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About this book

In car-clogged urban areas across the world, the humble bicycle is enjoying a second life as a legitimate form of transportation. City officials are rediscovering it as a multi-pronged (or -spoked) solution to acute, 21st-century problems, including affordability, obesity, congestion, climate change, inequity, and social isolation. As the world’s foremost cycling nation, the Netherlands is the only country where the number of bikes exceeds the number of people, primarily because the Dutch have built a cycling culture accessible to everyone, regardless of age, ability, or economic means.Chris and Melissa Bruntlett share the incredible success of the Netherlands through engaging interviews with local experts and stories of their own delightful experiences riding in five Dutch cities. Building the Cycling City examines the triumphs and challenges of the Dutch while also presenting stories of North American cities already implementing lessons from across the Atlantic. Discover how Dutch cities inspired Atlanta to look at its transit-bike connection in a new way and showed Seattle how to teach its residents to realize the freedom of biking, along with other encouraging examples.Tellingly, the Dutch have two words for people who ride bikes: wielrenner (“wheel runner”) and fietser (“cyclist”), the latter making up the vast majority of people pedaling on their streets, and representing a far more accessible, casual, and inclusive style of urban cycling—walking with wheels. Outside of their borders, a significant cultural shift is needed to seamlessly integrate the bicycle into everyday life and create a whole world of fietsers. The Dutch blueprint focuses on how people in a particular place want to move.The relatable success stories will leave readers inspired and ready to adopt and implement approaches to make their own cities better places to live, work, play, and—of course—cycle.

Table of Contents

Frontmatter

Introduction: A Nation of Fietsers

Abstract
From Seattle to Sydney, from Los Angeles to London, and in car-clogged urban centers around the world, the humble bicycle is enjoying a second life as a legitimate form of transportation. Ubiquitous on city streets for the first half of the twentieth century, and then abandoned in favor of the private automobile by urban planners and the public for the second half, city officials are suddenly rediscovering the bicycle as a multi-pronged solution to many of their most acute twenty-first-century problems.
Melissa Bruntlett, Chris Bruntlett

01. Streets Aren’t Set in Stone

Abstract
Few contemporary cities have endured the trauma of having their entire urban fabric erased overnight, but that was precisely what befell Rotterdam on May 14, 1940. In an ultimately effective attempt to shock the Dutch government into surrender at the onset of the Second World War, a ninety-plane wing of the Luftwaffe, the feared German air force, bombarded the city with 87 metric tons (96 US tons) of explosives, tragically killing nearly 1,000 residents, making another 85,000 homeless, and fully leveling all but 12 buildings within the 600-acre city center.
Melissa Bruntlett, Chris Bruntlett

02. Not Sport. Transport.

Abstract
The story of how the Netherlands became synonymous with cycling would be incomplete without a closer look at the simple machine that inspired it at the turn of the twentieth century: the safety bicycle. Had it not been for widespread, nationwide adoption starting in the 1890s, and the central social role the safety bicycle played over the next 125 years, Dutch cities would probably resemble their neighbors in Western Europe and across the Atlantic, with wide streets, very little cycling infrastructure, and corridors clogged with cars. But just as the Dutch people take their unique bicycle culture for granted, many tend to forget that the vehicle that helped them achieve international notoriety first arrived on their shores with travelers from across the North Sea.
Melissa Bruntlett, Chris Bruntlett

03. Fortune Favors the Brave

Abstract
Max van den Berg was just 24 years young in 1969 when he decided to throw his hat into the circus ring of municipal politics, mere months after obtaining his sociology degree from the University of Groningen. Despite landing a coveted and relatively comfortable teaching position lecturing on political science and urban-planning issues, dramatic plans to “modernize” his once-fortified hometown—similar to those being executed 250 kilometers (155 miles) south in Rotterdam—convinced Van den Berg to leave the world of academia and commit himself to a higher calling.
Melissa Bruntlett, Chris Bruntlett

04. One Size Won’t Fit All

Abstract
Vancouver is just one of countless cities implementing strategic cycling plans, each with the goal of getting more people riding more often. But even with this forward momentum, there persists an erroneous belief that, while the Dutch can provide encouragement, their methods are unrepeatable and results unattainable. Miles of dedicated cycle tracks, bike streets, and off-street bikeways are something that only works for “them” and not “us.” However, as Janette Sadik-Khan has implied, even the Netherlands had to start somewhere. So can the country that has spent decades building comfortable cycling infrastructure provide a blueprint for North American cities?
Melissa Bruntlett, Chris Bruntlett

