along side these play areas and there was almost always a cyclist passing by. Later on, in a class meeting, he amount of green area and play facilities was commented as being one of the most distinguishable features noticed about the city.

I'm not sure how Jane Jacobs would have seen the area, but I felt it was a healthy area for kids to run and play. I'm not for certain if any delinquency occurs in the playgrounds, as everything looked clean and in working order. I guess it could be argued how the playgrounds were sort of integrated into the street, being that they were next to the bike highway.

As for other areas in the Netherlands, the park in Delft where we had the Independence Day celebration and some parks in Rotterdam all seemed well used by kids and adults alike. To my recollection, there was not any visible marks of vandalism in these areas, and kids always seemed to be having a fun time in eye and earshot of adults. I'm curious if this is due to always having adults nearby, or maybe the Dutch have a grasp on what it takes to parent children.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

How Portland Biking Evolved

For the Portland State students on the trip, we were assigned Jane Jacobs' Death and Life of Great American Cities to read and comment on as we were experiencing the Netherlands. Now that I finally have my book back (was in my lost luggage, which is a whole other story), I'll be catching up on summarizing some of the chapters soon.

For the Northeastern students, they were assigned Mia Birk's book Joyride, which is about how Portland's bike culture started to develop. Peter Koonce (our instructor) shared with us a great cliff-notes video of Mia Birk giving a live presentation over the story.

I found her story very interesting. She's a lively person that has a unique style of presenting and I feel the 15 minute video is worth a watch. I had no idea Portland was at one time like other cities, I just took it for granted that the city always had a bike culture. Mia Birk just showed me that it wasn't true, that even Portland had to start somewhere, and the journey wasn't extremely quick or easy. She gives a great step-by-step account of how Portland adopted more bike lanes (using Bike Fest on the Burnside Bridge to install bike lanes) to even how the bike parking areas are increasing in popularity (my capstone was a impact study of the new bike corrals). She also touches on the benefits being seen by people riding their bikes and goes into how it is starting to spread to areas outside Portland (including Texas!).

I think Portland is far from finished on evolving into a bike focused city. Portland has definitely come a long way (from less than 1% ridership to 8%), but compared to the Netherlands (40% ridership), we have barely scratched the surface. Portland does have plenty of bike lanes, neighborhood parkways (bike boulevards), bike parking, and even a few bike signals, but it will need more frequent use of the infrastructure as well as education to bring the ridership up more. I've heard some people think the next step should be to limit automobile access to some areas and leave it open to only bikes and pedestrians. I personally believe our next step in promoting cycling will not necessarily be by penalizing the automobile drivers, but rewarding the cyclist and pedestrian. Sooner or later, a motorist will see the grass as being greener on the other side and cross the fence. Maybe instead of reducing access to cars, develop better short-cuts that are more efficient when using to reach a destination.

A couple years before I got my driver's license, I used my bike to ride the 5-6 miles to school and around the small town I lived in. I have a few negative memories of bike riding, like a couple problems with slashed tires when people on the school grounds would find my bike (there was no dedicated parking so I chained up to the fence around the swimming pool) and the five hills between town and my family's house in the middle of no -where. The one benefit I remember was that if I rode my bike 5 miles, I'd make it home in less than an hour, just in time for weekday afternoon cartoons. If I took the bus, the trip took me over 2 hours (I was the last one off the bus).

The weekend I hit 16, I bugged my parents to take me to the DMV and I received my license. It felt like a milestone in my life, to finally be able to drive a car without supervision. I used my new-found freedom frequently to drive my two sisters or high-school friends around. I even had a car-pool system going with two friends that needed rides to school. Before now, outside of the occasional trip mountain biking, I never thought of using a bike as a regular mode of travel, just something for fun. Now, however, I'm eager to find a bike to begin making my one trip a week to a destination, all thanks to my trip to the Netherlands.

Monday, July 18, 2011


I made it home just fine from the Netherlands on Thursday. I apologize for not updating earlier, I've been rather busy trying to catch up on some work and dealing with the jetlag over the weekend.

