walkitout (walkitout) wrote,
walkitout
walkitout

Those Dutch. They bike. Even in the rain. They're not made of sugar!

http://www.bakfiets-en-meer.nl/2008/12/04/fresh-cycling-statistics-from-the-netherlands/

There are a couple of numbers in the blog entry:

"That’s approximately 1200 kilometers per resident of all ages, shapes and sizes per year"

and

"Here we see that the Dutch cycle, on average, 909km per year, which translates to 2.48km per head, per day."

Either way, we're talking on the order of a mile and a half to two miles per day. Let us sit and contemplate this figure for a moment. Then let's figure they don't get on a bike every single day, just 2 days out of three, which implies that on days that they ride, they ride 2 or 3 miles. When I moved into my condo on capitol hill, I wanted it to be walking distance to where I worked. I defined "walking distance" as three miles. Let's go see what other people think. Over at WalkScore, here's their algorithm:

"Walk Score uses a patent-pending system to measure the walkability of an address. The Walk Score algorithm awards points based on the distance to the closest amenity in each category. If the closest amenity in a category is within .25 miles (or .4 km), we assign the maximum number of points. The number of points declines as the distance approaches 1 mile (or 1.6 km)—no points are awarded for amenities further than 1 mile."

You know, whenever I read that, I get mad. In fact, I get more mad every single time I revisit WalkScore. I think WalkScore does a truly shitty job of capturing walkability. There are a lot of reasons to suspect I'm completely wrong.

When I contemplate the Dutch cycling numbers, I feel an overwhelming shock. Not one that makes me angry, just complete, gut-level denial that this could possibly be the case. And I've spent a few weeks in the Netherlands, much of it in Amsterdam but not all. I've even bicycled there, a very little. I walked a whole lot more. In fact, whenever I travel, and when I lived on Cap Hill, I walk hella more distance per day than the Dutch bicycle. And I know from personal experience that the amount of effort expended to bicycle a distance (on a reasonable-for-the-purpose bicycle, all other things like load being equal) is a lot less than to walk that distance.

I object to WalkScore, because the requirement to be "walkable" is so insanely demanding that I think it is silly. I am shocked by the Dutch cycling numbers, because I have a hard time imagining bothering getting on a bicycle to walk the super-short distances implied by those numbers. A lot of this is because even the dense neighborhoods I've lived in were crazy spread out compared to Amsterdam. A lot of this is because of the sheer hassle of putting on and off the helmet (never mind any other gear), locking and unlocking the bike, removing the seat, putting it on the backpack pannier, blah, blah, bleeping, blah. And that's assuming I didn't have to track down the lock, key, helmet, pannier, etc. from some unknown location where it has been stored through the winter. (Oh, and I've been in Amsterdam when it snowed enough to cause most people to leave their cycles at home. It doesn't take much snow to stop those people. They might not be made of sugar, but whatever they are made of, it doesn't involve cycling in the snow, much.).

The folk in Portland, OR, and other areas in the northwest and around the country who are attempting to go carless via utility cycling, and the folk in the Netherlands who are their closest role model, don't have much idea of what the other one is dealing with. I mean, sure, there's the whole omg that place is fllaaaaaat thing. But the sheer number of miles you have to lay down to go places by bike -- even in a very bike friendly neighborhood/city/region -- is truly shocking.

Here's my calculation:

to closest grocery store (Roche Bros, a place we actually are willing to shop at): .9 miles each way, 1.8 round trip
to Idylwilde, farm stand, etc. which I _would_ shop at, except the parking lot is always full: 1.6 miles each way, 3.2 round trip
to closest library, Citizens Free (haven't been, very small): 1.0 miles, 2 round trip
to main library (where I actually do go): 1.9 miles each way, 3.8 round trip
to the public preschool (where I actually do go): about a half mile each way, 1 round trip (I've walked this one so far, with a stroller, the two times I've gone; I've bicycled it with T. once)
not your average joe's, a restaurant: .7 miles (we've walked this one and driven it once)
benjarong, a thai restaurant: .4 miles (R. usually walks this, sometimes with a stroller, sometimes with A. in a sling or other soft carrier, when he gets takeout; we have also driven at least once)

main post office: 2.5 miles each way, 5 RT. I biked it with T., but called for a rescue when I realized that one of the packages was way bigger than I could get into a pannier and T. was being kinda hyper.

west acton post office: 1 mile each way, 2 RT I've walked this with A. in the stroller. When I took T., we drove. I forget why; might have been a time constraint, might have been that I didn't have the panniers and locks dug out of storage/moving yet.

To my eyes, these are all embarrassingly easy to bike with a kid, possible to stroller with a kid, and not even worth thinking about walking by myself much less biking by myself. They become problematic with loads -- especially going to the grocery. But I was seriously trying to figure out a way to do groceries on the Bianchi with the panniers when I lived in Brookline, NH. I did, in fact, RT to Lull Farm (between 4 and 5 miles each way, depending on route, with over 200 feet of elevation change on the worst hill and additional smaller hills). Once. Between the distance, the terrain, the load issues and, these days, the kids, it just became impossible to contemplate. I would assert that there is _no place at all_ in the Netherlands as distance from services, and as difficult to bicycle in terms of terrain and road friendliness, as where we lived in Brookline, NH. And that wasn't that awful a place for biking as plenty in the US.

The Netherlands as a country does a lot to encourage cycling. Not just road design, either; there are tax provisions that let you buy up to a certain amount of bike + accessories every 3 years with _pre tax money_. I won't even get into the roads.

It's tough to imagine how we could get from where we are, in terms of transportation culture, to something more supportive of bicycling. Certainly, a lot of progress has been made in terms of product/gear (folding bicycles, to deal with limits on bicycles on public transit, for example). Some progress is being made in terms of changes in the law as it applies to bicyclists, albeit incredibly slowly and simultaneously with negative changes. Here in Acton, there is enough kid-culture (pre-driving age) that riding on the sidewalks is something even adults do on occasion, so drivers seem to expect it and watch out for it. Places with broad, open, empty sidewalks that ticket cyclists for using them just make me want to spit -- and yes, I _do_ understand the importance of getting off the bike and walking it when it's narrow and crowded with pedestrians. But how are we going to compress physical distance?

Because if you believe WalkScore, and you believe those Dutch cycling numbers, that is the _only_ way to become a walking and biking people: live a lot closer to each other.

ETA: When I first visited Amsterdam and walked from Centraal Station to the hostel I stayed at, I overshot and missed a turn (it was dark, I wasn't familiar with where to look for street signs yet) and walked over a half mile out of my way before I realized what I had done. When I backtracked, I overshot _again_ for the second turn (in that case, I got into trouble being on the wrong side of a canal, and found the one person in the city who didn't speak much English. We muddled through with a bit of my Dutch and his slightly-more English and got me to the other side of the street which I didn't realize was the same street on the other side of the canal. Silly me.). It took me 2 or 3 days to get a handle on just _how_ freakishly close everything was, especially in the older part of the city which is mostly where I stayed. Once I did understand what was going on, I went back to the hostel kitchen for most of my meals because no matter what I was doing, it was a short walk back to the kitchen to make a meal, and then return to continue my activity.
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