Monday, February 26, 2024
A Dutch fietsstraat (bike street) where bicycles are the main form of transport and cars are considered "guests." (Photo: John Tarantino)

A Dutch fietsstraat (bike street) where bicycles are the main form of transport and cars are considered “guests.” (Photo: John Tarantino)

From O. Robert Simha, of the Cambridge Highlands, Oct. 14, 2016: I have lived and worked in Cambridge for more than 50 years. When I first came, we had a bicycle ordinance that was a reflection of the heavy use of bicycles during World War II. Bicycles were licensed, and each had a tag, with a license fee that covered the costs of administration. Bicycles were required to have a headlight, rear reflector and a bell to alert pedestrians and automobiles when cyclists were approaching. We did have good enforcement – there was a constant police presence at major intersections such as in Harvard Square and Central Square that kept enforcement for all modes of movement: Jaywalkers were called out; cyclists that ran lights were called out; drivers of autos who violated the rules were called out. Those you who remember the raised white police booth overlooking Harvard Square will also recall how the booming voice of the police officer coming out of the loudspeakers would freeze in place a jaywalker or someone trying to jump the lights. God help the driver who tried to ease through the intersection against the lights, or the cyclist who tried to ride through against the red.

LetterWe have, in fact, regressed during a period when the city has grown back to prewar population levels, but with many more cyclists using the same streets as autos and trucks. This is a trend that is likely to continue, given the city’s policies on restricting auto use and the changing habits of our young citizens, who apparently are less likely to get driving licenses.

During a yearlong study in the Netherlands in the late 1950s I had a chance to observe how the Dutch handled urban transport, and particularly how they managed the accommodation of bicycles and motor vehicles in both old cities and new.

The first thing I discovered is that the Dutch are much more considerate of each other when sharing the streets. They do not run lights, they obey the rules – and they save lives. The Dutch method of eliminating “dooring” is typical: Everyone is trained to open the driver-side door with their right hand, ensuring that they have to look backward to see if a cyclist is coming along.

Second, they have developed and employ a training and regulatory system for cyclists that begins in elementary school. Communities have cycle training parks run by schools, police and traffic departments. (Odd that schools here offer driver training to high school students but don’t do the same for cycle training.)

Third, the cities, towns and regions have a system of coordinated bikeways. The equivalent of our State Transportation Department provides standards for bikeway design, bikeway graphics and bike lane traffic lights. The unified system provides for a high sense of security and safety. Everywhere possible, bikeways are separated above street level. And intersection design precludes the kind of conflicts that have killed or maimed cyclists in Cambridge and Boston is common.

There are lots more things they do that we could profit from. The Dutch Ministry of Transport offers an english version of its guidelines and construction standards, something we could profit from. There are even Dutch nongovernmental organizations that offer teams of cycle system designers for communities around the world interested in expanding or improving their cycle system.

We have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to build a better cycle system, but maybe we ought to ask the people who have already done it to help us – to reach out for help from those that have good, safe and attractive systems. Our biggest enemy is the notion that if we have not invented it here it couldn’t possibly work.