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Bicycle Rush Hour
May 17, 2010 5:13 PM   Subscribe

Just an ordinary Wednesday morning in April 2010 at around 8.30 am. In Utrecht (Netherlands), a third of all trips are by bicycle. This is one of the busiest junctions in Utrecht a city with a population of 300,000. No less than 18,000 bicycles and 2,500 buses pass here every day. And yet Google Street View missed it. Because private motorized traffic is restricted here. (Video is 4 times faster than reality, 8 minutes condensed to 2.)
posted by Obscure Reference (107 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite

 
Reminds me of these bicycle counters they have in Denmark.
posted by jardinier at 5:27 PM on May 17, 2010


I am amused at how neatly they line up.
posted by madajb at 5:28 PM on May 17, 2010


It's not Utrecht, but Google does indeed have Street View from some non-car accessible bike trails, like this one. Google doesn't miss things, it simply hasn't gotten to everything yet.
posted by GuyZero at 5:34 PM on May 17, 2010


I lived near Maastricht as a young teenager. I rode a bike to school. The bike had a platform on the back for a school satchel, and head and taillights powered by a generator connected to one of the wheels. I also had a silvery BMX bike from the States, which my friends were impressed with but which was totally impractical for getting around. I wanted to kiss all the girls all the time and I was dying. I sold the bike before we moved back.
posted by swift at 5:35 PM on May 17, 2010 [11 favorites]


It ... it just makes me want to cry, tears of rage and or jealousy. We fight so hard to have this where I live, and all we get is one bike master plan after another, and all the consultants and politicians give each other awards for being progressive and making us a bike friendly city, and yet we never actually get any bike lanes out of it.

And I want to say, no, see, look at this video, or go to effin Europe already, because this is what we're talking about.
posted by kanewai at 5:35 PM on May 17, 2010 [27 favorites]


kanewai, you live in Seattle don't you!
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 5:37 PM on May 17, 2010


I can't help but notice the lack of helmets. I suppose that the risk of injury is lower when bicycles aren't competing with cars and other vehicles. Still, it's interesting that no one seems to be wearing one.
posted by sueinnyc at 5:39 PM on May 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Not a bicycle helmet [PDF] in sight.
Annually, in the Netherlands, approximately 67,000 casualties of cycling crashes are treated at a first-aid department (source LIS – Injury Information System of Consumers & Safety), 8,000 cyclists are admitted to hospital (source LMR – National Medical Registration), and 190 people die as a result of a cycling crash1 (CBS – Central Bureau for Statistics – Unnatural Deaths). Of the casualties admitted to hospital, more than a quarter were found to have head or brain injuries (27.5%) (Ormel, 2009).

1 Due to the extensive under-registration of (cyclist-only) cycling accidents in the official National Road Accident Register (BRON), this Fact sheet will henceforth only contain hospital data of the LMR. Deaths due to head/brain injuries are not included.
Quoted from the linked PDF.
posted by unliteral at 5:40 PM on May 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


and all we get is one bike master plan after another, and all the consultants and politicians give each other awards for being progressive and making us a bike friendly city

Most of the rest of the US has tears of rage and jealousy that you get this much.
posted by DU at 5:40 PM on May 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Heh!
posted by unliteral at 5:41 PM on May 17, 2010


It's very hypnotic.

And reminds me that I should take my bike out and see what kind of spring maintenance it needs now that it's finally warm enough for comfortable biking here in Helsinki.
posted by severiina at 5:41 PM on May 17, 2010


Dang, and I consider it exceptional if I see two or more other cyclists on my bike commute.
posted by ghharr at 5:47 PM on May 17, 2010


Not a bicycle helmet in sight

You know what else isn't in sight? Spandex bike shorts.
posted by mhum at 5:50 PM on May 17, 2010 [27 favorites]


I was surprised to see that scooters or mopeds can apparently mingle with the bikes, or are those just jerks?

I'm a car and motorcycle guy but I would love it if our cities were like this.
posted by maxwelton at 5:50 PM on May 17, 2010


This reminds me a lot of the bike paths I saw in Ottawa on a trip last year. I was incredibly impressed with the amazing bike paths, running in parallel to many roads and the well-maintained rental bikes we got.
posted by peacheater at 5:52 PM on May 17, 2010


Look, no overweight people.

I wonder why.
posted by bwg at 5:54 PM on May 17, 2010 [4 favorites]


The year I spent in the NL, I loved the bike paths but hated sharing them with the motor scooters (look closely at this vid). Having them veer crazily past me felt at least as dangerous as sharing roadways with cars.