So for our final field trip, the class took the train to see the city of Rotterdam. Off the train, we were given rental bikes to tour the city. From Rotterdam Central, we visited Rotterdam University where we were given lessons on the sustainable design of intersections (sustainable as in safe for all road users). A presentation was given on the methods of deciding which type of intersection to use (roundabout, signal, etc..) depending on the classification of the roads and the risk of its users. For instance, bicycles would receive priority in urban areas on roads of 30 km/h but cars would receive priority outside urban areas where the cars travel 50 km/h or more.

With this knowledge, the class was released to the computer lab where we were given an actual intersection just outside of the campus that needed to be redesigned. We were to use AutoCAD and some Google images to come up with desirable remodel of the intersection. Working with the TA, Tom, and a fellow PSU student, Kirk, we set about to discussing how to accommodate the multiple ways of accessing the intersection through different modes, including the north access which is told to be increasing to around 30 buses per hour entering and leaving the new Rotterdam Central station.

After a quick lunch, the class split into two groups and we were to explore Rotterdam by bike. My group set out for the first landmark, the Erasmus Bridge! I was looking forward to seeing this bridge since it was mentioned on the first week of class. Along the way we stopped by the intersection we were just working on redesigning and observed the traffic flowing though. Here we were able to see one of the older, more beautiful buildings that still stood in the city today. Rotterdam was decimated with incendiary bombs in World War II by the Germans, so most of the buildings in the city were of modern construction.

The building has a bridge for cars to access the second floor (seen on the lower left), and then a car elevator is inside to allow the vehicle to deliver to the floor it needs to.
The next brief stop was just further down in front of the Rotterdam Central train station, which is under a major reconstruction. To accommodate pedestrians wanting to enjoy the shopping here (since the Dutch place their shopping centers around transit stations), a tunnel was built under the main road / tram tracks which included more store fronts.

This tunnel connects both sides of the shopping district without having pedestrians conflict with the traffic and public transit.
Our next stop was the Erasmus Bridge itself. The bridge was a beautiful work of architecture, and it was efficient for moving traffic! The bridge had wide sidewalks and wide bike/moped lanes on both sides and could handle two cars side by side in each lane (although a truck made the lanes cramped). Hopefully the Columbia Crossing does just as well in providing access for pedestrians and bikes.

Approaching the Erasmus Bridge by bike.
On the bridge. Notice the bike lane, the sidewalk, and the traffic. This existed on both sides of the bridge!
These dampeners prevented the bridge from falling apart due to the wind and rain amplifying the frequencies in the bridge. To visualize what these prevent, check out the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.
Since Rotterdam is a major port city, you can see your share of boats from the deck of the bridge.
This building was where the cruise ships would moor and passengers would board.
Next, we rode on towards the Maastunnel Rotterdam, which was a tunnel under the river for bikes and pedestrians. Along the way to this landmark, we stopped by a cruise ship that was retired and currently used for a museum.

The cruise ship "Rotterdam".
From the other side of the "Rotterdam".
From there, we rode to the Maastunnel and took our bikes down the escalator and through the tunnel. The tunnel is 640 yards long and at its deepest is 66 feet below the surface. In its prime, the tunnel would serve a rediculous amount of bikes (around 30,000 bikes a day). One thing I enjoyed seeing in this tunnel was the separation between cyclists and pedestrians. Pedestrians walked on a lower level than the bikes, so the bikes had their own dedicated lanes avoiding any conflict.

We took our bikes down the escalator to the tunnel.
Separation between bikes and pedestrians at the bottom of the escalator.
View going through the tunnel. As one of our classmates found out the hard way, the lines are raised so it's difficult to cross.
After coming out of the tunnel, the tour concluded by heading back towards Rotterdam Central.

Tourist landmark viewed on the way to Rotterdam Central's information center.
At the Rotterdam Central information center, we were treated to a cup of coffee (coffee in the Netherlands is great by the way) and a presentation on the future of the station. The place is in the middle of a large remodel that should have the new terminal finished in 2013 (but construction planned on expansion up until 2030). When finished, the station will be mostly glass and will bridge the two sides of the tracks so people on the residential side can easily cross to the commercial side.

