Thinking about Bikeability: From Safety to Delight

December 2, 2017

Originally published on George Liu’s blog Everybody.Hates.Traffic.

Living in the Netherlands has changed the way I think about cycling. While “safety” is the word that dominates the cycling conversation in most places in the world with dangerous conditions for cycling, we need to think about what to do next after we achieve the basic conditions for cycling safety. 

This is the standard for main bike routes in the Netherlands: 4 meter wide red asphalt with bicycle priority at intersections. Some other things you can take for granted on all bike infrastructure here: well lighted, safe, smooth, connected, clean, signed and salted in the winter.

That is just the infrastructure. 

What you will notice is much more. After a while, you take the infrastructure for granted. You will notice the social and urban environment that this infrastructure enables.  You will notice swarms of school children on bikes talking to each other on their way to school. You will notice moms and dads cycling with their children smiling on the back of their bikes. 

Then you notice that you hear voices talking to each other and the clattering of bike chains. You notice that you are able to hear these noises. Where is the traffic, you ask?

This IS the noise of traffic.

You expect to be able to talk about your co-workers on your co-workers to finalize your agenda while cycling to your next meeting. On your way to your meeting, you expect safe and secure bike parking at the train station. You expect to have a fleet of rental bikes waiting for you in your destination city. You expect that wherever you choose to get off the train, there will be more quality bike infrastructure waiting for you to take you where you need to go. 

Quality and delight, not safety, is what I think about now as I ride to work. 

There is no looming pickup truck waiting to crush you and all your human vulnerability from behind. I hear the giggles and voices of children at the stoplight ahead of me. If I hit my brakes slightly, I should be able to just squeeze by them on the next green.