Ottawa is ok for paths along touristy scenic routes, peacheater (say, along the canal), but isn't particularly good for cross-town. At least, it's the equal of other car-ruled cities.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 5:55 PM on May 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


yay for bikes.

boo for making me miss living in holland.
posted by 256 at 6:01 PM on May 17, 2010


Their streets are like this due to their amazing foresight in appointing Benny Hill as special consultant to the planning department in 1973.
posted by TimTypeZed at 6:05 PM on May 17, 2010 [21 favorites]


I am one of a few bike commuters at my office. I have a Dutch friend who was flabbergasted at my bike habits. Specifically:

1) wearing a helmet. "No, they look stupid". "But a helmet saved my li..." "That's because Americans won't pay taxes to fix their damn roads"

2) taking a bike repair class. "You have to take a class for that? That's like taking a class to learn how to tie your shoes"

Suddenly his remarks don't seem so strange to me....
posted by xthlc at 6:13 PM on May 17, 2010 [5 favorites]


I was surprised to see that scooters or mopeds can apparently mingle with the bikes, or are those just jerks?

Scooter and mopeds with engines below a certain size (I forget the exact number) are legally allowed on the bike paths. The maximum engine size is surprisingly large and they can cook along at about 64 kph which is way to fast to be on the bicycle paths in my opinion.

Also allowed are some weird handicapped mini cars that take up both lanes, very odd.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 6:17 PM on May 17, 2010


Not a bicycle helmet in sight

Yeah, the "bicycle helmet : cute Dutch women" ratio is completely out-of-whack.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:25 PM on May 17, 2010


taking a bike repair class. "You have to take a class for that? That's like taking a class to learn how to tie your shoes"

As an American who figured this out on his own at ~age 12, I agree. Seriously, how hard it is to figure out how to change a tire or tighten a brake cable? You don't even really need special tools, although they can help.
posted by DU at 6:31 PM on May 17, 2010


A couple of years ago I brought my fixie to the Netherlands on a long business trip. I commuted on it quite a bit and had a great time. My bike is just about the opposite of a Dutch commuter bike though, no fender, lights or gears. I also have American flag handlebar tape which engendered no end of odd looks and comments. Great fun...
posted by Confess, Fletch at 6:31 PM on May 17, 2010


I lived near Maastricht as a young teenager. I rode a bike to school. The bike had a platform on the back for a school satchel, and head and taillights powered by a generator connected to one of the wheels. I also had a silvery BMX bike from the States, which my friends were impressed with but which was totally impractical for getting around. I wanted to kiss all the girls all the time and I was dying. I sold the bike before we moved back.

That's the first paragraph of a novel right there.
posted by kersplunk at 6:32 PM on May 17, 2010 [22 favorites]


and 190 people die as a result of a cycling crash

dear unilateral: have you looked at the average death rates for all traffic (including motor vehicles and pedestrians) on the roads where you live?
posted by ovvl at 6:43 PM on May 17, 2010 [3 favorites]


There are a few cities in North America, mostly on the west coast, where bicycling is fairly common. Here in Vancouver there are many streets that are made deliberately difficult to drive on so that cyclists can use them to get around. Check out the little bike symbols on the street signs for those streets. Cyclists feel safe and they don't get in the way of the motorists on the bigger, busier roads.

Of course the bike traffic here is nothing like what's shown in the video, but baby steps.
posted by tuck_nroll at 6:44 PM on May 17, 2010


Now Van, yes. I miss those bike lanes. Not the hills, mind you. But the lanes.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 6:49 PM on May 17, 2010


Something else you see in European cyclers that you don't see in their American counterparts - smoking on a bike.

I imagine that the lack of overweight people has to do with the pedestrian lifestyle as much as the cyclist one.
posted by el io at 6:55 PM on May 17, 2010


Ahh, if only everywhere in the world were as flat as the Netherlands...er...ok, maybe not.
posted by talkingmuffin at 7:02 PM on May 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Neat. Replace those bikes with cars and buses but keep the speed exactly as it is, and that's traffic in Bogota for you...
posted by jontyjago at 7:02 PM on May 17, 2010


The two things that struck me most about bike riding in Holland when I spent a few weeks there years ago were:

1. Biking in all manner of clothing. From formal to informal, fashionable to dorktastic. Many, many women biking in heels and short skirts.
2. Doing "weird" things while biking -- this was captured nicely in the video by the guy biking along while pulling a second, riderless bike along with him. Teens biking with three of their friends hanging on the bike, parents biking with their kids on their backs, or sitting on the handlebars. People carrying seemingly unsafe amounts of things (groceries, books, bulky shopping bags).
posted by Rock Steady at 7:02 PM on May 17, 2010


The same intersection covered in 4" of snow

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZMv3OB6XHvQ
posted by T.D. Strange at 7:02 PM on May 17, 2010 [7 favorites]


Brilliant. I want to live somewhere like this.
posted by carter at 7:11 PM on May 17, 2010


My enduring memory of visiting Amsterdam in college was the bikes. Those big black Dutch bikes everywhere. Also we got mugged with a machete. But dude SO MANY BIKES.
posted by grapesaresour at 7:13 PM on May 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


That snow footage is awesome. It seems to slow them down slightly. (Wait, maybe it's just that it's in real time and the other wasn't)
posted by serazin at 7:25 PM on May 17, 2010


Sitting on handle bars is not weird.
posted by oddman at 7:25 PM on May 17, 2010


Something else you see in European cyclers that you don't see in their American counterparts - smoking on a bike.

