Dispatch from the Netherland, part 3: Innovation vs. Complacency

This is the third and final part of Jonathan Mertzig's series on biking and biking infrasctructure in the Netherlands. You can read part 1, about wayfinding and complete streets and networks here, and part 2 about multimodal transit and bike parking here.

While I was thoroughly impressed by the state of cycling in the Netherlands on my first visit, I think what has impressed me even more over the years is seeing the constant tweaks and innovations that continue to improve the biking experience.  The Dutch have established many great standards in areas like wayfinding and street design, but even these tried-and-true systems are constantly fine-tuned, like with a total refresh of wayfinding typography and various experiments in paving with eco-friendly materials and even glow-in-the-dark surfaces

In Tilburg, the city is trying out new “smart” traffic lights that use a cell phone app to track when cyclists are near. The lights can be changed in cyclists’ favor if a large group is approaching. A much broader rollout of a similar system is underway in nearby Den Bosch.

On my most recent trip, to the province of Noord-Brabant, I was pleased to find some cool things I hadn’t encountered before, like traffic signals in Tilburg and Den Bosch that track mobile phones to give clusters of cyclists a quicker green light, and a growing network of bike “superhighways” spreading from the center of Eindhoven (even including grade-separated portions avoiding the busiest roads!).   I’m always amazed at how careful thought and creative solutions are constantly applied to making biking better.

The province of Noord-Brabant is developing a network of “snelfietsweg” routes (basically freeways for bikes!) between major cities, converging on this stretch of spacious grade-separated paths around Eindhoven’s central station. Cyclists can quickly cruise below busy streets on a highway of their own.

Takeaways:  We can copy some really great, proven ideas from the Dutch to make cycling in Madison better, but don’t be afraid to promote some homegrown innovation!  And more importantly, just because we have reason to be proud of relatively great bike infrastructure and culture here in Madison, we should follow the most important lesson the Dutch provide:  Never stop improving!

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