64 Replies to “Sunday Open Thread: Cycling in the US from a Dutch Perspective”

  1. Love it.

    I never understood how single-speed bikes could be practical enough to be common over there. They don’t understand why we are racing around over here.

    1. Pretty simple really: the entire country is flat, and distances are very short. Even riding across the entire city of Amsterdam is only a 25-30 minute task. With such short distances and easy terrain, gears aren’t necessary. Furthermore, the bike parking situation is very different, with bike stands all over the place, but very crowded. Most people who have bikes with gears wouldn’t want to use those because they get rained on, rusted, or broken off by others trying to force their bikes into the racks.

      Generally speaking many people have 2 bikes if they are cycling enthusiasts. They will have one “city-bike” which is generally single speed, often not in the best condition, and is used around town without worry of damage (or theft). Then many people also have a racing/road bike which would be used for leisure and longer-distance.

      I think the “racing” comment has to do with the fact that everyone is in Lycra and helmets on normal city streets. In the NL you would only see this in the countryside. Frankly I agree that it’s more encouraging to see people in everyday, normal clothes. On a flat-ish route of up to 3-4 miles, I don’t see why anyone would need to wear Lycra or take a shower at the end. When I was living in Amsterdam I rode about 30 minutes each way to work on a single-speed city bike in a suit, and it all worked out just fine.

      1. To adopt similar “infrastructure” we would need more things like the Denny Regrade. Steep hills are not conducive to ordinary people cycling.

      2. I have to agree with the video, but the video isn’t very indicative of the changes that Seattle or other progressive cities have made. As for motorists playing by the rules, I have to say that many bicyclists don’t play by the rules either. Running with traffic to a stop light, then crossing at the crosswalk without yielding to peds… It’s a frequent issue that I run into walking around town.

        Back to the Netherlands, I suggest you visit the Province of Limburg. It’s not exactly flat and is where my mother and I were born. That being said, the Netherlands is on a mission to eliminate signals and stop signs. Many of the signalized intersections that I remember seeing when I visited there through much of my childhood years (at the time I lived in Germany) have been replaced with roundabouts and traffic tables. Bicycles are accommodated as are motorcycles, mopeds and “bromfiets.” Bromfiets are gas powered bicycles that allow riders to get up hills or be a little lazy when riding around town. …a predecessor of the hybrid bicycles you see today.

        Finally, with gas prices as high as they are in the Netherlands (probably double that of it is here in WA), most vehicles are smaller, more efficient, and can easily navigate the devices used to lessen speeding and improve the safety of all roadway users.

      3. The excuses are bull until you hit the reality that complete bike infrastructure won’t pass the ballot or get state tax approval and will generate a “war on cars” backlash. That’s the biggest hurdle here. But incremental improvements can add up to something substantial.

    2. My own 5 years of frustration on my town’s bicycle advisory board is that the “Vehicular Cyclists” who push for on road, non-segregated bike lanes, who ride very expensive bikes for travel in the racing mode, have as much to do with this as the powers-that-be.

      There just isn’t an advocacy strong enough for the average bike rider, because largely, he doesn’t exist any more because of the chicken and egg problem. Of all those who would ride a bike, 60% of them will not because they don’t want to ride in traffic.

      So yes, this Fish Out of Water style commentary from a Dutchman says it all.

      1. What happened to your suggestion for an east-valley bicycle expressway? Or am I remembering this wrong.

      2. What happened to your suggestion for an east-valley bicycle expressway?

        The topic would come up every year, various promises would be made, but nothing ever got done. Budgets would always be siphoned off to someplace else.

        I ended up quitting and figuring that I would rather spend my time bicycling than arguing, even if that meant darting around cars…that’s the way I grew up riding back on Long Island anyway.

    1. This is my contention.

      Most metropolises were built around and designed for the transportation needs of the previous two centuries.

      18th century metropolises were based on sea ports…New York, California, San Franscisco.

      19th century metropolises were based on train lines…Chicago, Omaha.

      Few to none of our cities are based on 21st century technologies like the Internet or air planes.

  2. With all the focus on BART, the thought occurred to me, does San Francisco have commuter rail and if so, why don’t people talk about it more?