You've never been to Philadelphia! I used to roll cigarettes while riding my bike. I was a psycho bike messenger at the time, but yeah. But one thing I haven't seen anywhere but the Netherlands: Riding a bike in the rain while holding an umbrella.
Brilliant!
posted by Mister_A at 7:29 PM on May 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


In Portland if you go to the right place when the weather is good at the right time and squint hard there is something almost like a bike rush hour.
posted by floam at 7:31 PM on May 17, 2010


But one thing I haven't seen anywhere but the Netherlands: Riding a bike in the rain while holding an umbrella.

Japan, dude. Japan. I'd be soaked on the way to (or from) school if not. Though the kids were warned against doing so, they did as well.

The stuff upthread about carrying packages, groceries, kids, etc. -- that's what you do when you're using it as a primary vehicle. See also: southeast asia and motor scooters. Family of five? No problem!
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 7:41 PM on May 17, 2010


I like the guy 33 seconds in who's bringing along a spare bicycle. That's preparedness!
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 7:42 PM on May 17, 2010


(30 seconds in, stupid typos)
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 7:43 PM on May 17, 2010


There's a guy who bikes past my bus stop when the weather is nice, a cigarette in one hand and a cell phone in the other. I have seen him deal with coming to a stop at a red light more than a few ways, including:

•grabbing the handlebar with the pinky and ring-finger of the hand with the cigarette between the index and middle finger;
•grabbing the handlebar with the hand with the cellphone in it and then cursing;
•flinging his cigarette upwards into his mouth and then grabbing the handlebar with his now-empty hand;
•grasping the cellphone with his head and his shoulder, freeing up that hand to grab the handlebar; and
•having everything in his brain attempt to do all of those things at once, which can end any number of ways, including an elaborate explosion of limbs.

I'm surprised he hasn't thrown his cellphone into his mouth while pressing the handlebar between his ear and his shoulder, grabbing firmly onto his cigarette to keep his balance.

This man is going to be the lead on the news one day, for good or ill.
posted by tzikeh at 7:47 PM on May 17, 2010 [17 favorites]


Japan, dude. Japan.

Yup. people here do it all the time, myself included. Some people (especially older people who might not feel secure enough biking with only one hand on the handlebars) use little clamp gizmos that hold your umbrella. I've kinda wanted one of those sometimes, but, yeah, they look kinda clunky and uncool.

I also consider myself very fortunate to live here (Tokyo), where I can do virtually all of my local (neighborhood) errands and such on a bicycle. I'm on it virtually every day, and you don't have to lock it to a post or anything. After 11 years of living in NYC, I'm still grateful for that: makes life a lot easier and less stressful.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:49 PM on May 17, 2010


This is almost like Davis, except for the lack of freshman going the wrong way on the bike circles.
posted by shinyshiny at 7:49 PM on May 17, 2010 [4 favorites]


(Should be a U.C. in front of that Davis...)
posted by shinyshiny at 7:50 PM on May 17, 2010


A couple years ago in Toulouse, I saw a young guy in his nice work clothes riding a bike with a wee kid in the handlebar box, a smaller kid in a child seat on the back of the bike, and his wife riding sidesaddle on the toptube. He got to where he was going, kissed his wife, and she hopped on the saddle and pedaled away. I still regret being so stunned that I forgot to take a picture. It was amazing to see and obviously something they did all the time.
posted by Heretic at 7:52 PM on May 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


dear unilateral: have you looked at the average death rates for all traffic (including motor vehicles and pedestrians) on the roads where you live?

Is this at all relevant? If those deaths could have been prevented by wearing a helmet, what's it matter whether other cities have other statistics?
posted by kenko at 7:54 PM on May 17, 2010


1) wearing a helmet. "No, they look stupid". "But a helmet saved my li..." "That's because Americans won't pay taxes to fix their damn roads"

Your friend was only partially right. The reason American bicycle riders need to wear helmets is due to the all-too-common presence of SUV-driving dolts with a latte in one hand and their cell in the other, steering with their knees and an attitude towards bicyclists akin to my attitude towards mosquitos that get too close. That's why we wear helmets.
posted by zardoz at 8:00 PM on May 17, 2010 [5 favorites]


But one thing I haven't seen anywhere but the Netherlands: Riding a bike in the rain while holding an umbrella.

I've see two women in mini-skirts on one bicycle, each with their own individual umbrella.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 8:06 PM on May 17, 2010


..and to boot - the streets, buses and trains were spotless.
posted by circa68 at 8:07 PM on May 17, 2010


I've see two women in mini-skirts on one bicycle, each with their own individual umbrella.

Nonsense, that sort of thing only happens in HEAVEN.
posted by chrominance at 8:28 PM on May 17, 2010 [3 favorites]


I like how there's only one guy who "cuts" in line unlike lots of places in America where everyone is competing to be first off the line.

I rode my bike to work in heels and a dress last week. Of course, I was also wearing a mega dorky waterproof bike jacket so my euro-chic was totally negated.
posted by vespabelle at 8:33 PM on May 17, 2010


zardoz, and the ironic thing is that when that SUV right-hooks you and crushes you under the bumper, that helmet won't do much.

