Bike parking near the Rijksmuseum.

A Tale of Three Cities – Amsterdam: I didn’t do the thing you’re supposed to do

During my vacation to Europe  in March, I met my step goals in Paris and biked in Brussels. The last city I visited was Amsterdam. We took the train from Brussels to Amsterdam. When we walked out of the central train station, I had to choke back tears upon seeing the sheer volume of bike infrastructure, people biking, a large plaza for people, and streetcar lines. As a transportation nerd, this was transportation system paradise.

My Transportation Takeaways:

I didn’t bike in Amsterdam

I know… I know. I’m ashamed. I went to the one of the best places in the world for biking and I didn’t get on a bike the entire time I was there. The major reason for not biking is I didn’t have access to a bike. Since most of the Dutch have a bicycle or two (or four), Amsterdam does not have public bikeshare system. Some hotels offer bikes for guests, but we stayed at an AirBnB.  There are also places that rent bikes in three-hour increments. It was way too much effort for my short stay to locate a bike rental place. Even if I put in the effort to rent a bike, parking for bikes in near impossible to find, which leads me to my next point.

There wasn’t enough bike parking

There are parts of DC where there isn’t enough biking parking, because there isn’t any bike parking at all or there is one sad bike rack. In Amsterdam, there was so much biking parking including a bike parking garage. However, there still wasn’t enough bike parking. Around the city, every  bike rack was overwhelmingly full. There was such a lack of bike parking that some people locked the bike to itself (wheel and frame) and left it on the kickstand in the middle of the sidewalk.

There was plenty of public transportation

While I didn’t bike, I did ride the streetcars. The system was relatively easy to use even without knowing the language. Transferring between streetcars was seamless. Even late at night I didn’t wait more than 6 minutes for a streetcar. I had a 48-hour iAmsterdam pass, which allowed me unlimited transit rides. As a bonus, the pass also granted me access to public museums.

There was space for everyone

Despite Amsterdam’s reputation as a multimodal, no motor vehicle heaven, people did drive in the city. However, it was obvious that the city prioritized space for people and public transportation over cars. Throughout the city, all the modes were separated. There were wide sidewalks for walking, wide protected bike lanes and bike boulevards for biking, exclusive transit lanes for public transportation, and still had lanes left to accommodate motor vehicles. I did not observe any streets where modes were sharing lanes.

The culture of biking was much different

Back to biking, Amsterdam had a noticeably different bike culture from DC.  Most people in Amsterdam rode city bikes, cruisers, or cargo bikes, whereas in DC, many people have faster bikes like road bikes or hybrids. I saw one road bike the entire time I was there. Since they had chunkier bikes, no one biked particularly fast. I didn’t see anyone wearing a bike helmet. While most people biking obey traffic signals and laws, it was common to see people texting while biking or talking on their cell phones.

During my time in Paris, Brussels, and Amsterdam, I had an opportunity to experience different transportation infrastructure. While I was supposed to be vacationing, it was inspiring to see some international best practices to bring back home, and help generate ideas for Nspiregreen’s projects in the U.S.

Veronica O. Davis, PE is a transportation guru who uses her knowledge to spark progressive social change. As Co-owner and Principal of Nspiregreen, she is also responsible for the management of the major urban planning functions such as transportation planning, policy development, master planning, sustainability analysis, and long range planning. In July 2012, Veronica was recognized as a Champion of Change by the White House for her professional accomplishments and community advocacy, which includes co-founding Black Women Bike.

 

A Tale of Three Cities – Brussels: Biking because I could

As I mentioned in my previous post, I vacationed in Europe this past March. My friend and I visited Paris, Brussels, and Amsterdam. While I was there for vacation, most of my photos are of transportation. In the first part of this series, I discussed meeting my daily step goals walking around Paris. In this post, I reflect on traveling around Brussels by walking, biking, and riding public transportation.

We took the train from Paris to Brussels. While I love Amtrak, riding the Thayls in Europe was the next level of train experiences. I liked that my seat was assigned, which meant not having to walk up and down the aisles of the train to find a seat. They also screened all bags and passengers before boarding the train. After an hour train ride, we arrived in Brussels. To get to our accommodations in Brussel’s city center, we took a subway train to the neighborhood and walked the rest of the way.

My transportation takeaways are:

Most streets are for People

Brussels was a nice change of pace. In Paris, people walking and biking were a priority only on the streets for biking and walking. On streets with cars, people were walking and biking at their own risks. However, in Brussels it seemed like people walking and biking were a priority even on streets with cars. Most of the secondary streets in Brussels are for walking and biking only or walking and biking priority. I could walk from where we were staying to other places around Brussels without ever interacting with a motor vehicle. Even on the main roads, people drive slow and give priority to people walking and biking.

The density and street layout of Brussels encourages a walking and biking lifestyle. Brussels was design prior to the invention of cars, so most of the buildings have retail on the bottom and residential or office on the top. Most streets are narrow and/or are cobblestoned.

