Profile picture
Jack Altenhofen @AltenhofenYYC
, 58 tweets, 14 min read Read on Twitter
This Tuesday is #UrbanAffairsBookClub @shelflifeyyc, and we're reading 'Building the Cycling City: the Dutch Blueprint for Urban Vitality' by @modacitylife. I liked this book so much, I decided to go through it again, and I'll be live-tweeting my experience!
#yycplan #yycwalk and #yycbike tweeps, feel free to follow along.
The authors, Melissa and Chris Bruntlett, decided to take the plunge and do away with car ownership (saving $800 per month!). Carshare was the tipping point, but they mostly stuck to walking, cycling and transit, using rental cars for the occasional road trip.
They decided to document their new freedom, and @modacitylife was born.
In December of 2015, they had an ambitious proposal for their editors: a 5-week 5-city tour of the Netherlands, to gather inspiring cycling stories to share with the world. With a surprise 'yes' and some additional funding, they set off on the 'trip of a lifetime.'
To learn more about that exciting journey, check out what they documented here:
Or, if you want a more complete experience, grab a copy of the book! The vast amount of material that they had to leave on the cutting room floor inspired them to write 'Building the Cycling City.' It's definitely worth your time.
that was the preface, now chapter one.
After world war II, most countries embraced the automobile. But the Netherlands was different, It is the only country in the world where the number of bikes (22 million) exceeds the number of people (18.5 million)!
Copenhagen might get a lot of press for it's Cycling infrastructure, but the Kingdom of the Netherlands is cycling capital of the world.
When confronted with the tremendous cycling numbers that the Dutch have achieved, many people reply with "that would never work here!" But the truth is, you get the traffic that you build for. It's not just about flat terrain, weather, or "moral superiority." It's Infrastructure.
The Dutch have built a dense, 35,000 km network of fully-separated cycling infrastructure. They spend 15x more on cycling infrastructure per person than in the UK! And their traffic fatality rate? 30% that of the United States.
A 2015 @WHO report predicted that the Netherlands would be the only EU country to reverse it's rate of obesity in the coming years, in no small part due to the incorporation of physical activity into residents' daily lives.
Similar cycling rates in the United States could save 125,000 lives per year!
There are a lot of huge numbers here. I can't tweet it all, but the takeaway is simple. The ROI from building cycling infrastructure is immense. The quality of life and public health benefits are massive, and it's cheap. #DemandMore from your representatives.
The groups that benefit the most from prioritizing the bicycle as a mobility device: children and the elderly.
The Dutch have proven that a place that works for cycling also works better for driving. Every year since 2015, @waze has named the Netherlands "the most satisfying place to drive a car," based on it;s customer satisfaction survey, citing "smooth traffic conditions."
Go figure! More people on bikes means a lot more space is freed up for the folks who choose to drive.
With cars seen as more of an option, given the wealth of transportation options, like the bicycle, more space is freed up for freight companies, emergency vehicles, and others who really need it.
The Dutch language has two words for cyclist. "Wielrunners" (wheel-runners), the lycra-clad road warier, are in the minority. Most are "Fietsers, in sitting upright, riding around in their street clothes, because cycling is an everyday thing, not a special event
Shout out to #yyc! We're considered an up-and-coming cycling city (more of this later). But it's a fragile balance. Ridership requires infrastructure. @gccarra, @DruhFarrell and the rest of #yyccc, I'm talking to you. We need your leadership to stay on the right course!
"By building superior places to cycle, the Dutch have also built superior places to live. And the entire world has a great deal to learn from their story."
And my apologies, that was the Introduction. Now we're on to chapter two.
On May 14, 1940, the Dutch city of Rotterdam was leveled in a blitzkrieg, killing 1000 residents, and leaving 85000 homeless. Only 12 buildings in the city centre remained. Long story short: after the war, they made the decision to rebuild as a city for car.
The resulting reconstruction and "modernization" had a similar effect as urban renewal projects elsewhere in the west at the time. I hope you know what that means.
There were some benefits, of course. The rebuilt port was the busiest in the world until 2004, for example. But the reality of congestion, poor air quality, and children dying in the streets, was enough to turn the Dutch away from the car, and back toward the bicycle.
In the early 1970s, Rotterdam began it's journey back to being a city for people rather than a city for the car. Taking advantage of the wide streets that they had built, they built generous cycle tracks, grass-lined tramways, and made streets cozy again
They relaxed the zoning code to bring a more traditional mix of uses to the city centre (rather than the North American-style separation of residential and business), bringing life back to the once sterile and empty streets.
Rotterdam proves that no city is too far gone to be a city for people on foot and bike. Even a city built from the ground up for the automobile can be made human again through smart infrastructure retrofits.
As per Dr. Michelle Provoost: If you build the right infrastructure, cycling is just like faster walking.
Aside from just the cycling infrastructure, a big part of the human experience of a city, and what Dutch cities tend to do really well, is what's called "the city at eye level." You can read more about that here:
In dense urban areas, only a small percentage of a building's uses will be on the ground floor, but the ground floor is responsible for about 90% of a building's contribution to the urban environment. You can't have vibrant, livable streets without getting this right.
Other cities around the world can (and have) learned these same lessons. New York city (once the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam) is at the forefront of this, in no small part due to @JSadikKhan, now the chair of @NACTO , and author of #StreetFight (which is a great book!)
In her time as the New York City Transportation Commissioner, she had a vision to take the best ideas from around the world and applying them to the 25% of New York's surface area occupied by it's streets.
