Despite the provocative title this blog post will have a relatively technical focus – comparing some features of infrastructure found in the Netherlands with what’s found in Denmark – and comparing both to the UK. But it’ll not be too technical. What I’m aiming for is to convey my overall impression of the differences in infrastructure design where this is intended to support cycling.
All being well, this will be one part of a two or three part series.
Note that the images in this post are simple sketches, illustrating my overall impression of the differences in relatively standard infrastructure in each place.
These images are not to scale, and almost certainly contain errors when compared to real infrastructure. Inevitably actual infrastructure varies hugely in reality too. What I’m drawing here is simply an idealised image…
As part of ongoing efforts to address crime, cities and neighborhood councils across the country and around the world have turned to the principles of an approach known as crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED). The CPTED approach puts a fair amount of emphasis into designing and constructing buildings and places in such a way that allows them to directly use the form of the built environment to deter crime and boost social safety. Similar to the urbanism measure of “eyes on the street” (which indeed can be considered a form of CPTED) that looks to provide lots of opportunity for people to observe an area, CPTED expands on it with measures aimed at many other areas of the built environment, from bathroom entrances to walls around houses to public spaces. Many people understand the basic goal of CPTED, as evidenced by its support in many corners.
However, while it’s generally accepted that design can influence crime in society in general, many people continue to insist that when it comes to traffic crimes, people should be able to self-police and if they can’t, that law enforcement should target them. (Though automatic enforcement that would catch all lawbreakers, not just people from certain segments of society, is frequently strongly opposed.) As a result, road design and construction in this country for the better part of a century has resulted in what amounts to the antithesis of CPTED on our streets. While we don’t usually build buildings without locks and just expect people to not pay unauthorized visits, that’s exactly how we design roads. Places that should be quiet streets are often roads are built features like wide lanes, paved shoulders, and clear zones intent on enabling fast travel with minimal damage when things go wrong, even in areas where slow speeds are desired. Then we act surprised when people travel fast through those areas.
The cruel irony is that many of the practices were ostensibly driven by a desire to increase safety, not undermine it. Open road practices and designs made their way down to the local street level, where wide lanes, shoulders, and clear zones have decimated many neighborhoods. But while these features work to keep traffic moving safely on highways through the countryside, they haven’t brought the same safety to communities because unsurprisingly, designs meant to keep traffic moving along at 70 MPH don’t work so well on thoroughfares where people live, work, and play. The resulting environment continues to encourage drivers to tool along at as near to that highway speed as possible. Meanwhile, in communities all over the country, the people who have to deal with the fallout continue to ask for traffic calming measures to slow speeding drivers and deter traffic from cutting through what should be quiet streets.
While many more communities are now talking about the connection between street design and road user behavior, there has not been a lot of movement toward viewing it as a form of CEPTD, which might be helpful in gaining broader community support for more controversial treatments. That could be because too much traffic crime is viewed as inevitable or an individual problem that affects other people and if they would just follow the rules, things would be fine. That argument is frequently mentioned, but viewing the street design as a CEPTD issue helps connect the dots to realize that these aren’t just “accidents”, they are very much related to the design of the environment. This shift in thinking will save thousands of lives, so hastening that transition will mean that it happens not a moment too soon. Let’s all help make it a reality.
At home in Toronto, I ride my bike all the time. I ride for commuting, for leisure, for travel, and for shopping. Most of the time I wouldn’t dare ride without a helmet, and most of the time I ride by myself. I often wear more athletic clothes when I cycle, and many others do the same. I can even hear my mom’s voice ringing in my head when I leave on a ride “make sure you wear a helmet!”.
So, imagine my surprise when I arrived in Amsterdam and saw Dutch cyclists riding without helmets, side-by-side, and in normal clothing.
What is this strange world? No helmets, and no Lycra!