Quebec has had a bad week for cycling safety. A pickup driver gouranga'd a triathlon club on a four-lane rural road, killing three women and sending their friends and spouses to the emergency ward. Days later, another man was killed by a drunk driver.

Shit happens, it's gruesome and there is plenty of blame to go around.

What really pisses me off is that three days later the Montreal police are handing out helmets and lecturing cyclists on traffic rules.

Great message you're sending, Montreal cops. The only thing that you need to do to stop cyclists from getting their necks and spines snapped, internal organs crushed, and limbs mangled is to get them to wrap styrofoam around their heads.

Copenhagenize calls it "ignoring the bull".

Metafilter's discussed this before, but the New York data is what convinces me. The more cyclists on the road, the safer it is. In NYC's case, so safe it offsets the increased number of cyclists and absolute injuries go down.

Improve cycling safety by getting more people to choose bike over car. Anything that discourages cycling must come with a convincing argument.
posted by anthill at 8:34 PM on May 17, 2010 [9 favorites]


Oh, good, are we doing the helmet/no helmet thrash again?

Of the three bad accidents that have happened to people close to me, exactly zero involved other vehicles, motorized or otherwise. If it weren't for helmets, my father would have died when I was 10, my close friend would have died when I was 16, and my husband would have died when I was 37.

I wear my helmet. And I feel really frustrated and annoyed when I hear people arguing that it's only because of motor vehicles that helmets are necessary.

That said, this video is practically making me drool.

For those in the Bay Area who'd enjoy a taste of something like it, the next Sunday Streets SF is this Sunday, 5/23. And Oaklavia is June 27.
posted by Lexica at 8:42 PM on May 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


It's not Utrecht, but Google does indeed have Street View from some non-car accessible bike trails, like this one. Google doesn't miss things, it simply hasn't gotten to everything yet.

Yup, Google uses the trishaw-like Trike to take pics in streets inaccessible by cars.
posted by the cydonian at 8:50 PM on May 17, 2010


Lexica, I'm not arguing that helmets are only necessary because of motor vehicles. I'm arguing that they're a solution to a different problem.

Glad you have found helmets useful. I wear one too, but I'd rather have a helmetless cyclist riding with me than none at all.
posted by anthill at 8:51 PM on May 17, 2010




Look, no overweight people. I wonder why.

Dutch food sucks!
posted by jimmythefish at 9:04 PM on May 17, 2010 [3 favorites]


Of the three bad accidents that have happened to people close to me, exactly zero involved other vehicles, motorized or otherwise. If it weren't for helmets, my father would have died when I was 10, my close friend would have died when I was 16, and my husband would have died when I was 37.

I don't doubt helmets prevented some sort of injuries in all of those people, but I see so many people bring this up every time a helmet cracks that I have to wonder: anyone have data on the percent of head injuries from bicycle accidents that result in death? Obviously, the ones that are not severe enough that someone would bother to go to the hospital would be hard to gauge, but I'd bet there are some sort of numbers for those that are reported.
posted by floam at 9:12 PM on May 17, 2010


It ... it just makes me want to cry, tears of rage and or jealousy.

Be the change you want to see in the world, kanewai. I think it's neat to see the preponderance of bikes in the video, but I personally enjoy herding cars. My city, Fort Worth, is not considered to be "bike friendly," but I have no problem getting around town on my bike. If others want to join me, that's great, but if not, that's okay too.
posted by Doohickie at 9:22 PM on May 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


I also consider myself very fortunate to live here (Tokyo), where I can do virtually all of my local (neighborhood) errands and such on a bicycle. I'm on it virtually every day, and you don't have to lock it to a post or anything. After 11 years of living in NYC, I'm still grateful for that: makes life a lot easier and less stressful.

Same here -- in fact, I rode to work this morning on my mamachari instead of taking my usual walk.

The interesting thing about Tokyo is, while it has a relatively large number of bicycle users, most people tend to use them only within a relatively small area. There are a fair number of more enthusiast-type riders who do the longer-distance, 5+ km commutes, but in my experience people use their bicycles to ride to the nearest rail station, then continue on to work or school. Though Tokyo has a much higher population density than Utrecht, the many rail lines and company-provided commuter passes encourage public transit use. Mind you, this is only really true for the larger Japanese cities; smaller cities are less dense, have high car ownership rates, and have lower rates of bicycle use (mainly because commuting 10+ km each way without bike lanes is just as dicey a prospect as it is in the US).

One thing that Japan hasn't really "gotten" the way some cities in the US and Europe have are separated lanes and other road improvements. Japanese drivers aren't used to sharing lines with bicycles, which explains the rather high accident rate for cyclists. However, since the roads are already pretty narrow, and there's no strong cyclist organization, I doubt there will be any new bike lanes except when completely new roads are built.
posted by armage at 9:57 PM on May 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Riding a Dutch bike is such a different experience. You sit up straight, above traffic, in whatever clothes you're wearing - thanks to the fully enclosed chain case and dress guards. You can easily turn your head to check traffic. There's a dynamo-powered light for when it gets dark. There's a bell. The brakes and gears are inside hubs, so they work just as well in rain and snow. Full fenders means never worrying about puddles or road grime. You strap your stuff in or put it in a basket, and just go.