    I found this CalTrain system map:


    Which seems pretty comprehensive for major destinations south of San Francisco. But is well used? It is like their Sounder train?

    1. CalTrain is at capacity peak hours, and runs hourly at other times until around 10pm. It has too many stations in my opinion, which leads to a normal travel time of 90 minutes for SJ-SF, but this is reduced to 60 minutes with a few “baby bullet” expresses at peak. It’s the fastest way to get from the penninsula to SF or SJ without driving, so it’s popular. But it’s nothing like BART which comes every 15 minutes rather than every 60 minutes, so the East Bay is much more fortunate than the West Bay.

      There are also other commuter rail services. The Amtrak Capitol Corridor runs every 30-120 minutes on Auburn – Sacramento – Davis – Martinez – Oakland – San Jose. OAK – SJ is 1:10, SAC – SJ is 3:15. The Altamont Commuter Express runs peak hours from San Jose to Fremont and then east to Stockton (2:12 total).

      I’ve also seen somewhere a through schedule from the Bay Area to San Diego, so it is possible to go from NoCal to SoCal on regional trains, although there may be a 2-hour transfer in the middle.

      1. CalTrain has its issues, but it doesn’t lose up to $32 per passenger on some segments the way BART does.

      2. You have two options for getting between SoCal and NoCal via Amtrak regional trains + Thruway bus:
        1. Capitol Corridor/Caltrain to San Jose and connect with a bus that takes you along the US 101 coastal route to connect with a Surfliner train in Santa Barbara. There is an overnight bus that I’ve used a few times in both directions.
        2. San Joaquin from Oakland/Sacramento down though the Central Valley to Bakersfield and connect with a bus that takes you over the Tehachapi Pass into LA Union Station for the Surfliner.

        All the transfers are timed and guaranteed. The Amtrak schedule has a section dedicated to NoCal-SoCal travel.

      3. Problems with CalTrain:
        1) Even though it’s the fastest route along the San Francisco->San Jose corridor besides driving, it still takes nearly twice as long as driving, not including however long it takes to wait for the train or get to the stations. As previously stated, this is largely due to the fact that the stations are too close together.
        2) It only runs hourly off-peak.
        3) Bus connections in the suburbs are hourly at best and are not timed very well to match the trains. Also, if your final destination is on the opposite side of highway 101 from the CalTrain Station, poorly designed interchanges make walking or biking the stretch unnecessarily dangerous, especially at night (e.g. crossing entrance/exit ramps full of speeding cars). Example: wait times at the Santa Clara train station for connections to or from San Jose airport can be as much as 30 minutes or more.
        4) On the San Francisco end, it doesn’t go anywhere except downtown and the connections for getting elsewhere are slow and circuitous by either Muni or Bus. For example, if you want to go from Golden Gate Park to Palo Alto, you’d better be on a bus headed towards downtown a full hour before the train is scheduled to leave the downtown station (in spite of the station only being 4-5 miles away) to make sure you don’t miss your connection.

        To some extent, CalTrain has a chicken and egg problem. Because of all the above, it gets low off-peak ridership (except for travel to or from major sporting events at stadiums directly served by the train), which means potential investments to improve the service are deemed not worth the cost, which means off-peak ridership remains low, etc.

      4. Like I said, CalTrain has its own issues.

        But what the BART-to-San-Jose and Link-to-∞ boosters seem to forget is that most of the trips these “too slow” trips are dozens of miles at minimum. That’s why they are primarily commuter-only trips. BART’s off-peak ridership is equally dumpster-level, outside of SF, Oakland, downtown Berkeley, and the comparatively short haul between those three places.

        If BART magically replaced CalTrain through the peninsular corridor, it would without a doubt have similar stop placement through the populated areas, and it would be equally slow. But that slowness would be on purpose-built infrastructure with giant multi-level stations and all of the exponentially higher labor costs associated with staffing, securing, and maintaining a “closed” rapid transit system. Yay!

        There’s a reason that commuter rail / suburban rail / “regional rail” on mainline infrastructure is considered “the right tool” for this sort of job worldwide. The RER, which BART-to-everywhere people probably imagine they’re emulating, was actually quite careful in choosing segments to rapid-transitize; the longest RER lines aren’t half as long as today’s BART or proposed Link, and they sure a hell don’t go places that look like Pleasanton or Federal Way. If you want to take a train to Mantes-la-Jolie, it’s probably going to be hourly and it’s going to be slow!