I couldn’t NOT Bike

In Brussels, I couldn’t get on a bike fast enough. The bike infrastructure and the friendly behavior of people driving was all the temptation I needed to get on a bike. Brussels has a bikeshare system with stations every few blocks along the main roads. There were a few streets where the bike lane has a painted buffer. For other streets, they have wide lane with a dashed bike lane in the center to keep people biking out of the parked car door zone on the right and have 3 feet of clearance from moving vehicles on the left. Many of the one-way streets are signed two-way for bicycles.

The bikeshare system was easy to use. It took me about two minutes from start to finish to rent a bike. For a 24-hour pass, the price was only $1.71 (USD) and a $150 hold on my credit card. I biked around for about 20 minutes. For my first ride, I identified the bike number I wanted to use and the system released that bike for me. I received a code to use from 24-hours for any other rides.

The signage for bicycles was at an appropriate eye level for people biking. Even without knowing the language, the bicycle signage used a clever system of arrows and pictures to clearly show which streets I could bike on and the best routes for me to travel. The most amazing part about biking was no one parks or stops their car in the bike lane. For example, while biking I encountered a truck that was unloading in a car travel lane and not in the bike lane.

More Information is Better

The public transit system was easy to use and generally intuitive. My favorite feature of Brussel’s system was the next train arrival information displayed outside the train station on the street. In the DC region, if you want to know next train arrivals you either need an app on your phone or you must walk into the station. I wish WMATA would adopt a similar display system outside their metro stations, especially at locations where I have an option between bus and rail.

In the next post, I will discuss Amsterdam, one of the world capitals of biking. Did I bike or not? Find out in a few weeks!

Veronica O. Davis, PE is a transportation guru who uses her knowledge to spark progressive social change. As Co-owner and Principal of Nspiregreen, she is also responsible for the management of the major urban planning functions such as transportation planning, policy development, master planning, sustainability analysis, and long range planning. In July 2012, Veronica was recognized as a Champion of Change by the White House for her professional accomplishments and community advocacy, which includes co-founding Black Women Bike.

Picture8

Interesting Rail Fact in Chongqing, China

For those who don’t know, I had my undergraduate studies at a mountainous city called Chongqing. It is one of the municipalities city in China (Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, Chongqing), meaning the city is directly controlled by the Chinese government. Metro Chongqing has a large population of 18.4 million people.[i] Chongqing is located at the Midwest of China, four major parallel mountains across the whole province, and 2 major rivers (Yangtze River and Jialing River) run through the area.

Above is just a little background of Chongqing, the city’s topography is a typical mountainous city in China. Like other metropolitans, Chongqing has many modern skyscraper, and modern public transportation is convenient to get around each of the districts. Monorail is one of the most used way to get around in the city. Remember that the city is built on the mountainous topography, which means the rail can’t always run underground, it kind of look like the trains run from tunnel to tunnel.

 

Picture1

City Skyline

(Source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/3/39/SkylineOfChongqing.jpg/842px-SkylineOfChongqing.jpg)

I would like to share some interesting stories when I lived in this city.

  1. Underground construction going on everywhere. Our campus in located in the middle of downtown. Same as regular campus, we have football field, library and classroom buildings. Regardless what’s on the surface, the underground level is all retails stores. Basically, the whole underground of the campus was under construction. The first year when I was there, my classmates and I could hear the “bomb” sounds when they were building the underground railway.
  2. The only flat area in this city is used for the airport.

Picture2

The Picture above shows the typical traditional mountainous building in Chongqing (Daytime view)

(Source: http://www.chineescapade.com/Admin_Manager/uponepic/guide-touristique/images/20141/ancienne-Chongqing-article.jpg)

Picture3

The complicated topography makes the night view really stunning. (Night time view)

(Source: http://www.echinacities.com/userfiles/2010-Year/10-Month/9-Day/image004(2).jpg)

Picture4

(Source: http://travel.chinesecio.com/en/image/attachement/jpg/site3/20091010/00235aa6948a0c3a34081b.jpg)

         3. The only flat area in this city is used for the airport.

Picture5

Staircase everywhere (Apple store plaza)

(Source: http://cdn.iphonehacks.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/apple-jiefangbei-store.jpg)

        4. When you get off the monorail, you will be surprised to find that you are at the 8th floor.

Picture6

Highest overpass between buildings

(Source: https://i2.wp.com/china-underground.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Highest_overpass.jpg?fit=1000%2C750)

        5. The most astonishing fact is that the rail goes through core of residential flats in the middle.  

Picture7

(Source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/content/dam/news/2017/03/20/JS123737351_Visual-China-Group_Light-Railway-Passes-Through-Residential-Building-In-Chongqing-large_trans_NvBQzQNjv4Bqr1-IQesdsNm9WbsCncdC0h-6hHT5d1My5NPMLxxGU0U.jpg)

        6. Complicated transportation.

Picture9

(Source: http://icaa15.cqu.edu.cn/common/images/night_view2.jpg)

The city still charming to me, it is so special. I love Chongqing, includes the scenery, the people and the Sichuan cuisine.

[i] http://countrydigest.org/chongqing-population/

 

Mei Fang, is an urban planner with a strong passion in urban and landscape design, she also enjoy looking for the variety culture inside of the city.





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