There's two main things a city needs in order to get to what's in the video: utility bikes with all of the above features, and ubiquitous cycling paths segregated from fast-moving car traffic. The rest will follow.
posted by parudox at 10:01 PM on May 17, 2010 [3 favorites]


Look, no overweight people. I wonder why.

Me too! I bet if Americans biked to and from work or school every day, they'd all be really skinny. Since everything else about the United States and the Netherlands--the food industries, the governmental structure, the corporate interests, and, oh, let's say, their deeply entrenched socio-economic and cultural histories--is exactly the same, we can easily isolate "they don't walk or bike enough" as the ENTIRE PROBLEM.

Man, what color is the sky on your bike-path-laden world?
posted by tzikeh at 10:05 PM on May 17, 2010 [6 favorites]


There's two main things a city needs in order to get to what's in the video: utility bikes with all of the above features, and ubiquitous cycling paths segregated from fast-moving car traffic. The rest will follow.

Not really...a big factor is a compact form of development where people live fairly close to where they work. Plenty of places in North America have wonderful climates and adequate space for cycling. The problem is that things are so very far away from each other. That, you're not going to fix with bike lanes. It needs a concerted effort to create a high-density mixed-use environment so ubiquitous in European cities but much rarer in North America.

But, it's also local culture. I lived in Barcelona for a while and, despite having compact, high-density development and tons of bike lanes almost nobody rode their bike there. It's all scooters and metro. They have all the pieces in place, but the Catalans aren't into their bike commuting.
posted by jimmythefish at 10:17 PM on May 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Hey, Obscure promoted my comment link. It is a fun video.

Be the change you want to see in the world, kanewai.

This. I took on the role of Bike to Work Week coordinator in my community and it's been richly rewarding. In just two months I've become THE bike advocate. We're in Wisconsin (2nd ranked bike-friendly state) and a county away from Madison (gold-ranked bike-friendly community, seeking platinum), but we have virtually no bike culture and only a very nice city trail system. There are rural trails that literally start at our county line, but not inside this county. Still, I feel our trail system is good enough to be the starting point for getting my city designated bike-friendly, and expanding that trail or building new ones in the county is dependent on developing a bike, well, lobby of stakeholders who can speak up for bicycling at budget time.

Really, you can bike anywhere in town in 15 minutes. There's no obstacle to changing things except the people themselves. But that doesn't happen unless somebody starts asking. From the Wisconsin Bike Summit, I steal the quote as a mantra: The world is run by those who show up.

Show up, and see how much of the world you can start running. Good luck! Hawaii needs you!
posted by dhartung at 11:03 PM on May 17, 2010


God, I'd love Montreal to be how cycling is pictured in this video. And Montreal is already one of the most bike-friendly cities in North America.

I agree with one of the above comments: Be the change that you want to see in this world... So for that reason I cycle to work each day on my utility bike wearing a skirt and heels... Sure, I get nearly get run down by SUV's on a daily basis, or people laugh or whistle at me, but perhaps I can be an inspiration for others. The more of us there are, the less of a freakshow I'll be on a bicycle simply going from point A to point B.
posted by exquisite_deluxe at 11:17 PM on May 17, 2010


Lots of people on blue and yellow bikes... Are those Utrecht's public bikes?
posted by soundofsuburbia at 11:25 PM on May 17, 2010


1) wearing a helmet. "No, they look stupid". "But a helmet saved my li..." "That's because Americans won't pay taxes to fix their damn roads"

Your friend was only partially right. The reason American bicycle riders need to wear helmets is due to the all-too-common presence of SUV-driving dolts with a latte in one hand and their cell in the other, steering with their knees and an attitude towards bicyclists akin to my attitude towards mosquitos that get too close. That's why we wear helmets.


To be fair when I lived in Davis I often rode my bike with a latte in one hand and a bagel in the other, steering with my knees. And no one there wears helmets either.
posted by fshgrl at 11:40 PM on May 17, 2010


I live in Groningen, in the north of the Netherlands, the "World's Cycling City." 50% of trips are taken by bike here. What's interesting is that I've read that when they implemented their extreme bike-friendly policies in the 1970s, the businesses in the city center were against it. They thought discouraging cars in the city center would discourage people from coming into the city. However, the opposite happened; discouraging cars made the city center a much NICER place to walk around, and differentiated it from the places further out. Thus, commerce picked up. This lesson could be learned by other cities, I think...

I moved from the US to Groningen, and I never knew how liberating not owning a car would be.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 12:27 AM on May 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm a dyed in the wool Dutch biker and while I would never wear a helmet there, I wore one every day cycling in London and would wear one every day in the US.

It's not that there aren't bike accidents in The Netherlands where helmets could help, just that the number of them is so many times less that it's not worth it for the hassle. If you think that any amount of hassle is worth even a small increase in safety, then I hope that you drive a Volvo wearing a nomex suit and a neck brace.
posted by atrazine at 12:36 AM on May 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Whenever I ride a bike in Japan I am reminded of just how different things are from the US. First off, I live in sort-of-small-town-Japan, which means that it's considered rural here, but would easily be considered a small city in the US (around 300k people).