        Again, long-distance BART being stupid does not mean CalTrain couldn’t be better.

        Per ASDF’s list:

        1) The best solution for this would be to get a special dispensation from the Feds to junk the heavy locomotives in favor of some sort of Diesel Multiple Unit arrangement. That rids you of the acceleration/deceleration penalty, without sacrificing the top speeds you can achieve on those mainline straightaways.

        2) Sprawling as it all may be, there are a whole lot of people and destinations in the vicinity of this corridor. There’s no doubt that half-hourly service could be sustained. Make it so — you’ll do a whole lot better than those empty, expensive BARTs on their way to Concord every 20 minutes. Service frequency should follow demand and geometry-appropriate needs, rather than being arbitrarily assigned to one particular type of rail infrastructure.

        3) No doubt, the suburban agencies need to do better, and the influential business constituents in the area need to be pushing them to do better. But this is hardly a CalTrain problem. See also: lousy bus connections at BART; lousy bus connections at Sounder and Link.

        4) True. And being fixed (to the extent that San Francisco is capable of fixing in-city transit connections).

      5. If CalTrain were more frequent, I wouldn’t care about BART in the Wet Bay. Frequent meaning 15 minutes, although 30 minutes would be a good step. That alone would have made the difference in me willing to work in Silicon Valley in the 90s and 00s. The only reason I’ve argued for putting BART all the way down the penninsula is it seems impossible to convince officials to make CalTrain frequent.

        I don’t defend BART’s Concord, Pittsburgh, and Dublin termini, or every mile of track. The only parts I consider important are Berkeley, Oakland, Fremont, and SFO — and it should extend to San Jose to connect the largest cities. Lines out to hinterland nothingness are just extra. But the point is, if you go back in time and delete Concord and Fremont, you’d delete Oakland and Berkeley too, and then there would be nothing except buses and cars. And there would doubtless be another freeway and bay bridge by now, and transit would be even less competitive with driving, and it would be so entrenched it would be even harder to fix.

      6. You do realize that Fremont is one of the most populous cities in all of California, and yet its BART ridership is trash at peak and non-existent off-peak, right?

        Distant sprawl cannot support urban service levels. It just can’t! That goes double for very long inter-city journeys, no matter how populous the endpoints!

        Half-hourly and more multi-modal-friendly commuter rail through the most populous parts of the Bay would more than suffice to meet the needs and geometry of the place.

        (If you went back in time, you would simply never delete the trans-bay Key System lines, which were a hell of a lot more useful to the urban East Bay anyway, instead investing in segregation improvements and in their multi-modal connections.)

      7. @ asdf + Caltrain #4

        On the San Francisco end, it doesn’t go anywhere except downtown and the connections for getting elsewhere are slow and circuitous by either Muni or Bus.

        The Fourth + King station is on the southern edge of SoMa (aka South of Market) but within walking distance of downtown. This station is just to the north of the UCSF Mission Bay campus. Also nearby is AT+T Park – home of the S.F. Giants (baseball). The bus connections are decent with service to Chinatown / North Beach and the Van Ness corridor. The light rail operates in a slow – fast – slow pattern due to a lack of signal pre-emption with the fast leg in the Market Street Subway (Embarcadero to Civic Center for the N-Judah and to West Portal for the K-Ingleside / T-Third).

        There is another S.F. station on 22nd Street near Pennsylvania. This is just to the south of the UCSF Mission Bay campus and is in an area that’s changing from industrial to mixed (ind. + comm. + offices + residential). The only direct service is the #48 (24th St. / Quintara). The #22 Fillmore is nearby on 20th Street and the K / T has stops at 20th and 23rd (both on Third Street). I’m a volunteer at the S.F.Food Bank (23rd + Penn.) and have used all three lines. The walk is reasonable from the train pit to either of the Third Street platforms.

