Amsterdam on right track about biking

Oak Park could reap many benefits as a more bike-centric town

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Jack Crowe

Cycling Columnist

Amsterdam, Netherlands.

I have seen the future of cycling and it is in the Netherlands. Everything about this country which I visited recently, including Amsterdam, its main city, vibrates with biking.

It starts with the infrastructure. Every main street is divided into a lane for cars, a lane for parallel car parking, a separated bike lane and a sidewalk for pedestrians. The red lights all have lights directing the bike traffic too.

Closer to the business centers, there are bike highways, large multilane bike roads with tens of thousands of bikers heading to work. Some people even bring foldable bikes onto commuter trains during rush hour.

With bikers connecting to rail and subway hubs, all those bikes have to park somewhere, so there are huge swaths of outdoor bike parking lots next to subway and rail stops. Some streets have double decker bike racks, and rail stations have underground bike parking with a secure check in.

In rural areas, it is much the same. There are bike paths alongside most every main road.

Car drivers seem to be conscious of all the bikers too. The rule is simple: bikes have the right of way. At roundabouts, bikers signal with their fingers as cars give way. Same thing on side streets teaming with children bikers. Cars cut a wide berth.

And what is the result? Almost everyone rides. Seniors do their shopping on bikes.  Nine year olds go to field hockey practice by bike. University students go to class by bike. Young professionals save money by not buying a car. Middle aged people ride to work.

With all that daily exercise, you don't see many overweight people in Holland.  Reduced car traffic means the city center is more pedestrian friendly. Pollution is less than it would be if everyone drove. National energy consumption is less.

Is there a downside? Hard to see one. I heard that bike theft can be a problem in some places.  The biggest issue is probably the cost of building bike lanes, but that seems small compared to the long term benefits.

So what would Oak Park look like if it was a bike-centric town?

One town cannot go it alone. Whether it is pushing for bike lanes when IDOT rebuilds the Eisenhower Expressway or working with the City of Chicago to improve bike commuting corridors on the West Side, cycling needs a regional focus.

That said, bike routes in Oak Park, particularly those that get commuters to the El, students to local schools and customers to shopping, need to continue to improve and become more safe.

We have one drawback that they don't have in Amsterdam - a brutal winter.  In Amsterdam you can count on cycling year round even if that means riding in the frequent rain. In Chicago, we're largely a three season bike town, even if a few of us crazies persist by riding throughout the winter.

Could Oak Park become the biking capital of the U.S.?  I can dream can't I?

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Posted: October 8th, 2014 7:26 PM

Yeah, Amsterdam sounds like bicycle paradise. But, after reading Ron Grossman's opinion piece in the Tribune earlier this week and the rebuttal in today's edition one has to ask; does the Netherlands have bicyclists who ride like a bat-out-of hell through the streets or on the bike-ways? Jack didn't give any indication that they do or what Amsterdam police do about that. Jack, is it all so civilized there?

MW from OP  

Posted: October 7th, 2014 2:20 PM

Nice article. Let me just add that you can't really overstate the importance of a change in people's mentality that is needed for this to work in Oak Park, Chicago and US in general. Infrastructure is one thing, but until we recognize cycling, walking and public transit as legitimate modes of transportation, it will be wasted. Education in the rules of the road with a more holistic emphasis on all modes of transportation AS THEY RELATE TO EACH OTHER would be a good first step.

c murphy from Oak park  

Posted: October 7th, 2014 11:56 AM

I love how one can bike city to city in the Netherlands also. We have ridden from Amsterdam to the keokenhof flower show then to Haarlam often and it is so easy, safe and fun (think fields of blooming hyacinth). Wish we could ride to the Dunes iin the same way.


Posted: October 7th, 2014 10:57 AM

Jack, great review. I agree with you on what the Netherlands has done. Reminds me of Dearborn St. in the Loop right now. In fact, a variety of Chicago's bikeway installations are on the right track and use is up. One thing I did notice in Amsterdam is that bike people obey the signals and pedestrians feel safe at crossings. Finally, throughout Europe, the light rail is mixed into pedestrian streets and people jump on and off. Our society of lawsuits would likely present barriers to this.

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