Alderman Solis in Zolle, Netherlands – all photos courtesy of Bikes Belong
[Background info for this post came from a write-up of the trip by Washington D.C. Department of Transportation Bicycle Program Specialist Mike Goodno.]
Earlier this month when I interviewed 25th Ward Alderman Danny Solis about sustainable transportation projects in his ward, he mentioned that he would be taking a trip to the Netherlands from October 1 – 8 to study bike facilities. The bike industry-funded advocacy group Bikes Belong sponsored this fact-finding mission for transportation officials from Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Miami, and Solis says that staffers from Working Bikes Cooperative recommended him to Bikes Belong as a bike-friendly politician. Joining him from Chicago were former Active Transportation Alliance executive director and current SRAM Cycling Fund director Randy Neufeld, as well as Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) bike program staffers David Gleason and Mike Amsden.
Randy Neufeld gives Streetsfilms videographer Elizabeth Press a ride in a “bakfiets” box bike
The group visited seven Dutch cities (Utrecht, Zwolle, Groningen, Nijmegen, Tilburg, Rotterdam, and Amsterdam), meeting with local transportation experts and politician and touring the country’s famously bike-friendly streets on two wheels. The Americans got to experience a land where transportation biking is not just for enthusiasts but is a completely normal activity – nearly 80 percent of the population rides a bicycle at least once a week. Nationally the mode share for bicycling is 27 percent and in the some cities more than 50 percent of trips are done by bike. This is because of extremely cycle-friendly laws and infrastructure, and because most motorists pedal as well, they understand the importance of driving safely around people on bikes.
4-way “bike scramble” in Groningen
I caught up with Alderman Solis last week last week by phone to debrief him on his trip.
What were the highlights?
The highlight for me was I got to visit several different cities in the Netherlands. And in each of these cities we did at least two hours of bike riding after we got a presentation from city officials, usually aldermen. And I think the reason we were able do this is that every city in the Netherlands is connected by rail and no city is farther than an hour away. And so we would be one morning in one city, get a presentation, go bike riding, eat lunch on the train, then visit a second city and do the same thing.
But the thing that most impressed me is the way that bike riding is a way of life, like cars are here in the U.S. Every child goes to school goes to school by bike when they’re old enough. The urban areas are especially friendly to bike riding, pedestrians and public transportation, and all three forms of transportation are very well coordinated. Automobile driving in the city is actually last on the priority list.
Bike-prioritized fietsstraat (bike street) in Tilburg
What most impressed me as something that could be brought to Chicago is the way that commercial areas, the small restaurants and shops, benefit so much from the fact that there’s more people out there on foot and on bikes then there are in cars. So I can envision [25th Ward] neighborhoods like Pilsen, Chinatown and Little Italy, as well as downtown having the same type of benefit.
Mike Amsden and David Gleason from CDOT were on the trip and that was a good thing because I got a chance to really interact with them. I’m going to give a presentation soon in [39th Ward] Alderman [Margaret] Laurino’s committee [Economic, Capital and Technology Development] and to the rest of the city council. I brought it up in the budget hearings when [CDOT] Commissioner Gabe Klein was presenting. So I’ve become a very strong advocate for bicycling – it really makes sense for the city.
Solis gives an interview in Groningen
Here’s one thing I noticed in the Netherlands. In the United States we have an emphasis on recreational riding with mountain bikes and hybrids. Over there they just use a very practical, sturdy bike with three speeds, which was all you needed. People don’t wear helmets. You’d see men in business suits as well as women and men in clothes for going out on the town, with the women in skirts and high heels. You’d see seniors on bikes and parents transporting their kids. So it’s very utilitarian – they use the bike like an extension of themselves.
Stylish cyclist in Groningen
Did any other elected officials from Chicago come with you?
No, Alderman Laurino had to beg off at the last minute and [2nd Ward] Alderman [Robert] Fioretti was going to go but a medical condition he has right now made it difficult for him to take a long plane ride. Randy Neufeld was there, and there was [Commercial Bike Parking Manager] Sarah Reiter from Saris [a bike accessories company] in Madison, Wisconsin.
Any other ideas you experienced in the Netherlands that you’d like to bring back to Chicago?
Yes. Instead of just lines painted on the street for bike lanes I’d like to see different colored asphalt. Maybe we could also make some of our residential side streets one-way with two-way traffic for bikes.
Bicycling in Groningen
The idea that most impressed me is the economic benefits of getting more bike riding in commercial areas. The number of bikes on 18th Street in Pilsen has really increased over the last couple of years and you can see how it could really help if we figured out a way to make the street even friendlier to pedestrian and bike traffic. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of cars in the Netherlands but they’re mostly in the suburbs and on the outskirts of the city.
We’ve been talking with Saris about putting in more bike parking on 18th Street. Sarah Reiter and the CEO came down to Chicago after the Netherlands trip and we did a bike tour of the ward. They’re coming up with ideas for locations where they might be able to put in some bike parking.
[Reiter told me she and Solis discussed the possibility of installing on-street bike parking corrals in the near future by Café Jumping Bean, 1439 W. 18th, and/or at the northwest corner of 18th and Paulina, near the 18th Street Pink Line Station. These would involve “inverted U” racks on rails, possibly with ornamental placards with a design that could reflect the area’s Mexican-American culture.
Saris bike corral in Milwaukee
Down the road, Saris might provide high-density, double-decker Stack Racks, comparable to the two-tier Josta racks used at the Millennium Park bicycle station, for covered parking projects in the 25th Ward, Reiter said. Solis told me that covered parking areas, with space for hundreds of bikes, could potentially be built on city property across the street from the 18th Street station or under the Dan Ryan Expressway in East Pilsen.]
Would Saris be donating the bike racks?
They’re looking at trying something out where they lend them to us for a certain period of time to see if we like them, and if they are successful maybe we could figure out a way to buy them.
You know, in the Netherlands you see parking facilities at train stations with over 5,000 bicycles. I’ve heard the country has more bikes than people.
Bike parking at Tiburg Central Station