June 24: America is miles behind

by Aaron Schwartz

Biking through the complicated and unique bicycle infrastructure of Amsterdam today was an amazing experience. Not only did this allow us to gain a new perspective of the city and the countryside, but we were also allowed to experience how Amsterdam has embraced its cyclists by giving them ample room on roadways as well as treating them equally if not better than other forms of transportation. I could not help but wonder if an achievement like Amsterdam’s could be the model for a city in America to adopt, but I simply cannot see it happening realistically for a number of reasons. Talking with Pascal today, I asked how much they were taxed yearly solely for infrastructure and cycling routes, and he responded with 30 euro. Considering how there is such an uproar about taxing even a dollar a year towards funding critical programs in the united States, I cannot see this ever being funded. As a result, the funding would fall onto corporations to sponsor what should really be a public service. Instead, “Bank of America biking” or whatever will begin to monopolize the increasing bike culture in America. Another reason that I believe that America has missed this opportunity is due to the suffering auto industry in America. Any attempt to bring in another form of transportation or to take routes away from cars will be met with incredible resistance by every American not seeing the benefit of decreasing traffic on the roadway. America has a lot to learn from the infrastructure of Amsterdam, but in my opinion, it is too late for real change to occur in America.

Agree? Disagree? Comment and let me know.

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5 thoughts on “June 24: America is miles behind

  1. With regard to taxation, yes people don’t want taxes, but this could be effective in some states and communities. Also, while it sounds ethically incorrect, taxation can be levied and increased government expenditures are lumped into large spending bills that taxpayers usually don’t get a good look at. This can be done, but it will take time, and it will be implemented on a case by case basis. A state like California or Washington will have constituents that are far more willing to pay higher taxes in order to have better infrastructure and bikeways. I also agree about the auto industry having its objections, but they are shifting to hybrids and electric vehicles. You can see this with Volvo’s recent announcement about their electric vehicles.

    There is no clear answer, but hopefully specific places in the US will start to integrate more bike infrastructure. People like Pascal are important advocates and we hope that they continue to do good work.

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  2. The resentment by drivers is a key factor, because they are not also cyclists. Drivers in the Netherlands are (and already were, for the most part) also cyclists. That’s a huge difference. And that is, as Jackie points out, due in large part to the pre-existing use of space, density, etc. But it’s important to remember that all this Dutch infrastructure is NEW. They, too, built (or re-built) cities for cars, and the’re now in the process or deconstructing that. All those Corbusier-style apartment blocks in the south of Amsterdam? the ones that more or less required auto access? 70% demolished and replaced by housing linked to the public transportation system & to local shopping, etc., along shorter distances where biking makes more sense (again to point to Jackie’s point–you have to have meaningful things to bike TO–your job, your grocery, etc.).
    Virginia is proposing separated bike paths alongside I-66 between the beltway and Haymarket. It completes an important corridor for bikes and connects disconnected routes. But besides being a horrible place to ride (and discouraging use) I think it will also draw resentment of non-cyclists drivers who will say: that could have been another lane for cars!

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  3. I 100% agree with both Aaron and Jackie. Creating a bike infra store in America would be incredibly difficult, recreating a bike infrastructure like there is in the Netherlands in America would be impossible. Pascal said today that for every person in the Netherlands the government invested €33 every year. Investing even $1 a year per person in America would cause an uproar. It was amazing to be able to experience the benefits of having such a strong bicycle infrastructure today. Since I am from New York we are used to seeing cyclists as the enemy on the roads. On the rare occasion that the flow of traffic is changed to included a bike path most people complain about it for a very long time. By redirecting the traffic to prioritize cyclists the entire flow of traffic works much better. Pascal said today, to eliminate traffic jams you eliminate the roads. I thought this was brilliant, where in America the general attitude is; if there are traffic jams start construction to make the roads bigger that only causes more traffic while the build the new road. It was amazing to hear how many cities in Europe are ready to construct bicycle infrastructure, or even take the first step by having bike share programs. Unfortunately, I don’t think American cities will ever get to the point where they can construct bicycle infrastructure.

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  4. While I agree with your statements I also feel the need to post the question if bike lanes and bike infrastructure would really be all that useful in the United States? We are so spread out in terms of area that commuting by bike is unreasonable for people, myself included who works 2 days a week in Baltimore. A lot of people live outside an area where bike lanes would be useful. We have a lot more space than the Netherlands and have to figure out how bike infrastructure would help everyone including those that live in the middle of no where. I do think there are benefits, and maybe we should try to change America’s views on biking, but it’s just something to keep in mind

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  5. I completely agree with your conclusion that this sort of bike infrastructure would be almost impossible to produce in America. Along with the reasons you pointed out, Pascal mentioned the idea of compromise when creating new roads and bike passages. In order to create biking routes parts of the city have to be compromised, like certain buildings and roadways (Pascals example of the tunnel from the bridge through the building). America at this point in time is not a country where compromise comes easy. Drivers would argue if streets were turned to bike lanes, pedistrians would argue that they are in more danger with all the bikers around, the city would argue about the cost etc. Amsterdam to me is ages ahead of America in discussion and compromise, therefore I think that trying to construct a biking infrastructure would never work in a country that is so divided and stubborn when it comes to most decisions.

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