        Then there is the border station – Bayshore – just barely in S.F. on Tunnel Ave. The transit connections with SFMuni (8X, 8AX, 8BX, 9, 56, T-Third) and SamTrans 292 are all within walking distance at Arleta + Bayshore. There are also a couple of shuttle bus routes that connect the station to locations in Daly City and Brisbane (see station page for details). The interesting thing about this station is that the industrial area just west of the station (Schlage Lock campus and the former rail yard just to the south of it) is slated for redevelopment as a residential / commercial hub. The hub could include an extension of the K / T from its present Sunnydale terminus over to the Caltrain station. The only hitch, as usual, is the financing.

        NB – I’m located near San Francisco. I’m one of numerous railfans who are waiting for the day we get a true Downtown station. The problem is that the people who run things at the various agencies (BART, Caltrain, VTA, etc.) are engaged in non-stop turf wars and won’t let the railroad engineers do a proper job of system design. So needed upgrades get delayed and price tags head for the Stratosphere. Same-o, same-o.

    2. Last year I took the Coast Starlight to Oakland and the Capitol to Great America. The Capitol felt a lot like Sounder, although the train was older. (I learned that I should have gone to SJ and backtracked on VTA light rail, to avoid a long transfer wait, so I did that this year.) It was 10am so ridership was sparse, like a Sounder reverse commute. I returned at 5pm during rush hour, and saw some 30 people get on the ACE — and this at a minor station. Then my Capitol train came, but I don’t remember how full it was.

      A stadium was under construction at the Great America station — the 49ers have moved to the burbs. So the stadium has access by the Capitol, ACE, and VTA light rail. So that means it’s easy to get to the stadium from the East Bay, South Bay, or Mountain View. Coming from San Francisco seems tricky: you’d have to transfer from CalTrain at Mountain View or BART from Fremont and then take light rail or buses to the stadium.

      1. Levis stadium, in Santa Clara, is nearly 50 miles away from Market Street in downtown SF.

        I would be like putting a stadium in Tacoma and relying on transit to get people there.

      2. No, that was stated with a twist of irony, since I have long advocated putting the new NBA/NHL stadium in the Tacoma Dome, as it has its own Sounder station.

        Quite frankly, if we had medium speed rail from Portland to Vancouver, BC, we wouldn’t even need our own teams, as fans could speed south for the Trailblazers and north for the Canucks to catch a game.

    3. Note: I didn’t go to the Great America theme park (which was closed for winter), but to a conference at the convention center which is next to it. But seeing how extremely unwalkable the theme park area is, gave me a lack of desire to ever go to it.

    4. Not only is CalTrain commuter rail like Sounder, the Baby Bullet Bombardier cars were originally destined for ST when Simple Eyman screwed up the agreement with BNSF to add capacity for more trains. Look closely at their overhead racks and you can “ride the wave”.

  3. Didn’t see a single cyclist using daytime lights in that video and you can see how well they blend in when the background consist of cars. Thankfully I’m seeing more daytime leds being used in Seattle. A car driver in traffic usually has just a second (a glance) to see a cyclist and adjust for them. I’ve seen those blinking led lights a block and more away, and then have plenty of time to adjust accordingly.

    FYI: I drive around Seattle with my car lights on, too many folks try to turn across me otherwise.

    1. Is that something I should do?

      I have an LED light I bought with my new bike and it has flashing mode (front and rear).

      I guess you are telling me to use that all hours of the day!

    2. The difference between countries with exceptional and poor safety records for cyclists is not lighting. It’s a culture of responsibility on the roads.

    1. …And the first photo is of a block-long pedestrian overpass, with no wind or weather protection, to a 4-story, zillion-space park and ride with bus bays adjacent to the sub-basement in a location invisible from the street.

      Using this long walkway and descending through the interior of the garage is the only legal way to access the transit from the development — the closest at-grade crosswalk is 300 feet in the wrong direction.

      There is nothing to extol about shitty design principles executed badly in the worst possible location masquerading as “mixed-use density”.

      1. I’m thinking the really best way to produce dense, walkable, healthy communities is to truncate transit at the Seattle City Limits and let the suburbs/exurbs choke…

      2. At the very least, we need to stop pretending these “planned mixed-use communities”, intentionally located in unincorporated fringe areas, which leech off the infrastructure of neighboring cities and to which the vast majority of residents make long-distance driving commutes, are substantively much different from the subdivisions of yore.