My three weeks in the Netherlands has dramatically shaped the way I think about cycling, and in particular, my perspective on the way we talk about cycling. I’ve come to realize that in its current state, public messaging…
Even as mounting evidence such as a research report from Governing reminds everyone that bikes aren’t just for white urbanites, biking has continued to gather a reputation as a domain of hipsters. As a result, despite the diverse ridership, the folks actually advocating for bike improvements have continued to not exactly mirror the people majority of people who are doing the pedaling. Unsurprisingly, this has lead to some friction and calls for more diversity in bike advocacy. The advocacy organizations haven’t missed the memo and have begun efforts like LAB’s Equity and Women Bike initiatives. Additionally, more community-based groups like Slow Roll Detroit have taken a more active role in advocating for bikes as not just transportation alternatives, but vehicles for social change in the community.
But what if the community isn’t asking for bike infrastructure? Certainly, there is a concern that advocating for infrastructure in underserved communities that aren’t asking for them is forcing something on the community that they don’t want. Thanks to both the lingering after effects of the highway building era then decades of disinvestment and neglect and because of a concern that bikeways bring gentrification, some advocates are even going so far as to say that disadvantaged communities should not get bike infrastructure and that focusing on “northern European” designs and solutions is out-of-place in communities that frequently have mostly non-white populations. But there are two major issues with the strategy of advocating for bikes by not advocating for bikes that will ultimately do more harm than good.
First and foremost, there’s the safety aspect. Where good, quality bike infrastructure exists, biking tends to be safer. As such, it really sounds extremely backwards to suggest that in the areas that often already have some of the most dangerous streets of a region, safety improvements shouldn’t be undertaken because the community hasn’t asked for them. At the end of the day, people still will continue to have to ride in those areas, often in conditions that are embarrassingly deplorable on many different measures. Not only do they deserve to have a safe place to ride, but it is they who need it most as they frequently have few travel alternatives and many have already been victims of traffic violence too. This is a heightened issue in regards to projects that involve once-in-a-generation opportunities to change the layout of a thoroughfare. Those should not be passed.
Secondly, bikeways are a commodity and like all commodities, follow the general principles of economics. Students of the discipline know that the availability of something is directly related to its price. In this case, the fact that good, quality bikeways are still relatively scarce in this country means that the few places that they do exist attract a premium in price as people and businesses seek out locations near them. The best way to counter that is not by keeping bikeways out of some neighborhoods, but to instead make sure that they’re everywhere. Ideally, that means that the plan should not be just single lanes here and there, but entire networks that form a comprehensive grid of LTS2 bikeways that are installed as completely and quickly as possible.
However, bike infrastructure is obviously also becoming a victim of its own success. As early advocates undoubtedly had to find a way to justify to their communities why money should be spent on infrastructure that “no one uses“, study after study was undertaken in relation to the economic impact of bikeways. Most of these studies have shown that bike infrastructure can bring positive economic change to a corridor or area. But those improvements do not happen in a vacuum. Increased receipts and especially values lead to higher rents. Once again, the solution isn’t found in not building, but in building everywhere. But, that does mean that going forward, it is perhaps time to lessen the focus on the potential financial benefits of any single project in favor of safety benefits that it would provide (though people also seek to live in places that are “safe”, so that makes it a similar driver of demand).
So with that in mind, organizations interested in engaging in equitable advocacy should do one of two things. When faced with substantial projects, such as placing or moving curbs, the bike aspect absolutely should not be compromised. In many communities, projects like that only happen once a generation or less. It is imperative that whenever they occur, that the very best designs for both safety and efficiency are used because redoing it later would be costly in not just monetary terms, but also lives and political capital. However, for projects that are less involved, it might be better to take some time to further engage the community to develop a concept that truly works for them instead of just ferrying outsiders through.
As more bikeways get built, more communities are asking for them. We need to make sure that they’re able to access those changes and benefit from them. While bikeways do bring change to a community, that change doesn’t have to be bad if the community gets involved to make sure that it works for them, including by broaching other topics that go beyond the bike aspect. Communities need to get in front of change and embrace it instead of waiting for it to arrive and trying to delay it. Doing so will bring many benefits for all.
