Hey everyone! I just want to let you know that I have been typing these posts up each day, but adding pictures is super time consuming – thus the delay between posts! Sorry I am so far behind… Hopefully its still an adventure to read!
Well, biking in Utrecht got a bit easier over the next couple days, but it wasn’t without its challenges. The first morning we were tasked with making only a couple of blocks to City Hall on our own. I started out with a couple other people and lasted only about 30 seconds before getting lost with Robert. However, it turned out alright since we got stuck at one of the more interesting intersections in the city. I skidded into the crosswalk accidently (still not used to the pedal brakes!), looked around and realized I was in the middle of a rainbow painted crosswalk with Miffy the Bunny on the pedestrian buttons!
It just happened to be one of the many awesome things that Ronald, a traffic engineer with the City of Utrecht, shared with us at our meeting. He gave an excellent presentation on the history of the city, the ways the city is getting planners and engineers to work together, and on various transformations of existing intersections that weren’t necessarily by the book (like the rainbow crosswalk).
Note: Since I am posting this after the class finished, I can say now that his presentation was the most directly related to my studies as an engineering student. It sparked multiple conversations between myself and other students and served as the inspiration for one of my class project podcasts. If anyone is interested, I have a great set of notes and Ronald’s slideshows… I really recommend it to engineers that want to challenge the way that things are designed in the States.
To back up all his talk, Ronald took us on a bike tour of the city. While it initially seemed more chaotic, the system is probably better described as free-flowing. Marc and I talked about it, and the difference is that people don’t really stop biking. In Copenhagen, cyclists followed the lights. In Utrecht, cyclists did whatever they could safely get away with. Over time, that made sense, though it was a bit overwhelming at first.
All in all, we saw some great projects in the city. One of my favorite stops was a bike and ped bridge that crossed a canal, but was also incorporated as the roof of an elementary school! We got to that area close to the time school let out, so it was neat to see all the parents that walked or biked to pick their kids up. I may be wrong, but I don’t remember seeing a single car, and there definitely wasn’t a parking lot.
We also wandered through the center of the city where we got to briefly check out the Dom Cathedral and Tower. I may be a terrible person for saying this, but honestly, one of my only thoughts was “I KNEW IT. HOGWARTS IS REAL!”
Out in the suburbs, Ronald showed us the way that streets are being redesigned to prioritize bikes over vehicles. On many roads, there is a wide bike lane on both sides of the street with only a single vehicle lane in the center. This does not restrict travel to one-way, but rather forces drivers that are approaching each other to slow down and safely negotiate the space. My favorite project of the day may have been a five legged intersection that was originally up to be expanded. Instead, the city made large portions of the intersection shared space. There are fewer paint lines, more obstructions, and yet we saw no close calls while we observed the intersection. Ronald shared a story about a traffic engineer from Amsterdam who saw the intersection and said it needed to be redone to meet standards. Ronald’s response: “I don’t care. Seems to be working just fine and no one except you is complaining.”
After a short detour on which all 16 of the students managed to get lost together in Utrecht (families gotta stick together!), we got to experience Dutch pancakes, which I did not know anything about! These things are at least a foot in diameter, and can have ANYTHING on them. You have to try one if you ever get to the Netherlands. I also recommend the restaurant we went to – we got to enjoy a few beers along a beautiful rural canal before getting caught in the rain biking back. All in all, another wonderful day of class 🙂