Portland city officials glean bicycle infrastructure policy from Amsterdam, Copenhagen
From October 5-12, the German Marshall Fund organized a study tour on bicycle infrastructure and policy for 13 representatives from Portland, Oregon, representing Portland Metro Council's Blue Ribbon Committee for Trails. The group, made up of civic, elected, and business leaders, visited two of the most bicycle friendly cities in the world, Amsterdam and Copenhagen, to learn how the experiences of these cities could inform the development of more than 900 miles of user-friendly, multi-modal trails in the Portland metropolitan region. The study tour, which mixed meetings with city officials, transportation experts, and bicycle advocates with "on-the-ground" cycling tours of the cities and suburbs, focused on practical solutions to the issues surrounding the promotion of cycling as a mode of transportation, and provided real-world examples of the complex array of investments, policies, and leadership necessary to create a vibrant, connected and safe trail system in an urban context.
In Amsterdam, Pascal van den Noort, executive director of Velo Mondial and an expert on sustainable mobility, showed the group many of the key facilities and infrastructure available to cyclists in Amsterdam, including an as-yet-unfinished bicycle parking garage at the central train station that will fit 30,000 bikes and separated cycle lanes well-integrated into traffic. The members of the delegation, who commuted around the city almost exclusively by bicycle, also met with Martijn Sargentini, head of bicycle infrastructure for the Amsterdam regional government, to see the recently completed Nescio Bridge, a stunningly designed bicycle and pedestrian bridge that connects a new suburb to the city center, and part of an extensive "greenway" network of bike paths and lanes throughout the city and region.
Geert de Jong, from the City of Amsterdam's Department of Infrastructure, and Hans Voerknecht, director of the cycling policy think tank Fietsberaad, showed the delegation how the different levels of government - from the local boroughs to the Dutch state - contribute to a unified cycling policy. While the national government put a very strong emphasis on cycling in the 1980s and 1990s through the Masterplan Fiets (Cycling Masterplan), today's cycling policy is highly decentralized, with most of the leadership and funding coming from local and regional authorities. Richard ter Avest from Goudappel Coffeng, a traffic and transportation consulting firm, explained how the Netherlands is now implementing "cycle highways" to encourage people to cycle for even longer (10-15km) journeys. He showed the group the modeling software his firm uses to determine the design and location of the highways, a tool the Portlanders found very intriguing for their own project.
Aside from Infrastructure policy, the topic of increasing cycling in a city is also a question of culture. To get a sense of what the Dutch have done to increase cycling among all segments of the population, the female members of the delegation were invited to visit a class for immigrant women at the Steunpunt Fiets (Bicycle Support Center). The immigrant community, which is growing tremendously in the Netherlands and especially in Amsterdam, cycles in far fewer numbers than native Dutch. The Steunpunt Fiets program, which is publicly funded and part of the social services offered to new immigrants, gives cycling lessons to foreign-born women, not only giving them an affordable means of transportation, but also integrating them into Dutch culture. After observing the class, the women of the delegation joined the rest of the group, where they all heard from Angela van der Kloof, coordinator of the Steunpunt Fiets program, about the program's history and purpose as well as future goals to expand its programming to foreign-born men and children.
In Copenhagen, the group took a bicycle tour of some of the city's cycling infrastructure innovations by the filmmaker and blogger Mikael Colville-Andersen (http://www.copenhagenize.com/ and http://www.copenhagencyclechic.com/). Highlights included the "green wave" (the coordination of traffic lights to allow cyclists to flow through intersections easily), separated cycle lanes that extended into the suburbs on major multi-lane roads, and clear signage that made cycling with cars and pedestrians stress-free. Andreas Røhl, Lasse Lindholm, and Niels Jensen from the City of Copenhagen's Cycling Department gave a presentation on the many facets of cycling policy and infrastructure in Copenhagen. Meetings with the President of the Danish Cyclists Federation (DCF) and representatives for the National Road Directorate made clear that even while Denmark is known as extremely bike-friendly, cycling ridership has actually decreased significantly on a national scale in the last twenty years (even while increasing in major cities like Copenhagen and Odense). The DCF works to counter this trend through lobbying efforts as well as annual public events like the Bike to Work Campaign and the Bike to School Campaign. At the national level, the Road Directorate coordinates trails used mostly for recreation with the commuter trails of the metropolitan areas, while also integrating the Danish national trail network into the continent-wide EuroVelo, the European cycle route.
On their final day in Copenhagen, the delegation members took their rented bikes on a commuter train to a suburb about 15km outside of the city. Unlike Amsterdam, Copenhagen allows and encourages cyclists to bring their bikes onto public transportation with them. The Portlanders appreciated this policy, and thought about ways to connect their cycle trails to Portland's successful light rail line. After reaching their destination, the group cycled back down to the city center on well-maintained cycle paths through suburban areas. The group was impressed that the cycling infrastructure was just as well-integrated into the suburban infrastructure (such as private driveways and multi-lane highways) as it was in the city center.
After six days in Amsterdam and Copenhagen, the Portland delegation had many lessons to take back to their city about cycling infrastructure and policy. While Portland is already seen as a leader of progressive urban policy in America (one example is its recent anti-sprawl legislation), Amsterdam and Copenhagen offered examples of transportation planning from which Portland can learn. The committee members recognized that creating a complete, connected set of trails, well-integrated with public transit, and friendly to both cyclists and pedestrians, would not only improve transportation in and around the city and cut down on the city's carbon footprint, but also promote tourism and economic development, encourage physical activities, and distinguish Portland both nationally and internationally. They also recognized that to implement such an ambitious plan, first-hand study of cities like Amsterdam and Copenhagen, where such systems are already in place, is crucial.