For several years, people interested in transportation and urban planning have been discussing the impacts of motor traffic (mainly private cars) on all sorts of things. Over the last several decades, planning in much of the world has trended toward catering to car traffic, often at the expense of other modes of transportation. A popular measure of how much traffic there is is vehicle miles traveled (VMT) which is as it sounds: a tally of how far vehicles are traveling. Here in America, that figure rose for several decades as more people drove more. All that driving has had a real impact on many different aspects of society.
In recent years, advocates are increasingly shining a light on the true effects of that impact, with many cities starting to take notice and advance (largely token) measures to address the imbalance. The advocates often point to VMT as part of the proof of the ills of the current transportation network in America and one state has even gone so far as to transition their traffic impact metrics to VMT instead of LOS that it is virtually everywhere else. But is VMT really the issue? Or perhaps a better way to ask the question is would the effects of cars on society be different if they weren’t going as far, particularly as it relates to the physical environment?
When approached from that point of view, the answer seems more clear: VMT is not the problem but merely a symptom. This will certainly come as a shock to many people who have argued that VMT is bad for several years. Certainly, there are several ills that increase as cars are driven more such as crashes, emissions, time spent away from family and home, and many other less-than-optimal outcomes. However, at the end of the day, VMT is just another metric that can be used to identify and describe the true problem: car-centric planning and design. But without acknowledging that the true problem is one of designpriorities, not the metric, we risk taking the wrong approaches to addressing the issue because there are many car-centric solutions to the problem of high VMT which are ultimately detrimental to the goal of using VMT in the first place.
These solutions can take one of several forms. In some instances, new roads can shorten trip distances and there are even entire projects that shorten trip distances (i.e. grocery store in a community). Both of those types of projects can be completely car-centric and unusable by other forms of transportation, yet they can at least nominally, be recognized for reducing VMT because they technically do. However, few would say that such a project is actually beneficial to a community. New roads have the potential to induce driving while a project that brings shops closer but also plops a large parking lot in an otherwise quaint environment can degrade the quality of the neighborhood, including by ultimately injecting many more cars into a part of town that may have previously not been so heavily traveled.
At the other end of the spectrum, a people-centric environment can be detrimental to lower VMT by being designed to completely exclude cars or at least force through traffic to take a detour around the area that adds length to what would otherwise be a straight trip (see video below). Such a location sounds like it would be beneficial and desirable in many a community, but a focus on reducing VMT can lead to a project that would whittle away at the oasis in an attempt to provide a reduction in VMT. If that sounds familiar, that’s because it is the same issue that has long been a hallmark and the bane of the LOS metric and led to calls for its removal. Under LOS, car-centric projects were advanced, even at the expense of all other modes, because they were projected to “improve” vehicular flow to maintain certain levels-of-service. Similarly, absent astute guidance and engaged leadership, that status quo threatens to continue under the guise of reducing VMT.
Of course, the future is far from certain. Advances in autonomous and electric vehicle technology may well mitigate the more pressing issues of private car use by reducing crashes and emissions. However, the use of VMT as the metric to measure how car-centered society is may well prove to just be a stepping stone to a broader realization that cars and people just don’t mix and that places where the latter are living, working, and generally going about their lives are not places where cars should be unless they’re just visiting.
This past Saturday, visitors to the San Bernardino Transit Center (SBTC) were treated to a tunes, a cold drink, and a place to rest between buses as Omnitrans held a party to celebrate the first year of operations of the SBTC. As local all-girl band Alive in the Lights rocked out under a cloudless sky, members of the community participated in a chalk art contest in the plaza in front of the SBTC. Artists were competing for a $250 grand prize and they brought their A-game with many great designs. As they drew, they were entertained by antics provided by the SANBAG See Tracks, Think Train campaign mascot out spreading the word of practicing safety around tracks.
A little over year ago, on August 24, 2015, that dignitaries and curious onlookers stopped by the soon-to-be-completed SBTC in the eponymous city to celebrate the grand opening of the new transfer and customer service facility. The anticipation turned to excitement on September 8, when the SBTC officially opened to the public. Envisioned by Omnitrans since the 1980s, the Transit Center replaces the transfer hub that had floated around the 4th St. area of downtown San Bernardino for decades.