Almost everyone rides on the sidewalk here. I occasionally see riders in full bike gear and helmets riding on the road, but most of the time everyone is just riding on the sidewalk without helmets and with their baskets full of groceries and umbrellas in their hands if it's raining. The sidewalks around here are generally wide (about 1.5 car widths) and un-crowded or nonexistent. Occasionally you'll run into a narrow sidewalk and then you have a bit of a challenge if you need to pass. I actually tend to try for routes that either have wide sidewalks or are narrow enough to generally have restrictions on car traffic, because the curb-cuts here are not so nice to ride over.

People on the sidewalk ride slowly. They aren't trying to get anywhere quickly, they're just trying to expend less energy than they would walking. My pace is generally about 10km/h, and I am generally considered to be going pretty fast when I ride with others.

Cars notice bicyclist on the sidewalk. When I am riding on the sidewalk, cars will actually tend to give me right-of-way at an intersection even when I am not expecting or planning for it. This can be irritating sometimes, but it is certainly better than being not noticed at all.

I tend to be a very paranoid cyclist, but I also do not wear a helmet (which I did do in the US), and occasionally I am very bad and take advantage of the bike-friendly situation. Just last week I was riding and failed to notice a traffic light for a usually-untrafficked side street and got myself into a position where I could have been easily run over.

Also, in any more rural of an area I would probably be more afraid to ride my bicycle. But what I am afraid of is not necessarily the car drivers, but more that the roads are narrower, and have a horrible tendency to have no shoulder or barriers and a sheer meter or so drop into a rice field.
posted by that girl at 12:39 AM on May 18, 2010


Lots of people on blue and yellow bikes... Are those Utrecht's public bikes?

No, they are so called OV-fietsen (public transport bikes). This is a service of the Dutch Railways which you can join for 9.5 Euros per year and then you can hire bikes at almost every train station (and some other places) for 2.85Euro for 20 hours.
posted by PaulZ at 12:41 AM on May 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


When I first came to Beijing in '95 the bike was still holding its own and of course plenty of people still ride them today, but the car has truly wrecked city traffic in the intervening years. You also get a lot more electric bikes sharing the lanes these days, though nothing like the number in most other cities I've been to as Beijing was later in allowing them I believe.
I've personally done the riding along towing another unridden bike to deliver for a friend (and the smoking while riding I must admit) and of course we still get a lot of deliveries done by three-wheel bikes with a flatbed or box on back. Helmets rarer than hen's teeth and that includes most of the electric bikes.
posted by Abiezer at 12:47 AM on May 18, 2010


As for the overweight people thing.....I do think bikes play a role. But also.....
Dudes, have you ever been in a (traditional) Dutch house? The stairs. THE STAIRS. Go to your 4th floor flat 4/5 times a day (carrying your groceries [and in a dodgy neighbourhood YOUR BIKE) on those steeeep stairs and you'll already have burned a bitterballen or two.
posted by MessageInABottle at 1:25 AM on May 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


unliteral: "Not a bicycle helmet [PDF] in sight."

From the video infobox:
For those who frown upon the total absence of bike helmets in this video, consider these findings from a US study:

"Cycling in the Netherlands is much safer than in the USA. The Netherlands has the lowest non-fatal injury rate as well as the lowest fatality rate, while the USA has the highest non-fatal injury rate as well as the highest fatality rate. Indeed, the non-fatal injury rate for the USA is about 30 times higher than for the Netherlands.

Injury rate per million km cycled: USA 37.5; NL 1.4
Fatality rate per 100 million km cycled: USA 5.8; NL 1.1"

From: Pucher, John and Buehler, Ralph (2008) 'Making Cycling Irresistible: Lessons from The Netherlands, Denmark and Germany'.
posted by brokkr at 1:39 AM on May 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


FWIW I always ride with a helmet.
posted by brokkr at 1:50 AM on May 18, 2010


jimmythefish: "But, it's also local culture. I lived in Barcelona for a while and, despite having compact, high-density development and tons of bike lanes almost nobody rode their bike there. It's all scooters and metro. They have all the pieces in place, but the Catalans aren't into their bike commuting."

This has changed a lot since the introduction of Bicing, an Aynatamiento-run residents cycling scheme with hundreds of bike stations across the city and the bikes themselves free to use for the first 30 minutes...
posted by benzo8 at 2:03 AM on May 18, 2010


I find it very depressing that every discussion of cycling on MeFI seems to always devolve into a pointless back and forth over cycle helmets.

Where's the discussion of transport policy, of social trends, of the choices made by societies? Surely there's more to talk about than obsessing over whether it should be mandatory to wear a chunk of polystyrene on your head? Copenhagenize the planet!
posted by pharm at 3:12 AM on May 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yesterday morning I was riding along the separated bike path next to the lake here in Canberra, a long way from any motorised vehicle, when a woman who was standing next to the path suddenly, without looking, stepped onto it when I was about 5 metres away. Not enough time to brake, and there was another cyclist in the oncoming lane so I couldn't swerve. My handlebar caught the strap of her handbag and I was thrown onto the path on my back. My head was the last thing to hit the ground.