        They even sport the same visual monotony, inorganic “placemaking”, and cultish top-down regulation of aesthetics as any gated McMansion community.

      3. They’re a step in the right direction. If residents are happier in them than in the low-density neighborhoods, it may encourage the city councils to allow more infill development. I accept the Issaquah Highlands only because it was already there when I first encountered it, and because it already has a trunk transit route that connects it to Issaquah and the rest of the region. That doesn’t mean I support greenfield developments that haven’t been built yet, and Black Diamond can’t expect a route like the 554.

        As for the Redmond developments, I’m not sure what or where they are. I went out to a trail earlier this year and encountered a surprising Fred Meyer complex near the Avondale end of the 248. Is that one of them?

      4. Mike, the Redmond neighborhoods mentioned in the Times story are here: http://binged.it/1a0A0FP

        The only bus service there is the 224 which was rerouted recently to better serve some residential areas. The are two retail areas here, one with a QFC, several restaurants and personal care services. The other one has more restaurants, a gas station, and I don’t know what else. There’s also a commercial office area, but there’s not much there aside from a medical office, a day care and a moving company.

  4. I asked this awhile back, but no one answered directly– who is Murray’s transit expert/advisor? Would this be a good predictor of how certain things (Ballard-Downtown, etc) will turn out?

    1. I don’t believe he’s showing his hand on that pick unless or until he’s elected. Dollars to donuts, it’s a transit reactionary.

  5. Why can’t we Seattleites understand that certain modes of transportation aren’t a good fit for this area? Various modes of transportation do better in certain areas depending on the terrain and climate. Everyone living above the 48th parallel travels by dogsled, snow machine, or water plane. Everyone living in the Amazon travels by canoe or rope swing. Asia – rickshaw or Vespa. Middle East and North Africa – camel. You wouldn’t cross the sand in a Prius, right? So let’s just acknowledge that in this hilly and rainy area, the bicycle isn’t the right too for the job.

    1. Except that it is, because the hills are not uniform everywhere. When I lived in the U-District, I discovered mostly flat paths to the ferry terminal, Loyal Heights, Rainier Beach, Costco, etc. If you live on Phinney Ridge it seems impossible to go downtown without large hills, but other parts of the city are more fortunate, and it partly depends on your desired destinations. Some flat cut-throughs are surprising; e.g., you can get from Harborview to Roanoke Street by taking the Melrose – Lakeview Blvd path without ever going up or down hill. And Pine Street is pretty gradual from 1st Avenue all the way to 15th. MLK seems to be the easiest way from Madison Street to Rainier Beach. So you can get through large parts of the city without hills, and just a one- or two-block hill at the ends. Bailo will tell you about the flat Interurban Trail from Tukwila to Pacific, and you can also get from there to Alki. The Burke-Gilman/Sammamish River/East Sammamish Trails go from Ballard to Redmond to Issaquah. So that’s dozens of miles of flat paths through many neighborhoods and cities.

    2. Whatever. I live in Portland, and commute 12 months a year by bicycle, rain or shine. There is this amazing invention called a “rain jacket,” you should look it up. Also, Gore-Tex.

    3. Actually I could totally see a rope swing solution for getting across the ship canal west of the Fremont bridge.

    4. You could in fact be right.

      Tri-Cities may be a better place to bicycle.

      It certainly has wider and more pervasive bike-only paths!

  6. Depends upon how cycling is being looked at in your individual community or city. Is it “transportation” or is it “recreational”?

    If “recreational” , then there would be more off roads paths. More helmet use. More spandex wearing. More racing type bicycles with more gears.

    If “transportation”, then more lane sharing or at least bicycle lanes. Less helmet use. More business attire and less spandex. Unitarian bicycles, with less gears.

  7. Holland also has flat terrain, generally moderate weather, compact cities, and high population densities. There are things we can do to make biking better here but I don’t see getting to Dutch levels of total social integration. There are just too many differences.

    1. The weather in Holland is no better than in Seattle – it’s rainy and windy year-round, even for a good chunk of the summer most years. Outside of the rainiest months in Seattle (October/November), I would argue that Seattle’s weather is much better.