It brings together almost all of their East Valley service into one central location, providing connections to the sbX Green Line, MARTA Off the Mountain service, VVTA BV Link, (as of today) Pass Transit Commuter Link 120, Metrolink by the end of next year via the under constructionDowntown Passenger Rail Project, and the Redlands Passenger Rail Project which is projected to be open by 2021. However, the coordination to ensure those connections are available and make sense did delay the completion of the TC, which was originally supposed to open before or at least in conjunction with sbX. At some point in the distant future, CA high-speed rail may also arrive at the site, which would truly awaken the city.
The facility has a staffed customer service desk and 24/7 security to maintain peace and order. Omnitrans has thus far received largely positive reviews of the facility from the riders, many of whom really appreciate the fact that there is an indoor waiting area, public bathrooms, and connections all in one place. The lobby isn’t a grand hall, but it’s design is functional and elegant and provides travelers a much-needed respite from the elements, especially those who are waiting for connections to Omni’s services that run at only an hourly frequency.
However, not everyone is completely happy with the TC. In addition to the usual complaints about the use of tax dollars for public transit, several people have expressed concern about the lack of parking provided at the site. This is certainly an interesting argument because, realistically speaking, there are few instances where Omnitrans’ local service provides a travel time that is superior to that of driving and most of them are not really in the areas around downtown San Bernardino. As such, it doesn’t seem very likely that many people would drive to park and take the bus, something which is already borne out by the parking lots that Omnitrans built for the sbX Green Line that are 99% empty 99% of the time. Building another lot at the TC for bus passengers doesn’t seem necessary and Omnitrans was right to not do so.
Not doing so also meant that they have space that is available for development on the site that will be easier to convert to that use from an empty lot than it would be from a designated parking lot. However, since the TC is also going to connect to Metrolink, parking will be provided in conjunction with the completion of that portion of the project. Additionally, 10-minute drop-off parking is available on Rialto Ave. at the front of the TC. Furthermore, there are literally dozens of acres of surface lots available within a two block radius of the site that could be tapped with some sort of agreement to provide parking for the TC if it’s truly necessary, including over 13 acres directly adjacent the TC at the San Manuel Stadium.
While parking for cars at the TC isn’t plentiful, there is a decent amount of bike parking strewn around the site, albeit of mixed utility. The good part about it is that it is of an inverted U shape and square, but unfortunately, the racks themselves were installed far too close together, rending them partially useless. In addition to the bike parking, the TC is also host to the San Bernardino Bike Hubitat co-op shop. Since opening in May, the Hubitat has helped hundreds of Omni patrons continue rolling.
In the next few years, the SBTC should see an increase in use as more transit connections come online. However, most of the ultimate success for the Center rests squarely on the shoulders of the City. As they look to exit bankruptcy, they have the opportunity to really become a regional powerhouse and world-class city with smart investments and leadership. The coming transit connections provide an extremely advantageous starting point, but they still need to really take the reigns and look forward to the future. Hopefully, that realization happens soon and we can look forward to many more anniversary celebrations.
Over the last year or so, the construction phase of this project has been ongoing, with changes slowly manifesting themselves all through San Bernardino’s Lytle Creek neighborhood. By far, the biggest changes are of the transportation right-of-ways. The DSBDPRP is double-tracking the entire loop from the Short Way Subdivision, through the BNSF San Bernardino yard past the Santa Fe Depot, then onto [what remains of] the Redlands District to just past G St., where it splits to provide a third track at the Transit Center and otherwise rejoins the existing double-track segment. The double-tracking will allow trains to freely flow from the Transit Center to the yard that is located about two route miles away in Colton.
In addition to the double-track, two grade crossings are being closed by the project: 3rd St. at the tracks and I St. south of the tracks (the intersection with Rialto from the north remains as a right in/out). The closures aren’t completely bad as especially with I St., it provides a great opportunity for a modernization project on an otherwise chronically overbuilt street. However, it appears that they closures will also cut the neighborhood access off, so that is a bit of a loss to the community.