As it was I got away with a headache and a sore neck. If I hadn't been wearing a helmet, I doubt I would have got away without serious injury. Maybe brain damage, maybe death.

So I have no plans to give up wearing my (replacement) helmet.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 3:25 AM on May 18, 2010


I'm in the "helmet saved my life" crowd as well, but I think there's something people forget in this "no helmets in the Netherlands" debate, aside from the relative merits of motorists in Holland vs. the rest of the world:

Folks, the Netherlands are flat. Flat as a halibut.

If you're riding somewhere where getting beyond 20 kph requires strain, you feel safer. You are safer. The consequences of getting bumped at leisurely-stroll pace are far different than those of wiping out while going down a 15-degree incline.

Put the Dutch anywhere where a routine ride will involve slopes that can easily push you beyond 40 kph if you don't ride the brakes every second, and they'll be strapping on soon enough.
posted by Shepherd at 3:50 AM on May 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


dhartung, I missed that you posted that link, which is odd because I have been obsessively playing your other link from that comment, since that's my commute two days a week.
posted by Obscure Reference at 4:18 AM on May 18, 2010


It's not even that. It's that everyone bikes everywhere, kids, adults, the elderly. Wearing a helmet while biking makes as much sense as wearing one while walking, "just in case." When everyone bikes all the time, the pedestrians also are more aware of the bicyclists, so you don't end up with freak occurrences like A Thousand Baited Hooks' purse-strap mishap.

Also, every one of the "helmet saved my life" stories neglects to recall that a helmet adds an additional inch or so of thickness to your head. Unless you landed head-first, there's a good chance your head may not have even hit pavement without the helmet.
posted by explosion at 4:20 AM on May 18, 2010


I'd just like to point out: FLAT.

I live a scant 1.5 miles from our little downtown, but the 400 foot vertical climb on the trip home strongly discourages me from casually biking it into town on many occasions. No amount of bike lanes, closed chain guards or mud flaps will change that.
posted by meinvt at 4:22 AM on May 18, 2010


Hang on... cyclists get traffic lights on their cycle paths and they obey them?

Crayshee...
posted by sodium lights the horizon at 4:27 AM on May 18, 2010


The Dutch don't wear helmets while cycling for the simple reason that they were cycling long before helmets became commonplace. (Well, that and the fact that they are notoriously hard-headed). Don't overthink things, folks.

Anyway, Holland is flat, which is a plus for cycling. On the other hand, Dutch weather is awfully wet and windy, which is a serious minus. If you haven't lived there, you can't imagine the strength of character (and waterproof clothing) that it takes to cycle to work in the average November weather. Or July, for that matter. But the Dutch start cycling from about the same moment they start walking, so they're pretty much used to it. It's very definitely a cultural thing.
posted by Skeptic at 4:37 AM on May 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


tzikeh: "Look, no overweight people. I wonder why.

Me too! I bet if Americans biked to and from work or school every day, they'd all be really skinny. Since everything else about the United States and the Netherlands--the food industries, the governmental structure, the corporate interests, and, oh, let's say, their deeply entrenched socio-economic and cultural histories--is exactly the same, we can easily isolate "they don't walk or bike enough" as the ENTIRE PROBLEM.

Man, what color is the sky on your bike-path-laden world?
"

It was just an observation. And I don't even own a bike.

Take a deeeeep breath. It'll all be okay.
posted by bwg at 4:50 AM on May 18, 2010


As an Utrechter it's a distinct pleasure to read these anthropological observations and interpretations of our bicyclal habits and customs. Now I know how the Trobrianders felt.
posted by joost de vries at 4:54 AM on May 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


pharm: "Copenhagenize the planet!"

Today's fun fact: Copenhagen is beginning to experience bicycle traffic congestion in the morning rush hours. The city planners are working on a plan to expand bike capacity on the major roads.
posted by brokkr at 5:22 AM on May 18, 2010


I rode to work today! Boston's getting so much better for cyclists - the city proper is installing bike lanes just about anywhere the mayor can get his hands on, which I really like. Even though I work out in the suburbs, it's nice to know that there are "safer" places to ride in the city.

That being said, the ride this morning was evidence that cycling is still an enthusiast's sport in the US. Lots of carbon fiber road bikes and spandex. Out of maybe 2 or 3 dozen people I saw on the bike path, only a couple were in street clothes. Most people were in cycling jerseys, pounding away with Camelbaks strapped to them.
posted by backseatpilot at 5:30 AM on May 18, 2010


According to this blogpost from David Hembrow, Utrecht Central station has about 14,000 parking spaces for bikes, you can see a lot of them in this video.

As for helmets, it's motorists that need them, not cyclists.
posted by SyntacticSugar at 5:53 AM on May 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Look, no overweight people. I wonder why.

Dutch food sucks!


