Go Green Go Dutch: ThinkBike Workshop Day 1

Your basic Dutch Bike

Last week we had a little Dutch invasion in Chicago led by Consul General of The Netherlands Hans Heinbrock as part of their ThinkBike Workshop series.

Through a multi-city initiative called ThinkBike Workshops, Dutch experts will be visiting Canada and the US this year to discuss possibilities for increased bicycle use. The ThinkBike Workshops will bring together Dutch bike experts, local politicians, planners, advocates, engineers and business people to plan and discuss how North American cities can become more bike-friendly.

Teams will survey the cities by bike and discuss how streets, intersections and whole neighborhoods can be improved for optimal bicycle use. Other topics of discussion at the workshops will include bike safety, bike commuting, biking to school, bike parking, bikes and public transport, law enforcement, etc.

Thursday morning was the opening session that was free and open to the public from 8:30am -10:30am. After a few opening remarks and introductions, there was a somewhat unsuccessful attempt to play this video about biking in Amsterdam – a little Dutch rap proclaiming “This is Amsterdam and this is my bike”. They never did get the sound going, but the visuals were a nice overview of who rides a bike in Amsterdam (Everyone) and what it’s like biking every day everywhere in that city.

Geoffrey Baer from WTTW kicked things off with a brief history of biking and bike-making in Chicago along with a plug for his upcoming documentary Biking The Boulevards – I’d say it’s definitely worth watching. Did you know that Chicago once was the cycling capital of the nation? Did you know that there were 88 different bicycle manufacturers in Chicago in the 1890s? I did not.  Next up was Arjen Jaarsma,  a sustainable mobility consultant with Balancia – an agency based in Amsterdam.  Arjen talked about zero-emission cities and the idea of sustainable transport. It might have started to seem a little policy-wonkish except that the point he was making –that Amsterdam has not always been so bike-fabulous was one I hadn’t consciously ever thought about. By the 1970s,  according to Arjen, bike ownership and bike traffic in Amsterdam was incredibly low and car-traffic was rising. So, Dutch city planners and transportation officials  made a concerted effort to change that and over the last 30 years or so they have brought their country to the point where they can now send their urban planners around the world. Even send them to a city that once led the world in bike production to share their ideas with our officials on ways to make Chicago a more bike-friendly city. Their goal was not and is not to simply get everyone on bikes because bikes are cool, but to encourage more bike transportation as a way to decrease emissions, and to create a healthier and more sustainable urban environment. If older, built-up cities like Amsterdam can do it, why not Chicago?

The rest of the speakers were from other cities in the Netherlands who have also increased the use of bikes in their towns by following the same tactics used in Amsterdam. Some of the strategies and policies that have worked in the Netherlands are as follows:

  • Make cycling safe – or feel safe. It wasn’t so in Amsterdam in the 1970s
    • Keep speeds slow for cars and bikes on shared roadways
    • Designate bike-only, car-only, and bike-car shared roads
    • Bike boxes at intersections
    • Bike Traffic lights
    • Separate bike paths/lanes
  • Support cyclists and cycling with clear rules and laws for motorists
  • Use color to paint bike lanes
  • Move bike lanes on the other side of parked cars
  • Make cycling mainstream
    • Get more women riding
  • Make Cycling convenient
    • better transit integration bike-bus-train-walk
    • more bike parking – like the lovely underground parking structure in Groiningen Railway Station or the 17,00 bike spots at Central Station in Utrecht
    • Build a cycle bridge like they did in Nijmegen
    • Reconfigure streets
    • Add passing lanes for bikes on narrow roads (!)
Nijmegen Cycle Bridge

Nijmegen Cycle Bridge

Groningen Railway Station Bike Parking

Groningen Railway Station Bike Parking

The session wrapped up with Adolfo Hernandez from the Active Transportation Alliance calling out what we can do here to make the streets of Chicago more inviting to a broader spectrum of riders.

  • Open Streets
    • Bike the Drive
    • Boulevard Bike Rides
    • Bike Sundays
  • Slow Down Traffic
    • 20 mph zones for cars and bikes
  • Cycle Tracks
    • wider bike lanes
    • move parked cars to the left of bike lanes
  • Bike Boulevards
    • Designated light-traffic streets
  • Bike Parking
    • More covered bike parking!
  • New Public Space
    • A la the High Line in NYC, or the Bloomingdale Trail in Chicago
  • Improved Way finding
    • gooroo for bike maps
  • Better Bikes
  • Public Bike Sharing

The rest of Thursday and Friday were devoted to workshops where the Dutch folks explored our fair city on their bikes and offered recommendations based on their observations. Their findings were presented to a closed session on Friday for politicians and “decision-makers”. Obviously I’ve waited a few days to write and publish this post and I didn’t see any follow-up to the workshops from other bloggers or media outlets, making me wonder what they found after a day and half riding around our city. Trust the Dutch to follow through however. As I was writing this I received a lovely follow-up email from Bert Bentsink with the Royal Netherlands Embassy summarizing last weeks events, and including the presentations given on Friday by both the Blue and Orange teams that tooled around Chicago observing our own bike culture. Thanks Bert! I’ll gather all that up in my next post.

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