Alright, these bikes were ok… but that is the most praise I will give them

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.

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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!”

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Come on, doesn’t everyone think this looks like Hogwarts??

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This piece in the cathedral was disfigured during the Reformation!

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 🙂

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Lost, but at least the fam is together 😉

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The few of us enjoying the canal before the thunderstorm came and soaked us haha

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Canal time with our awesome guide, Adam!

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See! Thunderstorm! But we survived, and the conversation was awesome (seriously, thanks for the awesome conversation Robert)

Back to the coast

After our AMAZING day biking through Denmark from Copenhagen to Helsingor, I am going to admit, I was more than a little concerned about another very long bike ride from Helsingborg to Lund in Sweden. This bike ride was going to be longer, the weather was looking dreary on Sunday morning, and I was a bit sore from the collision the day before (though my bruises still have nothing on Cassie’s!). However, my 40 mile bike ride was cut short in the middle…. Due not at all to biking, but a random nectarine!

If, somehow, somewhere, you get a chance to bike in Sweden, go ahead and take the opportunity. The entire class brought our bikes over to Helsingborg on the ferry. Half the class opted to take the train down the coast to Lund, but since I have a stubborn streak a mile wide and don’t like to back down from a challenge, I decided to take to the countryside (after, of course, a brief visit to yet another castle… no city seems to be without one here!)

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Karnan fortress from the bridge overlooking Helsingborg

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The city from that same bridge

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Up close and personal the fortress (unfortunately, due to time, this was as close as we could get!)

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Another picture of all our bikes, spread out across another square!

Even though the clouds were coming in strong over Helsingborg, they cleared up just after we left the city and headed south. The first half of the ride took us through much more of a rural countryside than I had biked through yet. Eventually that gave way to a sandy bike and pedestrian path along the coast that dumped us into a nice fishing marine, which turned into another trail along the coast, and finally a full separated bike lane along a “busy” road before the halfway point of Landskrona.

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Random stop in the countryside

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Beautiful marina along the coast

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The gang waiting for me when my chain fell off my bike on a hill

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Another random beautiful building

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I took a nap here on the edge of the ocean… it was a great thing

While it might seem like I bring all this up just to share some of the pictures that I managed to take (which might be partially true  ), the major point I am trying to make is that Sweden took us through almost any type of bike facility that you could dream up in about 20 miles. The ride itself was very pretty, as I already said, but it felt much different than the ride the previous day through Denmark.

If our guide, Adam, hadn’t been within sight, I certainly would have gotten lost on my way through the countryside. Wayfinding was a bit difficult. The routes were marked only with the name of the next town, not matter how small. Without a map denoting the smallest of those towns, it would have been really easy to take the “extra scenic route” (which may or may not have happened to Marc and Mindy!). Within the city of Copenhagen, I wasn’t really concerned with wayfinding, simply because everywhere we rode was either a separated bike facility on a street or a trail that followed a major road. I must admit, I wasn’t looking specifically at that between Copenhagen and Helsingor, but I don’t remember thinking how lost I felt either.

As I said earlier, the facilities varied quite a bit as well. There was a short stretch where we biked along a rural road, which is where I felt the most uncomfortable. However, compared to how I feel sharing the road in the States, I wasn’t worried at all. Drivers seemed to be very aware that bicyclists were likely to be on the route and weren’t traveling fast at all. The separated trails were really nice as well. Our route was not along an extremely busy highway, but just through the countryside. It was quiet enough to ride along next to someone and chat about anything, whether it be our views on biking infrastructure in the States or our favorite movies. The change in facilities and the overall peacefulness of the bike ride made it an excellent way to spend the day. If biking in the States was like that, I could see so many more people biking around just for fun on a Saturday.

Despite my intentions to do another 15 or 20 miles to the next city, I ended up having an allergic reaction to a nectarine when we stopped for lunch. (After some light internet research, I think I am allergic to the pollen that is in the air during the season for nectarines, peaches, and a bunch of other delicious fruits 😦 ) Three of my classmates and I ended up taking the train from Landskrona to Lund so I could get some Benedryl from another classmate in Lund.

