John Tarantino on Sunday, October 14, 2012
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Being the owner of The Environmental Blog does not come with perks like the ability to quit your day job…at least not right now.
That being said, my real profession is as an Electronic Engineer for a semi-conductor company called ASML. Since I am currently living in the Netherlands while I’m on a work assignment, I thought it would be fitting to start a section on my site that detailed what it’s like to be car free and instead bike the Netherlands.
While I have been living in The Netherlands since the beginning of
this year (2012), I didn’t actually start riding my bike to work
everyday until summer arrived (which for the Netherlands wasn’t until
August…lol, yeah it rains a lot here.) Nevertheless, when August 1st
came around I began riding to work everyday. So far, I haven’t driven a
single kilometer since I’ve started – sparing the air from
I decided to make this page where I could document my experience as a full blown bicycle commuter in The Netherlands. The dutch word for bicycle is fiets for singular and fietsen for plural. The cycle tracks are called fietspad – which is handy to know – when the signs point to a fietspad I know I am going the right way.
Besides “dutch-i-fy-ing” my bike, I also learned the hard way that I need proper gear for daily bicycle commuting. I started off biking to work in the summertime but the winter months are coming and cold air, rain, and wind have already started making me miserable. I have been riding home from work on my 12km commute and been caught three times in nasty rain storms that soaked me to my core…even my underwear got wet. Even though the random rain storms caught me off guard, it wasn’t until after my third soaking before I finally went out and bought rain gear. I also bought a nice pair of warm gloves for the chilly and windy days when it’s so cold my fingers can hardly move after a short ride. And finally, I have a thick faux-fur eskimo hat that covers my ears that I sometimes wear or a beanie combined with a hooded sweatshirt to keep my ears and head warm.
Another thing I had to get use to was checking the weather report. I constantly check Doppler Radar for the up to minute rain situation before every ride.
Once I had all my rain gear in my saddle packs hanging off my luggage rack I became ready for any situation. Bicycle commuting to work is my way of letting all my worries go, all my work related stress is gone by the time I get home from work and my mind is always clear by the time I get to work. Biking the Netherlands is so easy to do and I know it’s helping me maintain my daily recommended amount of exercise, increasing my metabolism, and its allowing me to explore a very nice country on a detailed level.
Nothing can describe the feeling of being on a bike and being able to capture more of the world around me as compared to when driving a car. I see more, I hear more, and I feel more. I notice the local bird species, I notice rabbits in the bushes and the grass, and I am very aware of the all the micro-climates I pass through in the typical dutch neighborhoods on my bicycle route.
Naturally I chose a route that has the least amount of intersections with cars and even though that makes my distance traveled a little more, I definitely don’t mind.
Living in city of 220,000 people or more with a central city can either be too big or too small of a city – depending on where you grew up. For some, it could be a frightening urban jungle that scares them away from riding a bicycle. Being from Portland, Oregon in the US, a city of +550,000 people, this is not a problem for me. I love urban bicycle riding.
I love being a part of the daily bicycle grind…seeing people commute by bike, seeing people having coffee or beer in the pedestrian plazas, etc. Part of my route is through very typical dutch residential streets that allow me to absorb the European culture by seeing people come and go, by smelling the dinners they are cooking, and by observing groups of friends commute into the city for the Thursday night club scene.
Words can only begin describe the bicycle network that exists in the Netherlands. Dutch cycling infrastructure is like no other in the world. Many people cite it as one of the most advanced bicycle infrastructures in the world, right up there with Denmark. The biggest and most obvious bonus to the infrastructure are the separated bike paths along almost every major road and with it comes dedicated bike traffic signals at intersections that helps everyone move along safely. The feeling of safety really boosts the overall feeling of joy one gets from riding along on a bicycle with a dedicated separated bike path and dedicated bike traffic signals at busy intersections with cars.
Besides the more well known bike paths, and bike traffic signals, Eindhoven and the rest of the Netherlands have larger infrastructure projects typically at large roundabout intersections.
The dutch haven’t always had a bicycle utopia. They actively chose to bring it on…so to speak. Check out How The Dutch Got Their Cycle Tracks post with a really awesome video detailing the history behind it.
As one might expect, it’s probably impossible to have dedicated cycle tracks on every road in the Netherlands…so in some instances dutch cities will dedicate a road as a ‘fietsstraat,’ translated as bike street where bikes will have to share the road with cars. As is the case below, sharrows clearly mark the middle of the fietsstraat and as you can see – bikes still dominate the road.
Standard dutch cycling infrastructure also includes several dedicated bicycle under-passes and in some cases dedicated bicycle overpasses that are as much functional as they are architectural works of art. In addition, along major bicycle cycle tracks, special trash-cans are installed for those who need to throw trash away on the go.
The hovenring shown above and below is one of the coolest pieces of bicycle architecture I’ve ever seen. It is an elevated roundabout overpass on the border of Eindhoven and Veldhoven. The term hovenring translates to ‘ring of the hovens’ since it literally branches off to Eindhoven, Veldhoven, and Meerhoven. The structure itself is technically a circular suspension bridge, the only one in the world for bicycles as a roundabout. Luckily, it just opened up to the public in June of this summer – so timing on visiting the hovenring was perfect.
Standing in front of the hovenring during sunset and then waiting for darkness to fall so that I could start photographing it when it lit up at night was an amazing experience. Simply knowing that the structure is unique left me with feelings that could only appreciate the futuristic design and engineering work and its function. I rode my bike around the hovenring several times to really get a feel of the bridge.
Despite the Jetsons style ‘elevated cycle track’ (project Hovenring), there are other impressive forms of bicycle infrastructure including what looks like pedestrian/bicycle highways complete with underpasses and arteries leading to major points of interest in the city centers.
Below this major bike/ped thoroughfare connect city center shopping, pubs, and restaurants with eclectic dutch neighborhoods and a weekly Saturday open air market called the Woensel Markt.
Eindhoven isn’t exactly a bustling metropolis but it nonetheless is the 5th largest city by population in The Netherlands with approximately 750,000 people in the metro area. Since The Netherlands appears to have strict land use laws that serve as an urban growth boundary, the metro areas around the Netherlands, including small towns are rather densely populated. When all those people are riding on bikes around town, it can get rather hard to find enough bike parking…believe it or not.
Bike parking is a serious issue that is uniquely dutch. So many people are commuting by bike that enough places for people to chain their bikes to do not exist. People tend to cope with this by chaining their bikes to each others bikes if traveling with friends or finding anything such a pole, sign, or tree to chain it up to.
With all the bike infrastructure and amenities focused for the average bicycle user in The Netherlands it is no wonder why so many people choose to do so. It’s easy to get around, it’s cheaper than driving a car, and you are really helping keep the environment clean.
As with any vehicle though, it is rather important to learn the basic rules of the road when bicycling around. Do not roll through red lights, make sure to have proper lighting at night time, and remember common courtesy when passing people or turning. There are bike cops around town that will not hesitate to give you a ticket for traffic violations…so always be aware of your surroundings and make sure to obey your local traffic laws.
I hope I have given you a really good idea of what it’s like to bike in The Netherlands. I am loving my stay here, for me, it is a personal utopia. Some US cities are striving to implement a system like that of the Dutch or the Danish but will probably never get close to them in my lifetime. For now, I am living in the moment and enjoying every bit of it. =)
Green Travel Tip:
The Netherlands, in my opinion, is the Utopian vision many people candidly dream for in many of the smart growth meetings I’ve attended back in Oregon for future urban development and transportation objectives. Instead of waiting for those dreams to become a reality, you can just hop the Atlantic ocean and experience that reality … if only for brief moment.