05. Demand More

Abstract
Amsterdam is a city filled with monuments, commemorating everything from beloved royalty to forgotten war heroes, but few are as overlooked as the nondescript stone turtle on Jodenbreestraat (“Jewish Broad Street”) in the city’s historic Jewish Quarter. Nestled between two bustling cycle tracks, and sitting on a stone pedestal that bears a short poem by writer Jacob Israël de Haan, it has come to represent the slow, deliberate pace of a city that consistently chooses the bicycle above all modes of transportation, making up a staggering 70 percent of traffic (including pedestrians!) in the center on a given day. More importantly, this memorial embodies the rejection of a different type of built environment, one that would have looked and felt very different today. While many assume that Amsterdam’s status as a world-class cycling city was a given, it quietly reminds passers-by how hard the regular citizens had to fight for that status, and how razor-thin the margins of success were.
Melissa Bruntlett, Chris Bruntlett

06. Think Outside the Van

Abstract
With the distinct impression that cycling is simply part of the DNA of Dutch cities and people, it’s easy to overlook the fact that one particular pedal-powered machine has not enjoyed the same enduring ubiquity as the omafiets and opafiets. For outsiders, it would appear that the traditional bakfiets (“box bike”) has long been a staple of family life in the Netherlands, but in fact, the popularity of these impressive hauling machines is a relatively new rediscovery of an almost lost and forgotten design.
Melissa Bruntlett, Chris Bruntlett

07. Build at a Human Scale

Abstract
Affectionately known as “the biggest village in the country,” Utrecht’s unique charm can be explained, in part, by its medieval buildings, ancient canals, ornate bridges, and cobbled laneways—a rich, 2,000-year history, all contained within compact boundaries. In its infancy, Utrecht marked the northern edge of the Roman Empire, whose fortifications are commemorated today with a series of decorative steel rails embedded in its streets signifying the borders of that ancient fortress. In the centuries that followed, the outpost evolved into the wellspring of Christianity in the Netherlands, as well as an important trading hub—due to its strategic location along the former shore of the River Rhine—protected by a surrounding moat. But in its twentieth-century haste to transform itself into a modern city, its stunning beauty was nearly sacrificed at the altar of the automobile, an “improvement” that was reversed once residents came to the stark realization that a car-first city and a human-scale city are mutually exclusive.
Melissa Bruntlett, Chris Bruntlett

08. Use Bikes to Feed Transit

Abstract
As a country, the Netherlands—it could be argued—is one of the most well connected in Europe. Their fast and frequently running rail network, consisting of almost 7,000 kilometers (4,350 miles) of track, ensures that no matter where someone lives or works, they are in close proximity to a station. It therefore comes as no surprise that the nationwide system serves over 1.2 million passengers each and every day, half of whom bookend their train travel with bicycle rides—chiefly because of the practicality evidenced by Utrecht’s massive investment in bike-parking facilities, which nevertheless some suggest will fail to provide enough capacity, even when complete.
Melissa Bruntlett, Chris Bruntlett

09. Put Your City on the Map

Abstract
As the home of Royal Philips Electronics for over 125 years, the southern city of Eindhoven—now the fifth largest in the Netherlands, with over a quarter-million residents—once epitomized the industrial heart of the country. During that period, its design, development, and economic vitality were inextricably linked to the electronics giant—long the city’s largest employer, ever since the lightbulb factory opened its doors during the First World War.
Melissa Bruntlett, Chris Bruntlett

10. Learn to Ride Like the Dutch

Abstract
Beyond the paint, planning, and policies, what has nurtured the bicycle’s supremacy in the Netherlands—despite a minor blip in the 1970s—is that cycling has been a part of their social fabric for over a century. To the Dutch, as Carlton Reid points out, riding a bike is just a normal part of the everyday for virtually everybody. The challenge for coming generations will be to maintain that level of normalcy as the nation experiences a convergence of socioeconomic factors, including a disturbing trend towards de achterbankgeneratie (“the backseat generation”) and a sharp rise in cultural diversity.
Melissa Bruntlett, Chris Bruntlett

Conclusion: A World of Fietsers

Abstract
Whether the Dutch want to celebrate it or not, the Netherlands is the poster child for what a nation built on two wheels looks like—a place built at a human scale that puts people first, and motor vehicles last. They’re quick to admit they’re not perfect, but through their challenges and triumphs, they discreetly provide the blueprint for other regions to use as a starting point on their own journeys towards becoming healthier, happier places. The task now is to keep sharing the lessons the Dutch have learned—what works and what doesn’t—and push others out from behind their respective status quos to see what’s possible once they let go of their dependence on cars.
Melissa Bruntlett, Chris Bruntlett

Backmatter

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