We soon found out that multimodal trips are not quite so simple in Sweden as they were in Demark. In Copenhagen, 18 of us took our bikes on a commuter train shortly after rush hour and caused no issues, even though our bikes were overflowing into the pedestrian space on the train. When the four of us tried to board in Landskrona, we were denied entry to the first train that came due to lack of space (though it looked far from capacity where we stood on the platform). When we finally got on the second train, it was a very unpleasant journey. The car was crowded and people seemed annoyed that we would attempt to bring just four bikes into the car. When we finally caught up with the first half of the class in Lund, we learned they had just as much difficulty bringing their bikes on the train in Helsingborg.

Moral of the story: bike across the countryside in Sweden. It is gorgeous! Just make sure you know your route and don’t add a train trip unless you really need to.

Off to the park!

 

So, for the first time since the airport, I am sitting down to write this post on the same day that the events actually happened! It is kinda bothering me being a day behind in my adventures, and definitely makes me feel like I am going to forget some of the coolest things. Sorry, David Scheuermann, these posts are going to continue to be on the long side! I’m trying to capture as many of the thoughts as I can while they are still floating around!

So, Day 6. Each day has had a specific sort of theme:

  1. Figure out the local flow and try not to die
  2. See tons of the city and become more immersed in the local bicycle culture
  3. Look at the bicycling policy and infrastructure with a local professional
  4. Design cities, not just transportation systems, for people
  5. Learn about the other sustainable practices in Copenhagen (not just bicycling)
  6. Prioritize education and safety for kids in the city

Not gonna lie, I was a bit surprised when Marc announced that we would be looking at how the city teaches transportation to the children. First off, what? What does that mean? They have classes? Kids formally learn how to get around here? I think the closest thing we have in the States is driver’s ed, but we hold off on that until kids are 15. Here, they have TRAFFIC PARKS. It’s the freaking coolest thing ever to a huge nerd like me (I know, many of you weren’t aware how nerdy I am… it’s bad.)

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A four year old girl, who not only cruises around on her own, but cruising around the traffic park obeying all laws, including lighted intersections and staying in the dedicated cycle track!!!!

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Traffic sign games at the park?!? How freaking cool??

Look at that! Kids learn the rules of the road in a very protected, safe environment from parents, grandparents, or the park staff. They have little roads with the proper delineation, signing, and signaling. Schools not only take the kids to the parks as part of their curriculm, but parents often take their kids here. I had a really good conversation with the grandmother of the little girl…. She took her kids to the traffic park when they were young, and now trys to take the grandchildren as often as possible! Such a neat family thing to see. Kids can bring their own bikes, but the park also has staff that oversee the “bike share” program. It’s pretty cool.

We also visisted some other parks! One of the coolest, in my humble opinion, was a stormwater management park! It took so many of the principles from hydrology and treatment wetlands and put them all in the same spot! I was proud of myself for how much I retained from each of those classes!

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A bigger picture of the park with the intensive stormwater management…. Alright, Dr. Thaemert, I think you can get next year’s treatment wetlands field trip to go a bit farther than California!

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Henrik discussing the stormwater management at a local park… We are going to miss Henrik! He has been such a great addition to this group here in Copenhagen.

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Another example of multitasking with their spaces…. The stormwater management takes place around an old bunker from World War II. The bunker’s purpose nowadays? Rented by local musicians to practice loud music!

Oh, and here are some of the pictures from the other parks that look nothing alike… Such unique, interesting spaces all over the city.

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These trampolines were just in a random park along the water.

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Another park, but this one has a boxing ring?

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Our last “programmed” day in the city was a lot of fun. I appreciated a look at more of the culture behind the bicycling lifestyle here, not just the infrastructure (which is, of course, still really interesting to me). Another tower over the city and a coffee shop for some homework ended such a good day.

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Climbed to the top of the spiral tower in the Church of the Saints! In order to get over the vertigo, I decided to conduct one of my interviews for the class at the top (45 minutes of a windy, cold conversation…. It was so good!)

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In case anyone still thinks this isn’t a class, we actually took some time to do homework!

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I finally got a picture of half the biker gang! This is kind of what we look like when we roll through town. (Get it, roll? I think I have been around Sparks too long….)

Thanks again everyone! I hope you are all doing well. Next stop, Helsingor!

P.S. I did actually start this blog post early! Sorry I didn’t get it up on time… I got so excited by the all the pictures that I just forgot to come back and finish this! Oh well!