Scale model of Rotterdam Central. 
Another shot of the model. I find it neat that they used N-scale trains and track.
After the presentation, we visited the construction site where a parking lot was being built underground. A tunnel in front of the station (Weena Tunnel) will lead into an underground parking garage. The tunnel also separates the through traffic from the pedestrians crossing above on their way to the shopping areas.

Construction of the underground parking area (760 car capacity). There will also be bike parking (5100 bike capacity) under the station. 
Rotterdam Central from the walkway over the platforms. The roof is similar to that of a greenhouse.
Trains! The roof will extend all the way across the train station when finished.
After the tour, class was dismissed. Since it was the last day we were to be there, we enjoyed dinner with the Northeastern students and toured the waterside before boarding the train for home.

Monday, July 11, 2011

One Awesome Week

My first week of class here in the Netherlands is completed, and what a week it has been. I know that I have ridden at least 100 miles on a bike around the area, and one of my classmates says even 150 miles would be a more accurate estimate. We've done so many cool things, I don't think I possibly can cover them all, but I'll give it a shot.

On Monday, our first day of the class, we went through a brief orientation where we had to sign forms and go over some rules of the road. We also touched on some history of the area and how most of the Netherlands is below sea level. To develop the land here, they needed to basically squeeze the water out of the peaty soil and then pump the water up into canals. To avoid flooding, there are plenty of areas for water to flow to and dikes to keep it contained. After the brief class period, we set out to adjust to bicycling around the Den Haag area, we checked out Ypenburg and Leidsenveen with a quick lunch in the town center of Nootdorp. The area is currently being expanded and we were able to see first hand how the Dutch organize their communities with bike facilities and commercial/residential building placement. For a good detailed write-up of the day, you can check out Brian's blog.

Green railway! Not a great area to play in though.
Notice the bike parking outnumbers the number of cars. It's crazy like that here!
Tuesday was the trip out to Pijnacker. I went into detail of that class in a previous post.

We started the Wednesday class off with a trip to the Calamity Water Storage. This area was farmland that, in case of heavy storms, could flood to make a temporary lake in order to protect the cities from flooding. From here, we visited Priva, a company that specialized in sustainable greenhouse design. The company building was even considered a carbon neutral building, using water in a well to cool and heat the building when needed. Another neat fact of the company building was that if the business ever closed, the company building could be changed into a senior living center without much effort. Talk about planning ahead. After Priva, we visited a greenhouse to see how the Dutch were able to grow plants and vegetables all year long. From there, we finished off our day by dipping our feet into the North Sea, which was not as cold as I expected (in fact, many of the Boston students went swimming).

Cars could only travel in the far left lane. The middle lane was reserved for freight (which traveled this road frequently) and the right lane was reserved for buses only.
Yes, this is a lot of flowers, and it wasn't even half. The pipes above the flowers are to pump water to heat or cool the greenhouse.
Those arent' birds in the distance, those are kite surfers.
A hedge-maze that was alongside the bike route home. Reminded several people of Harry Potter.
 On Thursday, the class took a train and visited Houten, which was explained as "Bicycle Heaven with Bicycle Heaven". The town was designed oriented around bike infrastructure. A "bike highway" existed in the center of town that stretched the entire east/west of the city. This highway was nice for its frequent parks or lakes where kids (or some adults) could have fun and play. The residential areas were segmented from each other, and each one was named after something that was reflected on all of the streets within. So if you were in the "Lake" area, all the streets would be named after lakes: "Crystal Lake", "Clear Lake", etc.. (simplified to English). Whereas the town may have been "heaven" for bikes, some of its planning didn't seem sustainable. For instance, an office area had absolutely no restaurant or coffee shop, so if someone was off on lunch, they had to travel (more than likely by car) to the city center to eat.

It was difficult to find a spot to park my bike.
Bike parking at the station in Houten. It was under the trains in a closed area.
Example of the street setup. This was the "Camp" section of the town.
This was at a bike roundabout. The cycle track traveled under the road in a circle.
Who says adults can't have fun on the playground. This was a zip-line that just needed to be tried out.