The Santa Fe Depot itself is also seeing some upgrades. The project is rebuilding the passenger boarding experience to be run-through to allow all trains to be able to continue on to the Transit Center. This includes an overpass of the tracks. But there have been other changes to the outside. Most significantly, the area in front has been altered to more parking away from directly in front of the building to showcase the entrance and really give a more stately look to the building. A nice walkway now leads directly to the front door and a crossover from the Colton Crossing has been embedded in the concrete directly in front of the building. There is also a pad and stop for the Amtrak Thruway bus service that makes daily stops at the station.
Finally, farther west, work has begun on the full extent of the double-tracking. Just north of Rialto Ave., workers have been putting together the switch that will provide the start of the double-track segment that goes through to the Transit Center. Additionally, fencing has been installed at the end of King St. to seal the corridor and keep people off the tracks. While the IEOC Line is the only scheduled Metrolink service to use the Shortway Sub, it is also the connection to the yard, so nearly 50 trains per day will pass through the area to reach the yard in Colton.
Ideally, there will be no major snafus as the year winds down and soon after we ring in the new year, we can begin to take advantaged of one of the most important transit connections in the Inland Empire. Already three years behind, it can’t open a moment too soon. In tandem with the coming Redlands Rail, mobility options in the East Valley are really set to be substantially improved. Hopefully, the cities in the region will be willing and able to properly manage the opportunity that they’re being handed.
Transit and transportation agencies pay a lot to provide the patrons somewhere to store their car while they use the service, despite the dubious results, and these parking lots consume a lot of land. Yet, even in the face of oversupply, agencies continue to push forward with plans to expand parking options at stops and stations. One member of that club is the Riverside County Transportation Commission. Back in March, they took comments on a plan to add over 500 more spaces to one of the stations along the Metrolink 91/Perris Valley and IEOC lines. This expansion would occur on an agency-owned vacant lot directly adjacent the existing parking lot.
In addition to the 500+ spots planned for transit passengers at the station, the Metro Gateway project is currently under construction on two other pads at the station. This development will add 187 units to the neighborhood, but despite being directly across the lot from transit, will also include nearly 300 more spots for the residents and their visitors. That brings the total number of new spots at the station up to about 800, not just the 500 planned by RCTC, an increase of around 75%.
A recent parking audit of the station found around 100 free spaces at 8:30 AM, representing an occupancy of greater than 90%. However, because there are no trains heading west between 7:40 and 10:40 and only one heading east at 9:21, it’s reasonable to assume that the 8:30 numbers represent a daily peak, though it is plausible to believe that some of those spaces might be used by students attending CSU Fullerton when the school year starts. Nevertheless, there continues to be space available and the recent opening of the extension of the 91 Line to Perris added nearly 1700 more spots to the total available in the area around Riverside.
Meanwhile, though it’s being billed as TOD, the Metro Gateway development would be better described as transit-adjacent development. In addition to the exorbitant amount of parking included, Metro Gateway lacks any visible signs of incorporating a mix of uses that would bring life to a site that is realistically devoid of life. While there is a retail plaza already located across La Sierra Ave. from the station where the new residents will likely be able shop as well as a bowling alley next door to the north, including some office/retail/light industrial space as part of the project would’ve been really helpful for improving the current parking crater around the station more than just some apartments will. Doing so would’ve been a great way to make the La Sierra Station more than just a pair of platforms and a parking lot, but perhaps even eventually providing space that could be used for satellite classes offered by the namesake school.
It’s disappointing to see that RCTC continues to feel that even in the heated SoCal housing market, the best use for prime land near transit with service directly to LAUS, Oceanside, Riverside, and San Bernardino is to let people store their cars to ride said trains. The biggest upside to a parking lot is that it is relatively easy to replace them with something better in the future. But still, even at present, if RCTC thinks having that much (free!) parking there is really necessary, it should be consolidated into a parking structure on the site to enable other development on the remaining parcels. The station area could easily support a vibrant community around it if only some forethought and creativity were used. Hopefully, this is a wake-up call to that end as RCTC still has several other parking lots throughout the county.
More photos of the site and project are available here.