      1. Seattle’s arguably better weather doesn’t make up for its lack of flat terrain to bike on and lack of safe and defined bike paths, which can be found easily in Holland.

  8. Begin rant. I was on the 40 Saturday when the Ballard Bridge was briefly stuck open due to mechanical issues. Of course traffic diverted to the Fremont Bridge. What got me so annoyed was that many car drivers remained glued to the right lane of Leary Way from the Ballard Bridge all the way to the Fremont. It thus took the 40 (which as a bus of course had to remain in the right lane) 45 minutes to traverse that distance. All the while cars were zipping by in the left lane. Don’t you think some of these right lane drivers would have thought to change to the left lane in the hopes of crossing the Fremont Bridge sooner rather than later? So these drivers who could have gotten into the left lane and crossed the Fremont Bridge half an hour earlier continued to gum up the right lane and kept the buses stuck. I was headed to a concert downtown and THOUGHT I had allowed enough time. I eventually made it, but I can’t understand why these drivers were–I guess–so patient and content to sit in traffic when whey could have made everyone’s–especially bus passengers’–life that day much easier. End rant.

    1. I’ve been in a similar situation. If drivers are unsure whether they will need to be in the right lane and may find the merge difficult then they just stay put. Ideally there would be a policeman directing traffic to let people know what to do so traffic moves efficiently.

      1. Also, please learn that I am jaywalking behind you, and that you will disrupt my intuitively-derived vector and momentum if you needlessly slam on your brakes when you see me in your peripheral vision.

        I’m a jaywalker, not a UFO.

  9. I’m planning a trip to London and have been reading up on their Oyster Cards. One great feature they have is fare capping. With a pay as you go card it never charges more than the equivalent all day pass. They will also provide a discount of unused credit at the end of the trip. Which is great since I will travel different zone combinations on different days and won’t have to figure anything out before hand. I can just put a couple days fare on the card and see how it goes.


    It also appears all their cabs now require pre-booking. They have a warning not to enter a cab at a taxi stand or flag one down, but to use their smart phone app and use the pre-booked cab when it arrives.


    1. Black cabs can be hailed on the street or at any taxi stand. Mini-cabs and private hire cars need to be booked.

      Last month we got £25 Oyster cards for a five day visit and had to add a few pounds to the card to get back to Heathrow. Adding value to the card is easy at the ticket machines. One bit of advice: Don’t rush. Let the fare gates close before tapping your card to enter when the light turns green. If the system doesn’t have a record of your entry, your exit may result in a maximum fare charge. Likewise, if there’s a record of entry but no exit, you’ll be charged the maximum. The stations are insanely busy and people are rushing to get through, but enjoy being a tourist and take your time.

      And mind the “Look Left” and “Look Right” signs painted in the crosswalks. London drivers are not as pedestrian-friendly as Seattle’s, and they come at you from the wrong direction, too. Be careful out there.

  10. Although this bike video is definitely worth watching (and wouldn’t it be interesting to see something similar for transit?) there are a few themes in the video and the ensuing discussion here and other places that bother me.

    One is the lack of recognition of cultural differences beyond biking. Americans are busy. We like feeling busy, and regardless of what we are doing, we rush. While many of us could benefit from slowing down now and then, I love going fast on my bike and there’s no reason to tell me to slow down (within safety limits of course).

    Another cultural difference in the bike-specific gear. I really don’t understand why there is such a focus on clothes in bike advocacy. While I like leisurely ride out to lunch on a sunny summer day wearing skirt or whatever, after several years of bike commuting, I’ve found that bike specific gear just works better. I can wear whatever I want at work (thus not having to buy a new regular wardrobe that works for biking), I won’t be so sweaty when I change, and it’s just more comfortable in the weather and on my bike. In our hilly and rainy city, some things will just be a little different.

    And on the hills–saying our hills will prevent us from using cycling as a form of transportation is like saying you shouldn’t play rec league basketball because you are too short for the NBA. Cycling can easily increase to 10-20% of mode share in the next few decades, and infrastructure is the key. Plus, while most of the population could not currently tackle the biggest hills around, they could easily be in good enough shape in 2-4 weeks of regular exercise.

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