On the last day of the week we visited Maeslantkering gate which protects the city of Rotterdam from flooding if the ocean level rises. The gate is a huge marvel of engineering. When its computers detect a rise in the water of about 3 meters, it swings two gates closed to funnel the water, preventing the water downstream from rising. Each side of the gate is 237 meters long (about as long as the Eiffel Tower!) and 210 meters wide. After drooling over such a large structure that moves, we took a ferry to the other side and visited Futureland. This place is dedicated to the Maasvlakte 2 project, which is the €2.9 billion land expansion to the Port of Rotterdam (known as the warehouse of Europe). The Port of Rotterdam is one of the largest freight ports in the world, and the largest one in Europe. Since it is already packed to the ends, they are actually building new land (3 square miles in fact) to construct an expansion on.  For a good documentary on the project, check out Discovery Channel's show "Build it Bigger: Port of Rotterdam" in season 4. After getting an overview of the project, we actually got to take a quick tour the port by bus and observe the unloading of freight containers.

It is a picture of a picture, but the thing is too large to show in one shot from my camera.
Another picture of a picture, but it shows the gates close. When they close, the Port of Rotterdam closes for at least a day costing millions of dollars in lost work.
View of the gate on the other shore.
The gate is 22 meters tall. The canal is 17 meters deep. For those bad at math, it can protect up to a 5 meter rise in the ocean level.
Even the ferry had spots to park bikes!
Big container boat moored at the port.
Straddle crane moving a freight container off a truck.
We have one more tour coming up this next week to the city of Rotterdam. Hopefully I get all my homework done so I can attend the class. I'm due to return home this upcoming Thursday, and honestly I'm a bit reluctant to leave. It seems like there is so much more in the area that I simply don't have the time to observe.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Is Driving in Europe Miserable?

For the third homework assignment, we were to read the New York Times article "Europe Stifles Drivers in Favor of Mass Transit and Walking" by Elisabeth Rosenthal and the corresponding article on "NYTimes: In Europe they 'make car use expensive and just plain miserable'" by Jonathan Maus and share our comments. 

The NYTimes article explains how Zurich, Switzerland, has reverted some of its central areas to pedestrian only by banning cars or by making infrastructure changes that benefit the pedestrian more. Ms. Rosenthal explains how closing streets to car traffic isn't new in Europe, and that many other cities such as Copenhagen, Paris, and London are making efforts to make their centers more pedestrian friendly. The article gives some statistics on how people are adapting and taking transit and other non-motor vehicle modes to get to their destination.

At the start of the NY Times article, I received the impression that Ms. Rosenthal felt displeased that European countries put more of a priority on the other users of the road over automobiles. Using phrases such as "creating environments openly hostile to cars" and "working overtime in recent years to torment drivers" put a harsh image of Europe fighting heavily against people driving. Further into the article, the view of the writer had seem to become more neutral, but the first impression painted a bias on the remaining text. On an interesting note, I found it amusing that later in the article their quote from a European that was against the change was someone driving a Jaguar (a more of a luxury sports car usually starting at 30,000). To me that is almost equivalent to someone buying a race car and complaining about how he can't drive it on the horse track.

The BikePortland article summarizes the NYTimes article, explaining that "in Europe, they simply grab [the bull] by the horns and wrestle it into submission". The article then explains that how in America, that if we burden automotive traffic any it is branded heresy, even in the Portland region. After a few examples of recent Portland projects that were dropped due to affecting automotive traffic, the author goes into a few quotes from some Dutch experts (one of which gave a presentation to my class on Tuesday), speaking of how people in the U.S. have the wrong idea of what a car trip is best for.