While looking for background information to bolster the post about riding between Utrecht Centraal and Vleuten stations, I came across the documents pertaining to the conversion of Zandweg into a fietsstraat. Included were the written comments and responses [PDF, Dutch] provided during the consultation period for that project. While every other topic addressed in the process had three, maybe five comments total, the comments about parking took up five whole pages, comprising the decided majority of the concerns raised. What gives? Don’t the Dutch like biking?
In truth, it should ultimately not be such a surprise. Though they’re known as the country of biking, there is also quite a lot of driving done in the The Netherlands and their road network is arguably more efficient than ours. Additionally, they do continue to spend a lot of money on road projects such as the Leeuwarden Vrijbaan initiative or the ongoing massive project to widen the freeways between Schipol, Amsterdam, and Almere. The majority of these projects are directly intended to make driving easier, with familiar phrases like “relieve congestion” and “provide economic stability” showing up as the reasons for the improvements. The only difference is that they think of bikes when making those improvements.
Back to Zandweg itself. The fietsstraat has since been completed, as can be seen in the earlier video (or on Google Maps). Also visible are the numerous parking bays, some with parked vehicles, some without. But what’s striking is that many of the homes and businesses along the route have driveways with plenty of space available for parking onsite. Parking along Zandweg is additional and as near as I could tell, free. That should be a familiar concept to many Americans and one which clearly crosses borders. That’s further evidence that many concerns are basic human concerns, not just limited to certain people. What works there can work here too. All we have to do is stop insisting that “we’re different” and start emulating the best examples.
One enduring topic that often permeates planning and transit circles is whether bus or rail is a better solution to mobility. Generally speaking, rail does make sense after a certain point, but where exactly that point is remains a bit of a mystery and up for interpretation. However, people tend to agree that if separate right-of-ways and especially grade separations are employed, it might be better to consider rail over buses.
In that regard, the Dutch are somewhat of heretics, building dedicated bus lanes on many major streets and dedicated busways all over the country in areas that most people would assert are better suited for rail. In the city of Almere, the busways are unique, even by Dutch standards, because it was master planned from the very beginning with a functional bus network that connects the town and feeds the half dozen rail stations that connect the city to the rest of the country in what one writer has called “bus-oriented development”.
In the (now closed) comment section of that piece, a fierce debate quickly broke out questioning whether Almere’s bus network would be better as trams light rail. (Even with tram vehicles, the operation would be far closer to the average light rail provision here in America due to the dedicated right-of-ways.) The reasoning varied, ranging from the fact that the right-of-ways already exist to the size of the city itself, with several examples of smaller cities with functional tram networks being presented as evidence that it could (should?) be done.
However, one factor seems to have completely eluded all but one of the debaters: Almere is a Dutch city. Being Dutch, that means that bicycles can probably be considered viable options and Almere does not disappoint. As documented by BicycleDutch, biking is easily accessible to everyone everywhere in the community and bike parking is integral at major destinations and transit stations. As such, many people undoubtedly bike to the city center or train instead of taking the bus as even with good transit provisions in town, shorter journeys still end up taking a similar amount of time.
That most people are choosing to bike instead of use local transit isn’t just speculation. A look at the stats show that on a national level, biking absolutely crushes local transit [BTM = bus/tram/metro], with the latter never accounting for more than 10% of all journeys and the two modes not even reaching parity until the 15-20 km trip distance range. Meanwhile, all residential developments in the city are within 3 miles (5 km) of one of the six (yes, six) train stations and city-level stats show that biking accounts for 31% of all journeys of 7.5 km or less. As such, the likelihood that the busways will be upgraded to trams/LRT is rather low as there just isn’t much need for such a conversion, at least not at present.
Almere is a great example of how bikes (all, not just colorful ones from kiosks) can vastly extend the reach of transit as well as the success of the Dutch campaign to get people biking more for short trips. Whether designed for from the beginning or as a repurposing of space from cars to people, bikes fill an important part of the transportation puzzle and dedicating space for bikes in a community is one of the most cost-effective things a transit agency can and/or push for to improve its operations. The benefits realized by Almere are well within reach of American communities too, it just requires adjusting priorities for people over cars.