Tuesday, June 28, 2011


On Monday, after a meeting at the Department of Infrastructure, Traffic and Transportation, we took a long ride out to Amsterdam's Waterland--no this is not an amusement park. Along the ride, water was a slight barrier (as you can imagine) so we took a fairy to make our crossing!
It was a gorgeous day accompanied along with some beautiful scenery, though I may have gotten a bit too much sun (you know how we gingers are) and my bike saddle is starting to feel a lot less comfortable after all the rides we've been putting in.
Here's a gem for you. Notice something unusual about the picture on the left (aside from the narrowness of the road)? That's right, look at how the cars are parked. The group commented on how great of an idea this is because it eliminates the danger of being "doored" by a driver's door. While this is a great idea, I'm not sure how well it can be adopted in the United States as we are a country filled with motorists that have trouble sharing roads and allowing cyclists to travel towards oncoming traffic would surely spark public outcry.

This is OUR road not MY road

 One aspect I've found absolutely fascinating about Amsterdam is their use of shared and separate bicycle lanes. On an excursion to the countryside, we road on a street that in the United States would be considered as a one lane road but here the street supports two-directional traffic, bicycles and parking all at the same time! It was pretty amazing to see how all these worked together. You would think there would be problems with congestion and getting around in general, but everything seamlessly flows here. There’s almost an unsaid expectation of how these roads are to be shared--I say "unsaid" because there is no signage or use of sharrows to explain what is to be done. The only confrontation/frustration I've witnessed so far has been between motorists/cyclists encountering tourists that are unfamiliar with Amsterdam's roadways. 

Separated Bike Lane
Haha, in fact, today I saw a moped crash on the street because of the car in front of it. This is terrible to say but I was secretly happy the moped crashed...they are quite annoying and, 90% of the time, shatter the speed limit (moped use is actually a current problem Amsterdam is trying to resolve but placing these from the bike lane to the street is complicated. Basically, you'd be shifting one problem to another). Anyways, you would think an argument would ensue from such an altercation but these guys laughed the whole matter off. Both passengers and drivers were chuckling and joking to each other about what had occurred--and no, they did not know each other because the car in front of the moped was a garbage truck. 

Under Construction

I took these on a walk the other day. They reminded me of the Casey Neistat youtube video  I commented on a while back. Something I'm learning is that our American perspective and understanding of Amsterdam as a utopian bicycle city is somewhat idealic and flawed. All too often we assume that Amsterdam has perfected its use of bicycles but, in fact, it too shares some common problems we are forced deal with stateside. For instance, bike lanes seem to be the first to go when construction on a street or surrounding structure is needed. Additionally so to are the the sidewalks as is apparent in the pic to the right. I was forced off the sidewalk and into the bike lane/street for about half a block...

However, there are times when we get things right... 


The day after my first official Amsterdam bike ride, I spent my spare time re-familiarizing myself with Amsterdam's streets. The ride was not too bad...however the only thing I was able to focus on was staying with the group and not getting hit by a scooter, car, tram, cyclist or pedestrian. Least to say, it was not the most relaxing or scenic ride. I had a hard time understanding where I was and what street I was riding on--especially since Amsterdam's street signs are an alphabet soup mess (seriously, how I am supposed to remember Vijzelgracht or Nieuwe Kiezersgracht while riding? C'mon.). I should also mention that said signs are (for the most part) found on the sides of buildings rather than street corners--which often blend in with the building's facade.
With that said, I've taken to foot. This requires a tad more energy and time but the payoff is learning the subtleties Amsterdam has to offer. My favorite observation so far is Vondelpark--Amsterdam's circulatory heart.