While the NYTimes article struggled with accepting what Europe's priorities are in transportation design, BikePortland viewed them as ideal. Jonathan Maus felt like Europe was doing the right thing in challenging the dominance of the automobile. He then explains a valid point in that since people fear what will happen to their trip, politicians can't make the changes needed to move the society towards a better future. The article ends with the question:
"The question is, should we grab the bull's horns and wrestle it to the ground? Or approach it timidly, try to befriend it, and then hope it doesn't trample us?"
I feel both articles demonstrate two views on the topic of designing towards the bicycle. The NYTimes article shows the more fearful side, questioning what will happen to their trip by car if less of a priority is placed on vehicular traffic, while the BikePortland article shows the supportive view, explaining that there is too much fear of the change preventing us from moving forward as a more sustainable society. 

I believe that Maus hit the nail on the head with the article in BikePortland. There is definitely a lot of stigma when it comes to forcing people to change their lives, even in the smallest amount and even if it is for the better of everyone. That fear of change is what keeps politicians from doing what is needed in fear that they will lose their job.

Near the end of the BikePortland article, Maus stated "What works in Europe doesn't always work in the U.S.. Our cultural differences must be taken into account." I feel that this is true and that Europe has had 20-30 years of adjusting it's people to accepting cyclists and pedestrians as higher priority than a vehicle. We can't tear down the United State's 75+ year old infrastructure and replace it with a bicycle oriented system, the costs would be too great. Not only would the capital costs be infeasible, the cost in safety to both cyclists and motorists would be too. We can, however, begin to implement new design standards and education into our reconstruction of the existing infrastructure to better serve other modes other than the personal automobile. This will begin the stride towards being more sustainable, and like with a good run, you can start slow before picking up the pace. The fact remains, people need to start making the transition soon or else future generations are going to suffer, whether it be from climate change or from obesity.

Personal Aside:
To write my thoughts on both articles coherent way is difficult for me. So many thoughts swim through my head that putting them down in any logical order would confuse the reader more than help them understand my point of view. This little aside is for me to basically empty my brain of other thoughts that I couldn't fit anywhere above in the homework assignment.

Personally, I love to drive my car. As a kid, I grew up looking forward to the day I would turn 16 and be able to drive a car. To this day, I still enjoy driving my car to and from any destination that is given to me. Now I'll admit that it's not just cars, I also dream of the day I would be able to fly a private plane, but that is a different matter that doesn't pertain to this. Although I have altered my habits in the last 3-4 years where I take more public transportation to destinations not needing the vehicle, I still can't help but to have some excitement when sitting behind the wheel of my car.

My personal experience here in the Netherlands has caused some childhood memories to resurface. I can remember that with my bicycle, I would pretend that the sidewalks of my grandfathers house were city streets. I would ride the bike on the right side of the sidewalk, come to complete stops at intersections, signal a make-believe blinker when passing my sister, and even park my bike in an imaginary parking space. To be able to have this same experience as an adult on a bicycle is great. Riding a bike down the street and being treated as an equal by cars weighing over 10x more than you is a wonderful feeling. Having a car yield to you at the intersection, waiting to pass until it can do so without inconveniencing you, or even giving you more room as it passes you going the other direction are all things I've come to appreciate while in this country. The experience of riding a bike within traffic works here in the Netherlands, and it works very well.

I don't see it being the same feeling in the United States, not without a lot of work. In the few times I've ridden a bike around Portland, I feel like I'm looked at as inferior by other people on the road, whether it's on in a bike lane or on a bike boulevard. I'm not sure only improvements to infrastructure will alleviate this problem. I think more education and more bike riders are going to be needed to improve the environment for cyclists. I say more bike riders because I can almost relate the feeling the the instance where you feel like you are in the wrong when you are doing something alone, but if there are other people doing the same thing you are, you feel comfortable (even if the activity is wrong). Hopefully with future infrastructure improvements and more education, more bike riders will take that step to be regular bicyclists leading the way for more people to feel just as comfortable as the cyclists are in the Netherlands.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Role of the Sidewalk

To those that are reading this to keep track of the fun I'm having, I have to warn you I am also using this blog to also do homework. This is one of those posts that may seem dry and unexciting (unless you are into urban planning or enjoy technical jargon). For our second homework assignment, the PSU students in the group were assigned to read and discuss our observations of the first 3 chapters of the book The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs.