The result was PLaNYC. BRT lines inspired by Bogota, new public spaces, Dutch-style separated cycle tracks, @CitiBikeNYC, and overall safer streets, were some of the tangible results.
Narrowed lanes increased safety and freed up space for better transit and cycling infrastructure. Tactical urbanism interventions eventually gave way to infrastructure. Even Times Square was closed to cars and permanently turned into a pedestrian plaza!
And seriously, read Street Fight, it's an awesome book!
Don't believe in the power of infrastructure? The data backs it up. On 9th avenue, retailers who insisted that protected cycle tracks would harm their businesses instead saw a 49% increase in sales. In the Bronx, retailers along the first BRT Line saw a 71% increase!
Retailers adjacent to the first new Plaza on Brooklyn's Pearl street (where all that they used for the transformation was paint and planters) saw sales go up by 172 percent!
A point that @JSadikKhan makes is that there isn't just one right way to create these kind of changes. But it takes change. You're not going to get a more livable, enjoyable city without trying something new. But information on where to start is increasingly everywhere.
Back to Rotterdam. After WWII, most of housing was built in suburbs outside of the city centre. But as we know, vibrant streets require a vibrant mix of housing, retail, and business.
It's not surprising, then, that the Lijnbaan, a pedestrianized shopping street opened in 1953, is experiencing the highest rate of densification. people want to live where the stuff is, and where they can walk to everything that they need (without parking getting in the way).
In response to this increase in residents, they've actually done something that would be unheard of in a car city like Calgary, they have committed to reducing the parking supply by 1/3, incentivizing the removals by replacing them with uses such as patios & cozy places to rest.
As a side note, this is taking longer than I had estimated based on the length of the audiobook (it's hard to listen and tweet at the same time), So I'll be skimming over more and sticking to the key takeaways. (And I'll likely stop in an hour or so, then continue tomorrow).
An upside to this is it means that there is a lot of great information in this book! I can't recommend it enough, and I can't wait to see my fellow #yycbike and #yycplan nerds @shelflifeyyc on Tuesday to share what we enjoyed about it. Now back to business.
@josebesselink to summarize: "we only need to convince our local politicians that this is the future of our cities. I wouldn't say that we are a car-free city, but a more people-oriented, accessible city, with room for everybody."
Chapter two: They start here by talking about the history of the dutch bicycle. I can't do much justice to the story here, in the context of what I'm trying to tell, but the takeaway is that the Dutch didn't invent their signature style of bicycle, they just kept it.
While bicycles, like cars, were "modernizing" elsewhere, the design that the Dutch brought over from England has stayed pretty much the same. A relaxed, upright position is geared towards comfort, rather than speed. There are a lot of benefits that come from this.
For one, at this more relaxed pace, helmet use is is seen as unnecessary, and sits at a remarkably low 0.5%, yet the Netherlands enjoys the lowest rate of cycling head injuries in the world.
Shout out to @WorkCycles! Henry Cutler is a New Yorker who moved to the Netherlands in 2001 to work for Phillips electronics. He loved it so much that in 2003 he decided to follow his passion, building Dutch-style bicycles to share with the world!
Tough, but comfortable "workhorse" bikes. Sturdy, able to withstand the elements and endless abuse. The Dutch are pragmatic, and they don't want "add-ons." Fenders, chain casings, skirt guards (!?), backpedal brakes, dynamo lights, frame locks, front and rear racks. All standard
The same goes for children's bikes, because cycling before kindergarten is normal in the Netherlands.
According to Cutler, increasing utilitarian cycling in North America requires a paradigm shift in our cycling culture. The bike has to suit the rider & their needs. Retail floor space is expensive, and given the recreational nature of our cycling market, it can be a hard sell.
They spent a while discussing Philadelphia's @transportcycle , and I can't help but think of @BikeBikeYYC! Super excited for the reopening in Ingelwood!
@gccarra is going to like this: electric-assist bikes. Distances become shorter, hills become flatter, and sweat gets removed from the equation. E-Bikes are ridden twice as often and twice as far as regular bicycles, and the close the gender and age gap.
E-Bikes can serve as a realistic replacement for the car for a lot of people, if the infrastructure gets built for it. Secure parking is a must, and of course, a robust cycling network. And if the political will is there, tax incentives would have an enormous ROI.
We get what we invest in, and right now, our investments are wrong. If want our cities to thrive into the future, we need to provide safe, reliable, high-quality transportation options in addition to the car. Cycling is healthy and affordable, we just need to invest in it
And that's all for tonight. I'll be back again tomorrow to continue, and hopefully get to finish this thread before Tuesday!
Missing some Tweet in this thread?
You can try to force a refresh.

Like this thread? Get email updates or save it to PDF!

Subscribe to Jack Altenhofen
Profile picture

Get real-time email alerts when new unrolls are available from this author!

This content may be removed anytime!

Twitter may remove this content at anytime, convert it as a PDF, save and print for later use!

Try unrolling a thread yourself!

how to unroll video

1) Follow Thread Reader App on Twitter so you can easily mention us!

2) Go to a Twitter thread (series of Tweets by the same owner) and mention us with a keyword "unroll" @threadreaderapp unroll

You can practice here first or read more on our help page!

Did Thread Reader help you today?

Support us! We are indie developers!

This site is made by just three indie developers on a laptop doing marketing, support and development! Read more about the story.

Become a Premium Member and get exclusive features!

Premium member ($30.00/year)

Too expensive? Make a small donation by buying us coffee ($5) or help with server cost ($10)

Donate via Paypal Become our Patreon

Thank you for your support!