I so wasn't going there.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 7:31 AM on May 18, 2010




Unless you landed head-first, there's a good chance your head may not have even hit pavement without the helmet.

If you land on the ground and your helmeted head smacks the pavement with any velocity, how would not wearing a helmet prevent your naked skull from touching the ground? It’s not like your head would just hover there.

Anyway, I don’t mean to add to the helmet derail (I refuse to call it a debate). I wish we could all live in a city like this.
posted by Think_Long at 8:06 AM on May 18, 2010


Dutch food sucks!

Our US au pair expressed enthousiasm for our Dutch cuisine. Specifically she said she really liked stamppot. I was happily surprised since I didn't think stamppot very notable internationally although most Dutch really like it.
Later I started to wonder whether the Guide For Au Pairs contains advice along the lines of "express interest and appreciation for the culture and customs of your host family".

Oh, and finding your bike after a days work amongst the 14000 other bikes can be a real pain.
posted by joost de vries at 8:12 AM on May 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Dutch food sucks!

Ironically, the foods where we really excel (kroket, bitterballen, & other "snackbar" food) aren't exactly healthy. Then again, in my family if you wanted them you had to go get them... on your bike of course.
posted by atrazine at 9:38 AM on May 18, 2010


"I find it very depressing that every discussion of cycling on MeFI seems to always devolve into a pointless back and forth over cycle helmets. "Where's the discussion of transport policy, of social trends, of the choices made by societies?"

It is a discussion of social trends and choices made by society. When BC made bike helmets mandatory airbags weren't yet common on cars. People driving cars, even with air bags, would be helped greatly in severe accidents by closed face helmets. But we regard bicycling as an "activity" and driving as mundane transportation. So it's easy to pass a law that only effects children and small percentages of the population engaged in an activity. A mandatory car helmet + HANS law would greatly reduce whiplash injuries and save lives, undoubtedly more lives than feel good legislation like C-68, but would be too wildly unpopular to ever get passed. It's very interesting when viewed through that lense.
posted by Mitheral at 11:00 AM on May 18, 2010


I don't know about stamppot, but those bitterballen things look mighty tasty.
posted by madajb at 1:28 PM on May 18, 2010


bwg: It was just an observation.

Uh-huh.

Take a deeeeep breath. It'll all be okay.

Thanks for the condescension.
posted by tzikeh at 1:35 PM on May 18, 2010


tzikeh: "bwg: It was just an observation.

Uh-huh.

Take a deeeeep breath. It'll all be okay.

Thanks for the condescension.
"

Oh, my pleasure.
posted by bwg at 4:20 PM on May 18, 2010


Dutch food sucks!

I have one word for you, my friend.

Poffertjes.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:37 PM on May 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


What is it with the US fawning over bikes? And the gear... jesus. US bike(rs) look like NASCAR cars, plastered with emblems and go-faster stripes and futuristic looking accessories, all pretty much irrelevant to the forward movement of the bike.

To each his own, I guess. Personally I like my car much better than any bike I've ever owned. Plus I don't see the attraction in arriving at your destination drenched from either rain or sweat.

But hey. I just hope people don't adopt the US bike culture, what with your powerful marketing and tech and go-faster stripes.
posted by eeeeeez at 4:53 PM on May 18, 2010


What is it with the US fawning over bikes? And the gear... jesus.

When an activity is placed on the cultural edge, participants often do things that embrace and accentuate its edginess.

I now live on what might be called a 'spandex route', part of a fairly hilly circuit that seems to be popular with recreational road cyclists. If it were another country, I'd probably use a bike regularly for errands or pleasure rides (using appropriate gear for each) but I've also seen the pickup trucks and SUVs speeding by, and imagine myself joining the roadkill. It continues to intimidate me, even though I've spent more of my life using a bike as primary transport than I have a car, and I don't know how you get from the status quo to Utrecht, or even to the basic comfort I had when riding relatively busy rural roads in Britain, a country that's patchy in terms of its bike-friendliness.

So I think the die is cast on cycling as a transportation choice for most of the US, and if you want to deal with Utrecht-style traffic, then leaving's your best option.
posted by holgate at 10:59 PM on May 18, 2010


flapjax at midnite: "Dutch food sucks!

I have one word for you, my friend.

Poffertjes.
"

As a boy who visited the ancestral homeland and tried poffertjes, among many other Dutch delights, I can attest that Dutch food is wonderful.
posted by bwg at 11:07 PM on May 18, 2010


And Indonesian food is good too.
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:32 AM on May 19, 2010


Ironically, the foods where we really excel (kroket, bitterballen, & other "snackbar" food) aren't exactly healthy.

I suspect we don't have quite the same definition for "excel". Although I guess that "excelling" at frikandel may involve getting anybody in a 500 m radius to throw up in disgust...
posted by Skeptic at 9:40 AM on May 19, 2010


If it's just unhealthy junk food we're talking about, good news: Canadians would rather give up junk food, TV, and even sex before letting go of their cars.

This might explain why there seem to be a lot of angry people driving.
posted by anthill at 2:46 PM on May 19, 2010


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