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Thursday, September 10, 2009

Travelog Europe: Green Transportation

Throughout this month, I am highlighting my experiences in Europe and comparing and contrasting the wildlife and ecology of the Old World continent to my home continent of North America. However a recent radio story on NPR about urban cycling tapped me on the shoulder.
Is Biking Easier In New York? Ask The Bike Snob by Jo Ella Straley

I thought in line with my own and this blog's committment of Environmental Education and Awareness, and my theme of comparing and contrasting European and North American Urban Ecology, I am going to discuss Green Transportation.

Though I own a bike (a pretty cool one at that), I will admit to being slow when it comes to using it as my primary source of transportation. Why? Laziness. I'm not in good enough of shape to bike to my destination in a decent amount of time and still be energized enough to get my business done. Capacity. Motorized vehicles have better capacity to help me take care of errands while I am out - shopping, picking up something, picking up someone, etc.

But while in Europe, and most notably in the Netherlands, bikes where EVERYWHERE. Thousands of bikes parked in lots at the train station, at bus stations, the plazas, shopping areas. Everywhere. Most of the street traffic was of bikes and some places had dedicated bike lanes - for each direction of traffic. Not only was I impressed with the infrastructure dedicated to cycle traffic - lots, bike rails, and roads - I was most impressed with how my two main biking concerns were non-issues for the Dutch.

1. Laziness. People still seemed to get to wherever they needed to be in a reasonable amount of time using bikes. Plus, most people were in good shape - not alot of heavy people there. Nor were they thin and sickly, just in shape...and no one seemed to complain. Biking, walking, and the train were just very common ways of getting about town and the region.

2. Capacity. Much like a carpool, groups of people biked together - keeping each other company, conversing and travelling. Plus, most bikes had a cargo bench on the back and/or baskets in the front. People carried parcels, packages, and books in them. I also observed quite a few people riding shot gun. It may look easy, but it ain't. That's some serious core muscles being used to maintain your balance...and many people were not holding on to the driver.
I mean young and old alike were just chilling on the cargo bench. Moreover, cycling did not prohibit families from traveling together. It was not at all uncommon to see parents with babies and toddlers strapped into special seats at the handle bars or right behind the parent, which is another feat of strength. Sometimes children rode their bikes along side parents and siblings. But my favorite was the cargo bike, complete with belts for securing young ones.
(See the photo slide show at the end of the post.)

The NPR story - listen to the audio or read the transcript - reports that commuter cycling is growing in popularity and use in New York City. That's good. As New York goes, so does the rest of the nation, and I'm very proud of my region and it's bicycling advocacy programs. (Trailnet, St. Louis Regional Bicycle Federation). However, the story does make it very clear there are some cultural attitudes of Americans that makes us very distinct from our European counterparts.

1. Cycling is still largely regarded as a recreational activity. The movement for cycle-friendly streets and highways will have to overcome this perception before we will truly adopt cycling as utilitarian. And it is. It is a practical form of transportation - cheap, even with all of the bells, whistles, and safety gear. Maintenance is minimal and more cost-effective than an auto and no vehicle insurance is needed.

2. Bike theft is real problem, but not taken seriously the authorities. Having one's bike and gear stolen is a major financial burden, particularly for working-class urbanites who could really benefit the most from bike transportation. In the Netherlands, bikes were everywhere. People still locked their bikes, but there was no overwhelming concerns about theft. In fact, I noticed many bikes just parked on sidewalks not secured to a bike rack or post. At first I thought these bikes were unsecured, but in actuality they were self-locked, with a device sort of like the Club. It locks on the back wheel and prevents the wheel from spinning. Neat.

3. People are concerned about getting sweaty or getting stinky when they ride to work. I co-sign this concern. However, while I was in Europe, this concern didn't cross my mind. The Dutch biked everywhere and I don't remember my nose being assaulted. So, I think that is good news.

Finally, I noted that the auomoblile culture of Europe was greener than ours, too. Motorbikes and scooters, as well as fuel-efficient sub-compacts were common. Plus, I noted this sign for electric car recharging station in Paris near the Arc de Triomphe.


Yan Tan said...

Hey hunn just stopping by showing some love on your blog!!


Come stop by sometime... ;-p

Sebastiansarrow said...

Hey there - the amount changes from year to year, but I suppose you could call me a cyclist. My big ride of the year (which is small by a lot of standards) is the MS150 which just happens to be next weekend. 2 days of 75 miles that raises funds to support multiple sclerosis research. To support that effort click here - - sorry, I know I just highjacked your blog. I'm a bad person for a good cause. How about you start riding with me and tell me how awful I am? Did I mention that Troy has done a lot of the design work for Bike St Louis, Great Rivers Greenway, and some for Trailnet?

Now that I am going to be working from home - I have a new game that I play. How many days can I go without moving my car? Of course i did get a ticket recently on street cleaning day.

Take care,


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MonkBali said...

So complete one to say in one story. that's the cycling and more transportation. Bike is the most greenest transportation so far in this advanced world.

SandraLH said...

I loved cycling in the Netherlands, too! Whole families perched on a single bike was cute. Also, by law all bikes must have functional lights (turn signals...). After returning to the US, though, I found we have a potentially fatal flaw to universal biking; our cities and communities were built after cars became available and everything is spread out by miles. Also, the Netherlands is very, very flat. I live by Lake Superior in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and the whole town is built on a steep hillside; there's many places where I have to get off and push my bike up long, long hills.

I look forward to reading more of your blog!

Miriam Goldstein said...

I bike commute here in San Diego & also used to in NYC, and I guess I am just not as delicate as the Europeans, because I SWEAT. But it's not a big deal. When I had a real job in NYC, I just wiped off with a washcloth and changed my clothes, and everything was fine. Now that I am a grad student, I am just smelly.

The size & sprawl of American cities definitely makes it harder here, as Sandra pointed out. I would add that biking in most American cities is DANGEROUS. Cars don't look for you and don't respect your road space. I've almost gotten doored more than once.

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