This park is quite a magical experience. Everyday bikes filter in and out of the park's various corridors. In the morning parents and children ride to work and school while tourists flood the park's green space during days and evenings. At night, headlights flutter like floating fairies, dinging along, with lovers that hold hands and share Amsterdam kisses while riding (couples literally kiss and hold hands while on bicycle--cyclists are multi-talented here). I've included these pictures of a human heart and map of Vondelpark to show how (in my opinion) similar the two are shape and function wise.
Based on my city riding experience, riding in Vondelpark is much more enjoyable and, aside from the tourists, less chaotic. The park also spans across a fair amount of Amsterdam which allows riders to cut through the park and connect with alternate city streets. This helps save time and furthers the notion that riding a bicycle in Amsterdam as a main form of transport is way more efficient and desirable.
A few nights ago, I took a late night ride through the park with a few of my University of Oregon peers. While riding, I became curious as to whether or not Oregon provides such expansive and bicycle friendly parks for its residents. This is something I've especially thought about after moving to Denver and witnessing the wonderful city parks it has to offer. The only drawback is that these parks lack proper bicycle lanes/space--often forcing riders to share busy sidewalks with runners, walkers, children and pets (It's a miracle more accidents have not occurred). On top of this, the best way to get to said parks is to drive rather than ride a bike. Ideally, I would like to see Denver parks adopt more bicycle lanes and better connect its parks to each other and the city. Vondelpark has perfected these aspects and, after receiving an almost DUH like answer to my question, Eugene, Oregon has also done the same. It would seem that Denver has some catching up to do...
  Checkout how wide the space is for bicycles. In the middle street (black top) bikes share the road, traveling in opposite directions, with pedestrians and (at times) small cars. On each side of the street there are also paths for walkers and runners to enjoy--some of these lead to secret nooks within in the park!

Baby Steps

For the past few days I have been easing my way into Amsterdam's bicycle lanes. This is a feat which I was unable to fulfill last summer but have become determined to master by the end of my studies. Bicycling in Amsterdam can be very intimidating--especially when scooters (which are permitted to ride in the bicycle lane), automobiles, trams and pedestrians are either passing by or getting in your way. And not to mention the fact that there are no stop signs....well there's a few but they might as well not be there as no one pays mind to them.
Even the most seasoned of riders must pause to observe and learn from the circulatory dance that is in constant motion. From above, I imagine the traffic looking like a colony of leaf cutter ants at work (go here to watch ants). Somehow, despite its radial like roman road system, classic European narrow streets, and use of five different forms of transport, traffic in Amsterdam appears to harmoniously corroborate with itself--and I do not want to be the one to throwing off the pace...which is why I'm sticking with the training wheel stage.
Speaking of which, here's a picture of my very own Dutch bike! Okay so it's nothing glamorous and screams tourist but I've taken somewhat of a liking to it as it warns everyone to watch out for my inexperienced tourist arse...though I would not complain if it appeared less touristy.

 * * * * * * * *

Our tour guide/trip coordinator, Dustin Bryant, told the class that it is common for city residents to have upwards to 5 bicycles! I don't know how someone can keep track of so many bikes--especially when these are placed sporadically throughout the city. I'm having enough trouble juggling one (you should see the parking here...like a needle in a haystack).
I wasn't too surprised when Dustin also mentioned that many of Amsterdam's bikes end up abandoned or "orphaned". Nearly every street has at least one fossilized bicycle on it--a sore eye for some and work of art for others. On a designated day, city workers travel throughout the city and tag bicycles in order to determine what bikes have been left to bicycle purgatory. After a period of time the workers return and collect all remaining tagged bicycles. I'm not too sure how often this happens but from the looks of it...it's not a regularly occurring event. 

Tagged Orphan Bike

Orphan bike

Speaking of bicycles, here are a few for you:

When I first came to Amsterdam,I foolishly assumed all bikes were alike as everyone appeared to be riding uprights (which is the dominant form of bicycle used--and is quite comfortable to ride. It's a completely different experience when comparing it to the typical bike you'd ride in the United States--bikes that force you to hunch over and be strained while riding) but, since my lengthened stay, I've actually begun to notice that the bikes here are as abundant and different as the fish in the sea (they're also just as "pretty" too). My favorites are the bikes that have seats for children near the front of the handle bars (left pic). At first observation I assumed this was a learning mechanism used to help stimulate bicycle awareness and skills but Dustin told me the practical reason is that young children simply ride upfront and the older ride in the back. And you should see these kids when they coast by...calm as Hindu cows. Not a bad way to spend the afternoon as mom (or dad) runs various errands throughout the city.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Interview With a New York Bike-Lane Vigilante

