I know, I know - this is a blog about Portland's history not Amsterdam's, but as I was biking up Highway 30 from Northwest to the St. John's Bridge I started to think about our city's self-congratulatory stance on the bicycling infrastructure.
We undoubtedly have come a long way in building a comprehensive bike network since 1990 (if you want some statistics to prove our development, click here), but we have a long, long way to go. For example, our bikeway network includes miles of bike lanes along Highway 30 from NE 11th to NE 178th and many more miles on the west side, from Northwest Portland to Linnton and beyond. Unfortunately, these are not useful or realistic bikeways; they are dangerous, inaccessbile, and completely marginalized. Now I know that when the city was getting the bike program and master plan developed they looked to streets that could easily accomodate bike lanes without signficantly impacting automobile traffic. So roads like Killingsworth in North Portland (also known as Portland Highway or Highway 30) with a wide right-of-way we're easily retrofitted with four-foot wide bike lanes on either side. I think that was a wise strategy then, but now we need to revisit those decisions in light of what we know about what really gets people on bikes and what makes for a safe bikeway. The fact is, Portland has largely built its bicycling infrastructure on non-controversial, inexpensive projects that squeeze bike facilities into current right-of-ways without inconveniencing drivers.
Which brings me to Amsterdam.
I know very little about Amsterdam's, and the Netherlands' in general, transportation history. After the Oil Crisis in the 1970s, the federal government chose to implement a national program to encourage bicycling. I am also marginally familiar with the cultural, topographic, spatial, architectural, and urban design features that help make Amsterdam and the Netherlands more amenable to biking. Still, what bike facilities existed in Amsterdam when they started their bike program in earnest? How did they develop their bike network? When, if ever, were the difficult decisions made?
Portland often looks to Amsterdam as both a goal and an example for biking (see these Oregonian articles by Jeff Mapes for more information). If we are to learn anything from their current world-class bike facilities, we ought to know something about the development of those facilities. If Portland really wants to grow beyond that 5% mode share mark, we're going to have to make tough decisions about our bicycling facilities.