Jane Jacobs gives a great observation on the direction our planning of cities is going. The first chapter (which is actually the introduction) sets forth her intentions for the book in being an attack on planning and rebuilding and how it seems to be ignoring the needs of people in society. Jane Jacobs writes about how people in the field are mistaken in their methods of planning and are in turn teaching those mistaken methods to up and coming architects and city planners. An excellent metaphor was given relating the planning practice to old medical procedure "bloodletting", which actually hurt more people than it healed. The introduction is full of examples about city areas that were considered slums due to not being designed by modern minds, but instead are lively, healthy, busy, and wonderful areas to walk through and even live in. Jacobs also gives examples on the other end of the spectrum and talks about  "Garden Cities" and how some areas designed on the concept, in which the designer felt he had the best intentions in making a comfortable, beautiful neighborhood, have fell to shambles due to disrespect and in turn have become unlivable.

The second chapter of the book was focused on the safety that sidewalks brought to not only pedestrians, but the city as well. Throughout the reading, it is obvious Jane Jacobs refers to cities as living creatures, not just environments to live in. Instead of speaking of people, or traffic, or buildings, Jacobs sees the whole picture and speaks of the entire organism. This chapter goes into what Jacobs calls "barbarism", which is aggressive behavior such as tagging or other activities that make the environment menacing towards the people (who would then fear it). With the constant usage of the sidewalks, barbarism can be prevented and the users can have a better sense of safety as they move through the neighborhood. Another benefit mentioned is from eyes on the sidewalks and how a community can all watch for improper behavior such as a kidnapping.

In the third chapter of the book, Jane Jacob writes about how sidewalks can bring connections between people. She speaks of communities that know each other through meeting on the sidewalks and how those meetings can lead to a neighborhood trust of one another. A neat example is given of how a shop owner in a neighborhood can hold keys or packages and be trusted by many people in the neighborhood. Most of the chapter is used to explain how the togetherness of a neighborhood can be attributed to the life on the sidewalks.

As I've witnessed in my classes and roaming around Amsterdam, Delft, Pijnacker, and recently Houten here in the Netherlands, I've been able to see where Jane Jacobs was basing her view from. The city of Delft seems to be one of the healthiest towns I've been in and the sidewalk activity appears to be a major contributor. I walked through the town last Saturday (a day the market was in town) and it was great to see people mingling at coffee watching the crowds, people discussing objects for sale, or just saying hi to one another. On days without the market, areas around the city center are still full of people enjoying themselves and welcoming people they cross. I've also received a few welcomes myself from people passing me on the bike rides.

When it comes to thinking of safety on well connected streets, my experience in Amsterdam comes to mind. As I walked the crowded streets, I never once felt any fear of where I was at, even though I was in a completely unfamiliar area with a bunch of strangers that spoke a language I knew nothing about. The sidewalks of Amsterdam were bustling with activity, both tourism and people going about their daily routines, and everyone we talked to either to ask for directions or for help were more than happy to oblige.

By using what I've read about city health from the first three chapters of Jane Jacobs' book, I feel I've began to understand how some of cities here in the Netherlands have done so well over so long of time. By being connected through bike paths and sidewalks while making the automobile even more impersonal, cities have appeared very robust in health. It almost feels like the Dutch understand that by letting people have personal contact in the streets and sidewalks is a key to having a great livable community.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

We Need More Places Like Pijnacker!

For today's Netherlands adventure, the class I am in took a trip out to Pijnacker. Pijnacker is a recently developed neighborhood east of Delft about 6 km (or 3.75 miles). In the morning meeting before taking off, Dr. Furth gave a brief history of the town, explaining how the main road through the area followed the canal. A problem arose when businesses began to develop along the main road, which is not a normal situation the Dutch design for. Shopping is best located away from main roads so that the foot traffic that is visiting the stores does not conflict with the heavy vehicle traffic that is traveling through the center. In order to fix this issue, Pijnacker "demoted" their main street and built a bypass around the south of the city. The class was to tour Pijnacker and observe how they are changing what use to be their main street into bicycle friendly access to shops at Pijnacker's center. Another thing of note from the morning speech was when Dr. Furth spoke of Pijnacker being a town of roundabouts, some of which are a new style dubbed the "turbo-roundabout". A few traffic engineers, myself included, showed a little excitement on getting to see one of these roundabouts first hand.