I came across this today and thought you all might enjoy reading/watching it. The interview and YouTube clip star Casey Neistat who is a filmmaker that recently landed a show, with his brother, on HBO and has also become a "champion" among New York cyclists. Click the below link to read/see Casey raising point on an issue that many of us are all too familiar with ;)
Interview With a New York Bike-Lane Vigilante

Friday, May 27, 2011

Part II: From Omaha to Denver

Being from middle-America suburbia, when I moved to Denver I was completely unprepared to “hit the road” by bicycle. Weeks before the commencement of the spring semester, I spent my days planning a commuter route and worrying about upsetting Denver drivers. While my dad had taught me to ride a bike, no one ever taught me proper road cycling etiquette (well that’s not entirely true, I did receive a cycling merit badge while in Boy Scouts and did learn a few hand signals…funny though, we never actually road on streets—just sidewalks).
My learning curve began by Googleing “Denver bike laws” which brought me to the city’s official website and provided some helpful information. Still, reading about cycling and physically doing this are two different things which is why I also devoted time to studying passing-by cyclists. Unfortunately for me, while Denver has a substantial amount of bike lanes (compared to Omaha), there weren’t too many cyclists to observe…I think weather may have been a slight factor. Despite this setback, I was still determined to commute by bicycle and devised a route that combined Denver’s light rail system and bicycle lanes. This combination was partly done because I was fresh to the city, unfamiliar with the territory, and the weather…oh the cold, snowy, rainy, windy, sleet filled winter weather….
My original commute began by biking little over a mile to a downtown light rail station which would haul me to a station located near DU’s campus. This commute was ideal for avoiding Denver’s winter elements but not so much when trying to get to an early morning class (the commute was almost an hour long). After planning out my route, I slowly worked my way to riding on roads by first riding sidewalks—this was done so that I could learn my route and monitor what kind of traffic conditions I would be dealing with once I was comfortable. Doing this was substantially beneficial and also helped when I later devised a new route after weather conditions improved—but, surprisingly, my closest calls with automobiles occurred while riding sidewalks.
First off—sidewalks are filled with bodies. In Omaha this isn’t too much of a problem because the city is so sprawled out, but in Denver, sidewalks are constantly filled with children, couples, runners, homeless, puppies/dogs and whatever else you can imagine. In fact, it is actually illegal to ride your bike on sidewalks because of the danger that is imposed to the rider and surrounding bodies (there are actually cases in which people/riders have been killed because of cyclists riding on sidewalks). My scares, however, do not stem from conflicts involving nearby walkers/runners.
When you ride a bike on a sidewalk, you become invisible to drivers—you’re not on their road or “in their way,” therefore you are “out of sight and out of mind” and simply do not exist. You might think this isn’t an issue because the driver has their road and the cyclist is on a separate path—therefore both should be safe from each other, but conflicts emerge soon as these two worlds collide. How so? Think about it. Every sidewalk eventually ends and forces a person to cross a street in order to get to a connecting sidewalk. On one commute, I was riding towards an intersection where I had the WALK sign to cross, but as soon as I started to do this, a right turning vehicle failed to pay attention to the sign and, since I am invisible, nearly clipped the front end of my bike. Fortunately I saw the car at the last minute and came to a skidding stop where I ended up parallel to the vehicle and able to see through the passenger window—my culprit was a woman on her cell phone. In a second case, almost the exact same event occurred where, again, I had the sign to cross but this time I was biking to the intersection at a much faster pace—a bit overly confident because of the sign—when a man on a cellphone rolled up to the intersection and proceeded to perform the notorious California Stop. I’m quite sure he would have remained oblivious to me had my bike not skidded/crashed into the side of his car and after I saw him turn around to see what had happened… he floored it and took off without checking to see if I was okay—fortunately I received only minor injuries.  Least to say, I quickly learned that sidewalks are not always as safe as they seem.
Clearly there are some issues that need to be addressed here. Drivers simply need to refrain from phone use while driving. I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve committed this sin, but nowadays, if I’m driving, I make sure I’m not using my phone (same rule also applies while biking). Secondly, one thing that irks me most about motorists (and is something I will discuss later in posts) is the fact that drivers are quick to complain about cyclists who do not obey traffic laws but, most of the time, these drivers are hypocritical and also fail to obey the same traffic laws…like coming to a complete stop. As I prepare to travel to Amsterdam, I’ll be interested in discovering just how this city was able to shift its automobile drivers to adopt a bike friendly consciousness. Could it possibly be because there is such a high volume of cyclists in Amsterdam?—a safety in numbers theory perhaps? Or is it because Amsterdam has laws that punish drivers in accidents—even when the cyclist is mainly the one at fault? And, are such laws applicable to cities in the United States? I suppose I’ll find out in good time.

