Today we went to meet with a representative from a bicycle advocate group, the Cyclist Union that talked about her organizations role in the further development of bicycle improvements in Amsterdam and the country. The time that we have spent on the road thus far has exposed me to a completely unfamiliar user groups than I am used to seeing in the United States. The societal acceptance of not wearing helmets is one of many factors that, I believe, contributes to the widespread use of bicycles in this country. I has been incredible to see mothers transporting their children (1 or 2) on a single bicycle at the same time! Sitting on the handle bars, straddling the back wheel on the cargo platform, a variety of special small seat attachments, and even teenagers and adults would have their friend sit side saddle on the rear cargo platform and navigate through on coming traffic with no hesitation. So, because the entire group had still been getting looks as if we were dumb tourists my friend and I decided that we need to get some Amsterdam “street cred” and decided to show up to the Cyclist Union bike tour riding as the locals do. Leaving the hotel our teacher doubted the safety and our ability to pull something like this off, but after a safe arrival to our destination (which was only a few blocks away) he began to relax a little bit. I think there was still a little bit of that American liability mentality, who is liable if they get injured, in the tone of his voice at the beginning of this day’s adventure. After we sat down and talked about the Cyclist Union’s role in Amsterdam our speaker planned to take us on a tour of the city showing us different strategies to making Amsterdam more bikable.
Although we had made it to the Cyclist Union’s office safe and sound the short neighborhood setting of our journey did not put us in any real danger. However, now we were about to travel through the city with a single bike. There was not turning back. After a few slow starts at intersections and getting feel for hoping on and off the back and maintaining a more uniformed center of gravity we felt fairly comfortable making turns and even passing other bikers. We even started getting some friendly waves from locals. I think we achieved our goal of gaining some legit “Street Cred” for this group of foreigner. Haha We really are missing out on this form of riding in the states…..totally safe!
Our Cyclist Union friend left us at an exquisite example of a bike parking strategy that benefited pedestrians, bikers, and handicapped pedestrian alike. Instead of having hundreds of bicycles scattered in front of a grocery store that made hadicap and general access to the store entrance easy, the Cyclist Union tested an idea of bicycle parking area in certain zones to make the area more user friendly and safe. They drew zones on the ground with chalk and sat back and observed. Within minutes new bikers coming to the area to shop parked their bicycles within the temporary chalked bike zones. People are smart and usually they do not need someone to hold their hand and tell them what is best for them. They usually do it. There seems to be a lack of this trust or credit that is given to every citizen in the Netherlands that seems to be the opposite in the United States. In certain cases their seems to be an over protectiveness that works adversely to the goal of the program or design. I believe more trust needs to be given to the American citizen and certain “laws” or standards cannot be so conforming. I do not know what is at the root of this nationwide United States belief, but this European or Dutch way of thinking has elements that we can learn from.