Bridge under the highway A13.
After the morning orientation of the class, we set off towards Pijnacker. One of our first stops was to observe how the bike highway from Delft to Pijnacker worked around highway A13. Since the Dutch knew bikes couldn't safely cross such a busy vehicle route, a tunnel was built underneath. In the interest of cyclists, the bridge was designed to feel safe by allowing a rider to see the other side of the underpass as he/she enters. This idea of a safe tunnel would be seen in designs further along in the day.

Stop signs along the bike highway.
One of our next stops was an intersection between the bike highway and Zuidpoldersingel Rd. Stop signs are not a common sight in the Netherlands, but they were used at this intersection to make sure bicycle traffic received priority over automobiles. The sign under the warning sign reminds auto traffic to make eye contact with the bikes at the intersection for an additional measure of safety. Another interesting feature of this intersection that isn't as visible in the picture is the chicane located on each side of the bike highway. The purpose of these curves in the bike lane are to slow down the motorbikes that are traveling along the route so an incident with an automobile is less likely.

TURBO!! Roundabout
Our next stop which was just a little bit further south than the bike highway intersection. We were able to see first hand a smaller turbo roundabout. It was difficult to get a decent picture of the roundabout that shows what makes it "turbo", but there exists a separated lane on the inside that corkscrews towards the outside. The traffic approaching the roundabout much choose which direction they are going to go before actually entering the intersection (much like a signalized intersection). The lane that is chosen then guides them through the roundabout and they exit without many conflicts with other traffic (traffic is not allowed to switch lanes within the roundabout). For turbo roundabouts, bicycle and pedestrian traffic is restricted due to safety concerns. But the Dutch won't leave bikes and pedestrians without means to getting where they need to go, so instead they make tunnels nearby that bypass the vehicular traffic.

Happy bike riders bypassing the turbo roundabout.
Continuing on our journey of the bike highway, we stopped next at another intersection. This time we observed the two different styles of information signs designed to give a cyclist his/her location. The first style is the easy-to-understand pointing sign. The sign uses a red-on-white text to point out how far the city line is from the location. From the sign we saw, Rotterdam would have been left for 11 km. A nice feature of the signs is that once you see a destination, every other direction sign along the way will have the same destination until you actually reach the city line, which Dr. Furth accurately explained as "taking your hand and guiding you there".

Bike directional sign. The red-on-white gives distances to destinations, the blue circle designates bike path (vehicles not allowed).
Another method of determining where you are that recently became popular in Europe is the node signs. These signs assigns a number to each location or node and provides a map of other nodes in the area. There are then posts that show which direction a nearby node is.

We were at node #5, a map was provided to locate other nodes in the area.

Post showing which direction local nodes were in.
We continued along the bike highway until we ran into the road that was built to bypass Pijnacker, N470. Dr. Furth gave some background on the road explaining how the lanes were only about 10 feet wide, but since there as a 4 foot wide median, the road seemed more spacious and traffic felt safer. Traffic didn't seem to mind as they still traveled the speed limit of 80 km/h. It was also pointed out that in the case of a breakdown, even though a shoulder was not visible, there was concrete on the side of the road that allowed grass to grow through that could be used to pull off the thorough-way.

Bike highway along N470. Notice where the street lighting is located.
One lane of N470 and the hidden shoulder. The stripings on the road made the lane seem even smaller.
Next we stopped on a residential street within Pijnacker and observed how it was altered from an asphalt road to a brick road (brick roads are more related to the 30 km/h zones whereas asphalt roads are thought of as having faster speeds by the driver).

Two-way residential street.
The residential street had a speed limit of 30 km/h (19 mph) and allowed traffic in both directions. However, the vehicle lane was only 9'4" so only one vehicle could fit between the suggested bike lanes. If two vehicles were to meet traveling opposite directions, both would have to move into the bike lanes (4' wide) in order to pass, but not before yielding to any cyclists. The long and short lines signal a speed hump, which helped calm traffic down on this street.

