ThinkBike: Dutch Bike Planning Comes To Philly


ThinkBike workshop Dick van Veen, June 18, 2012 | Photo: Mike Szilagyi

ThinkBike workshop Dick van Veen, June 18, 2012 | Photo: Mike Szilagyi

World-class bikeway expertise in the form of three Dutch transportation planners has come to Philadelphia this week, working with local planners and bike advocates in two days of intensive surveys and problem-solving sessions.

Widely recognized as the leader in bicycle commuting, the Netherlands has since 2010 lent planning assistance to six cities in the United States–Philadelphia is the seventh. At opening remarks at Temple University Monday morning, deputy mayor for transportation Rina Cutler acknowledged the value of encouraging the recent upsurge in bicycling: “This is about mobility and giving people choices in how they get around. It’s government’s responsibility that no matter how you choose to travel, you can do so safely.”

Dutch Cycling Embassy’s Tom Godefruuij outlined the major factors that have contributed to cycling’s remarkable success in the Netherlands. A key point is that Dutch traffic and transportation planners take cycling seriously as a full fledged mode of transport.

ThinkBike Tom Godefrooij - Aaron Ritz - Dick van Veen June 18 2012 | photo Mike Szilagyi

ThinkBike Tom Godefrooij – Aaron Ritz – Dick van Veen June 18 2012 | Photo: Mike Szilagyi

Much has been made in some circles about the danger posed by cyclists, especially in Center City. The Dutch designers examined how lack of bicycle facilities can contribute to unsafe behavior by all modes (drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists). Senior transportation designer Dick van Veen related how his road designs are reviewed by Dutch police before they are finalized. Van Veen said that if bicycle facilities are not included in the design of any road where the speed limit is greater than 30 miles an hour, the police flatly state that they will not enforce traffic laws on cyclists. Assessing the scene at the corner of 19th & JFK Boulevard, with four onrushing lanes of cars, trucks, and buses–and zero provision for bikes–he noted, “this is a hostile environment. It actively encourages bad behavior by cyclists.”

A problem not just in Philadelphia but in cities the world over is allocation of street width. Cities laid out a century or more ago could not foresee the crush of automobile traffic that would descent upon them. Even more to the point, those long-ago city planners could not have foreseen that countless vehicles would be left unattended for hours or days at a time in the streets, lining both sides and leaving only a third of the street width for the flow of traffic. Eliminating on-street parking is one way that the great European cities have paved the way for safe bicycle commuting. 

Here in Philadelphia, however, on-street parking is considered about as sacrosanct as the Liberty Bell. The removal of on-street parking for bike facilities–a policy which has enabled the explosion of bicycling in the great cycling cities–is sure to run into a buzz-saw of neighborhood opposition. It’s a proven way to evoke what deputy mayor Cutler describes as an “amazing amount of resistance.”

ThinkBike workshop participants round City Hall June 18 2012 | photo Mike Szilagyi

ThinkBike workshop participants round City Hall June 18, 2012 | Photo: Mike Szilagyi

And yet, workshop participants can see past that to a future where safe viable alternative modes of travel will mean that there will not be the need for so much on-street parking. The Dutch planners remind us that their great cities have policies limiting automobile travel through their centers, thus making them foremost places for pedestrians and cyclists. Imagine City Hall, and the renovated Dilworth Plaza when it is completed, without a four-lane snarl of traffic engulfing it.  Imagine instead what conference organizer Aaron Ritz calls “areas of calmness” at the heart of this city.

The design teams will be presenting their recommendations at Temple University’s Beury Hall Auditorium, 13th & Norris Streets, on Tuesday afternoon June 19. The public is invited to view the presentations and participate in a moderated public discussion at 6:30PM.

About the author

Mike Szilagyi was born in the Logan neighborhood of Philadelphia, and raised in both Logan and what was the far edge of suburbia near Valley Forge. He found himself deeply intrigued by both the built landscape and by the natural “lay of the land.” Where things really get interesting is the fluid, intricate, multi-layered interface between the two.

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  1. I like to imagine a Center City with pedestrian and cycle friendly malls, maybe a block or two free of cars altogether. Unfortunately imagining is probably the only way we’ll see any calmness around City Hall, as long as fuel prices are priced without respect to the massive external costs they enable, and as long as politicians are unwilling to make tough decisions.

    • Those facilities the Dutch speak of could be located in the underground by city hall and suburban station.
      Separated bike lanes could be on north broad , fully realizing the viaduct Greene & reading viaduct park
      Could bring a 3 mile protected bike and pedestrian pathway to many in north west Philly. If you reconnect
      The viaduct across the vine street expressway it runs into the convention CRT. Which is just screaming for
      Parklets and bike racks. That puts all those pedestrians and bikers across the street from reading terminal
      Market and a stones throw from city hall and all the septa connections they could hope for. Add bike racks
      In the underground and by 30th street st , bike lanes on JFK blvd , let’s not forget the spring garden greenway , Real separated bike lanes in fairmount park which connects to skuykill banks and again right
      into center city. The future looks bright for Philly. When a $30 bike gets the same respect as a $30,000 car
      Everyone benefits. ( penalosa ). I know, I rambled on . Sorry

  2. Will you be able to share the slide shows on this site?

  3. Forget about getting rid of cars. If they can just find a way of importing Holland’s climate, I would bike all over the place.

  4. Having just returned from a day’s drive out to Bartram’s Garden and through parts of S W Philly where bike lanes have been installed on all the major streets, I saw – not – one – bicycle, anywhere. The Bicycle Mafia is out of control in this city in my view.

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