Cheapest Way to Bring Dutch Bike Infrastructure to the US

I usually write factual posts and not opinion posts so I want to add a disclaimer that this post is an opinion post. I’m open to criticism so feel free to share your criticism. I’d especially enjoy reading criticism if you feel there is a cheaper way to bring Dutch bike infrastructure to the US.

The idea for this post came about when I got my new 2017 Breezer Uptown 8 LS (LS stands for low step) on April 1. Before getting my new bike, I was riding Capital Bikeshare for all bike trips except shopping and bike touring (long-distance) trips. As the below photo shows, I was riding my road bike to shop and for bike touring. While I always find it stressful to mount and dismount my road bike, the two stuff panniers made it even more challenging to swing my leg around the back of my seat when mounting and dismounting my bike.

Due to this mounting and dismounting challenge, I’m loving the step thru design of my new bike. I no longer have to stress about swinging my leg around the back of the seat so I feel much more relaxed when biking!

The relaxed feeling is why I think my step thru bike, which is similar to a Dutch bike, is the cheapest way to bring Dutch bike infrastructure to the US. My step thru bike feels like I’m riding in the Netherlands, which I have done through two study abroad trips, without spending millions on building protected bike lanes. I still support protected bike lanes, but realize they are expensive to build. I wanted to share a cheap way to feel relaxed when biking without waiting for protected bike lanes to be built. I never felt comfortable on my road bike so I’m thankful I decided to buy my step thru bike. While Capital Bikeshare feels comfortable, it doesn’t go everyone I want to go yet. I wanted a new bike that felt as comfortable as a Capital Bikeshare bike so I got my new step thru bike.

As an added bonus, several women, who I have never met before, told me that my step thru bike looks cute and they wanted to find a similar bike. I’m not sure whether this is because they think step thru bikes are supposed to be only for women or because they think my bike is actually cute. I believe few Americans know that Dutch bikes are unisex and step thru so I want to point out that I see my step thru bike as a unisex bike and not as a women’s bike. Yes, the American manufacturer labels my bike as a women’s bike, but the bike would likely be labeled as unisex in the Netherlands.

Since I’m single, have been dating, and would love to go on a bike ride with my girlfriend, it would be cool if I can use my step thru bike to attract women who find my bike cute. The only men that have said anything about my bike are the bike shop mechanics that built my bike. I want to clarify that the main reason why I purchased my new step thru bike is because I can easily step thru the bike. I wasn’t thinking about attracting women with my bike before I purchased it, so this is an added bonus. Since American women bike less than American men, I’d love if my bike can encourage more women to bike because they find my bike cute and they end up buying a similar bike.

Tim Kelley shared this video with me and it relates to the road bike mounting challenges I have experience. I found the video to be useful and funny.

Walking, Biking and Riding Transit in Portland, OR vs. Washington, DC

Since my car-free travel behavior has changed dramatically between Portland and DC, I want to compare how my walking, biking, and transit riding habits have changed between living in Portland and now living in the DC region.

Except for the few months in late 2015 and early 2016 where I fully depended on walking and riding transit in Portland because I felt too anxious biking, I mostly walked and biked for all my trips in Portland. I was planning to also mostly walk and bike throughout the DC region because transit is expensive (not as expensive as owning and maintaining a car). While I still walk and bike in the DC region, my boss provided me with a transit card for work trips so I have been riding transit much more than I planned to when I moved here. My boss also provided me with a Capital Bikeshare maintenance key (no time limits like normal keys) for work and personal trips so I haven’t been riding my private bike as often. Since I can’t carry my panniers on Capital Bikeshare, I have been mostly using my private bike for getting groceries and other shopping trips.

Biking in Portland vs. DC region

I don’t live in DC so, while DC has bike racks almost everywhere and the bike racks are usually designed correctly, I have experienced no bike racks or poorly designed bike racks often in Arlington. The below photo shows a ladder or wheel bender rack at a grocery store near my home in Arlington. Thankfully, I don’t have to deal with bike parking issues when parking a Capital Bikeshare bike because I have always found an empty dock.

 

Since I depended so much on the DC region’s great trail systems when I lived in the DC region during summer 2014, I was looking forward to depending on the DC region’s great trail systems again. Even though I rode a road bike last time I lived in the DC region, anxiety from my extreme fear of heights has gotten much worse so I have been struggling to ride on hilly trails like the Custis Trail and trails along steep cliffs like the Four Mile Run Trail. Since I doubt I will conquer my fear of heights soon, I’m planning to buy a $3-4,000 recumbent trike so I can reduce the anxiety I feel when biking on hilly trails and along steep cliffs.

 

While the trails are great for long-distance trips, they don’t go everywhere so I still have to use on-street bike routes. I forgot how bad most of the on-street bike infrastructure is in the DC region. Yes, I know DC has protected bike lanes, which are actually better than any protected bike lanes in Portland. However, protected bike lanes in the DC region are on very few streets so I rarely ride on them.

I’m missing Portland’s neighborhood greenways. I used to live at SE 27th and Salmon, which is on a neighborhood greenway, so I memorized the neighborhood greenways. I rarely had to ride on busy roads outside of downtown Portland because neighborhood greenways went almost everywhere. Thankfully, I have found one element of neighborhood greenways in the DC region. Sharrows are found throughout the DC region. Even though the DC region has installed sharrows, which is a critical and cheap element to Portland’s neighborhood greenways, the DC region has horrible wayfinding for cyclists so the sharrows aren’t part of a neighborhood greenway. Due to this, I feel sharrows are only used in the DC region to communicate to cyclists that the government believes that the street is safe enough for biking and to communicate to motorists that they should expect to see cyclists using the street. Sharrows do much more than this in Portland so I miss biking on Portland’s neighborhood streets.

Before I totally dismiss the DC region’s on-street bike network, I’m excited to share that the DC region has several Level of Traffic Stress (LTS) maps. As all the below maps show, the DC region has plenty of work to do to make their on-street bike network feel more comfortable and less stressful. However, I find these maps much more useful than normal bike maps. This is mostly because a normal bike map shows all bike lanes the same while a LTS map shows bike lanes by how comfortable or stressful they are to ride on.

Arlington County, VA 2017 Bicycle Comfort Level Map (click to download front and back of map)

Montgomery County, MD Bicycle Stress Map (click to view map)

montgomery-county-lts-map

According to a presentation by Stephanie Dock, who works for District DOT, at the Transportation Techies meetup in October 2016, District DOT will be publicly releasing their LTS map soon so I’ll add their map when it’s released.

This blog post is getting long. I try to keep my blog posts under 1,000 words and will go over 1,000 words if I keep writing this blog post. While I still want to compare how my walking and transit riding habits have changed between Portland and DC, I may have to write about them in a new blog post. Readers, do you want me to write about my walking and transit riding habits in this blog post or start a new blog post?