Moving on towards our scheduled meeting with the city officials from Pijnacker, we were able to see a few more nicely designed bike tunnels allowing for traffic to bypass what may be dangerous traffic areas. The class then arrived at De Soete Suikerbol which was an old farmhouse that was converted into a restaurant when the area obtained the permission to develop. When we arrived, we received a warm welcome from the city officials of Pijnacker, who greeted everyone of us as we entered the building. After sitting down and being treated to coffee and a treat, the officials went into presentations.

Mr. van Hagen speaking inside the De Soete Suikerbol.
First up was Jan Paul Woudstra who gave an overview of the planned activities as well as some statistics of community, some overview of the strategic vision of the area, and some breakdown of the spending budget. One thing I noted in the presentation was that 56% of the 2010 budget of 209 million was reserved for building, which is hard to imagine when most budgets I've seen in the U.S. are reserved mostly towards education.

The next presentation was by Mr. van Hagen who explained how the land use of the area was planned as well as the methods involved behind the new developments in the area. He touched on the different plans involved (spatial vision for the area, master plan, and destination plan, in order of the size of scope), the role of the private developer, and how the city worked with the private developer to build new areas of the city. An interesting note from Mr. van Hagen's presentation was about how 1.55 parking spaces were given towards each home, but these parking areas were in a public area so to still promote cycling for short trips.

The last presentation that was given before setting out on more of a tour came from Albert Taco Molenaar, who went into depth on bicycle policy and safety in the area. Mr. Molenaar touched on the existing bicycle network, explained design standards of the bicycle infrastructure, and talked about how to stimulate cycling. The later part of the presentation also went into roundabouts and turbo roundabouts to give us a better idea of how they worked.

The presentation then wrapped up and we headed out on the "Tour du Pijnacker" along with a few city officials. Along this part of the tour, we were able to view another turbo roundabout, but this one was signalized!

Signalized turbo roundabout!! Notice the bike tunnel in front so bikes and pedestrians can bypass.
The class then moved on to an area that was still under development. The area had some residential areas already constructed, but more were planned in the near future, as well as some retail shopping. Since the Netherlands is mostly peaty soil, building practices had to be adapted to remove the water and consolidate the soil so taller buildings could be supported. At this construction site, it was explained how 3 meters of sand was used to consolidate the soil while water was pumped into the canals. Once the land was sufficiently drained, 2 meters of sand was removed so construction could begin on the remaining 1 meter of sand. Keep in mind that the Dutch must transport the sand from the sea (since that is the only area it can be found naturally) and that it is done by pipeline and special methods developed by the Dutch. Those methods would be best saved for another blog.

Residential construction next to a transit station.
We continued on our tour of Pijnacker by next observing the traffic calming methods along the main street that had been demoted with the construction of the new bypass. One such device was a regular roundabout that had a two-way bike path circulating it as well.

Cycle roundabout!
From here, we rode our bikes through the downtown area of Pijnacker and to the central transit stop on the other side. The Dutch try to place major shopping near transit so people can bike to their nearest station and chain a transit trip in order to reach the stores. From the transit stop, we returned to the De Soete Suikerbol where we were given the choice of an apple, bacon, cheese, or plain pancake for lunch (I chose apple, but the bacon was great too).

Pancakes for lunch!!

After the delicious lunch, we parted ways with the city officials of Pijnacker and headed back to campus. For the afternoon session of the class, we had a presentation given by Hans Voerknecht, the International Coordinator for the Fietsberaad. Mr. Voerknecht is the gentleman cities turn to for advice on how to be as bicycle centric as the Dutch. Several valid points were given in the presentation including how cycling leads to happier and healthier people as well as how cycling helps the economy. One personal experience that was shared by Mr. Voerknecht was that if he wanted to visit his doctor, he could ride 200 meters by bike, or drive 3.5 km by car. This thought helped drive home how the Dutch see the automobile compared to the bike in being used for longer trips.