From Omaha to Denver

January 2011 I moved from Omaha, Nebraska to Denver, Colorado to pursue a Master’s degree from the University of Denver Sturm College of Law. Upon my move to a city that offers  various forms of public transportation (i.e. Light Rail, Bus & Bicycle Systems) I have chosen to live a carless (note CARless—not CAREless) lifestyle after my 2000 Chevy Blazer committed suicide this past fall. It is almost impossible to live in Omaha without relying on automobile transport as this city is the epitome of urban sprawl but this is not to say I’m a hater of the “Good Life” O-town city, I admire Omaha and think anyone would be fortunate to live here…so long as you have a car that is.
Omaha is however undergoing a transformation (well a NEW transformation—Omaha is constantly under construction), particularly with regard to its bicycle transportation system. In 2010, Carlos Morales was hired by the city to fulfill the position of bike coordinator and tasked with improving Omaha’s bicycle network. This is partly why I have chosen to study at DU and travel to Amsterdam this summer as it is my dream to someday return to Omaha and help it become a more sustainable city—particularly aiding in its transportation sector. It is my intention to observe and learn from Denver’s and Amsterdam’s use of alternate forms of transportation so that I may someday be able to apply these to my hometown city.
Last week, DU’s spring semester officially ended and I am proud to say that I successfully commuted from my apartment to campus (a round-trip total of 10 miles) every single day of class (Monday-Thursday). You’re right, this admission is slightly self-indulgent--but so what? This is a goal I set out for myself and was one not easily achieved—if you think it is, I recommend you trying it out for yourself…actually that’s kind of my point. I hope you will all try commuting by bicycle, at least once, some point in your life—it’s not the easiest but is truly an enriching experience. Now, admittedly, I did not ride my bicycle, all 10 miles, every day I commuted to school—but, before you roll your eyes at me, hear me out.
I moved from Omaha, Nebraska—the Westside of Omaha where parents move as far away from the city in order to ensure a bubble like safety barrier for their families. On the Westside (well in most of Omaha I suppose for that matter) you will rarely see cyclists in the streets—the odds of this are comparable to witnessing a Bigfoot crossing. Bikes remain on sidewalks and Omaha has done a fairly good job at laying an extensive network of sidewalks that connect with various neighborhoods and city parks. The only problem is that these sidewalks do not provide the most efficient way of getting around town—especially if you’re looking to commute throughout the city by bicycle.
Before moving to Denver, I spent my summers commuting to work on bike (a fairly easy 4 mile round-trip commute—I say "fairly" because, contrary to what you might know about Nebraska, Omaha is quite hilly and its summer heat is known for getting the best of visiting Texans in town for the College World Series) and avoided riding in the street as much as possible—I think I road, at most, a 600 foot stretch of road that had no sidewalk in order to get to work—which, even then, I was self-conscious of angering drivers. Yes that’s right, you veteran cyclists—have your laughs, I was one of those “sissy” bikers who found security only when riding on a sidewalk (you should see me now though). I am not and will not be embarrassed if you think of me as a “sissy” for my former riding habits. Omaha drivers know very little about biking laws—or the fact that riders are supposed to be treated like motor vehicles—and it has very few biking lanes (out west). The lack of public knowledge and bike lanes has made Omaha into a very unfriendly biking city—though, as I pointed out, it is on its way to improving—and is why I thought sidewalks provided the safest routes for bicycles. But, after living in Denver for 5 months, I have come to learn that this opinion is utterly wrong. SIDEWALKS ARE DANGEROUS!! You should avoid riding your bike on a sidewalk as much as possible and here's why... (continued in Part II from Omaha to Denver)