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Rush hour, with bicycles

Teo, Jeff Y., and Erik all sent along this video of "rush hour" at an intersection in Utrecht, Netherlands quite crowded with vehicles, but most of those are bicycles.

According to the video description, 33% of all trips in Utrecht happen by bicycle. This video shows a place where a bicycle road crosses a busway and light rail line.

Separated bicycle paths could eventually bring this level of bicycles to DC commuting. Teo notes that the Capital Crescent Trail does get very crowded during rush.

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. 


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It looks like pedestrians have - at least here - been replaced with bicycles, while those that have longer or unsuitable trips are taking the bus, light rail, or a scooter.

by Joshua Davis on May 16, 2010 4:47 pm • linkreport

And notice how all the cyclists actually stop for the stop light and que up in an orderly fashion?

by Lance on May 16, 2010 5:39 pm • linkreport


I have a theory that a lot of the reason you see cyclists here not stop at lights and signs is largely so they can get out of the way of the automobile traffic - I say that mostly from personal experience. If infrastructure were as well suited to cyclists as it is in the Netherlands, I imagine cyclists would be more law abiding.

Of course, the point I'm trying to make is related somewhat to this:

by Lucre on May 16, 2010 6:32 pm • linkreport

@Lucre, I agree with you. More infrastructure will lead to better enforcement which will lead to better self-regulation.

I think it will also lead to more segregation of bicycle and motorized traffic ... like this apparently 'separate' cycle track in the Netherlands. And somewhere along the way we'll need to weigh the benefits of allocating space for these facilities. We're at a clear disadvantage over the Netherlands in that we don't have a temperate climate. At best, we have 8 months where its neither too cold or too hot for 'most people' (note I'm not referring to current cyclists but to the potential pool of young to mid age realitively healthy folks who would be in a position to cycle more frequently if the infrastructure were there.) Also, unlike the dense inner cities that the Dutch have, we don't really have that here in the DC area and probably never will ... (i.e., in our post-industrial era there's no reason/pressure to build a dense city.)

by Lance on May 16, 2010 7:13 pm • linkreport

@Lance: Too bad we don't have that density here...or do we?

Utrecht (City) — Population - Density: 3,018/km2 (7,816.6/sq MI) (1 February 2008)

Washington, D.C. Population (2009). - City, 599657. - Density, 9776.4/sq mi (3771.4/km2)

by egk on May 17, 2010 12:08 am • linkreport

I have a theory that a lot of the reason you see cyclists here not stop at lights and signs is largely so they can get out of the way of the automobile traffic -

Please explain. The first thing I noticed when I began riding my bike in the city is that no other cyclists were stopping at red lights or stop signs. It was always my understanding that acting like other traffic is what kept cyclists safe. (Not to mention in compliance with traffic laws.) Now that I think about it, it's also what keeps pedestrians safe. (My wife was body-checked last week by some bitch on a bike who cruised right through a red light as my wife was stepping into the crosswalk. The view was obscured by a bus standing at the light.) So what do you mean when you say that disregarding the rules of the road is a means to "get out of the way" of automobile traffic? (Which is, of course, a very nice way of excusing yourself for breaking traffic laws and threatening pedestrians.)

by Ferdinand Bardamu on May 17, 2010 1:03 am • linkreport

@Ferdinand Bardamu

What he means is that bicyclists are better off when they can get ahead of traffic. Many bicyclists say that by going through a stop sign or red light, when safe, that they can better keep up with the flow of traffic. This prevents a line of cars from backing up behind a "too-slow" bicyclist, which in turn lessens the chance that drivers will try to pass by entering the opposing lane or getting dangerously close to the cyclist.

by Adam L on May 17, 2010 1:52 am • linkreport

@ Ferninand Bardamu

The more time I spend on a bicycle in this city (I moved here last summer), the more I realize my prime responsibility (beside keeping myself safe) is keeping pedestrians safe. They are the most vulnerable road user. I used to pull up to a stop light and stop right in the crosswalk forcing pedestrians to walk out into traffic to pass by me. Or, if I was making a right turn on red, I'd dodge the pedestrians in the crosswalk. However, after taking a bike safety class and being more critical of my riding style, I now ride more in a manner that protects pedestrians and doesn't put them in harms way.

by Greg B on May 17, 2010 7:55 am • linkreport

Are there any fat people in Utrecht?

It will be hard for DC to hit 33% of trips by bike when so many of us are to fat to ride.

by mike on May 17, 2010 8:27 am • linkreport

Twice this past weekend, as I stopped at stop signs, bonehead bicyclists ripped past me and through the intersection, ignoring the automobile drivers waiting at the stop on the cross street. The drivers were effectively forced to wait at their stop sign until there were no bicyclists coming, as if bicyclists were immune from stop signs, and had full priority over cars.

If bicyclists treat automobile drivers with such disrespect, how can they expect anything but equally inconsiderate treatment from drivers?

by Jack on May 17, 2010 8:51 am • linkreport

because whether or not we're in a car or on a bike we should be considerate and thoughtful regardless of what others are doing. Moreover we should be defensive while operating a machine that is easily capable of killing others and not worry so much about who is right or wrong but whether or not we're being safe.

by Canaan on May 17, 2010 9:18 am • linkreport

Many bicyclists say that by going through a stop sign or red light, when safe, that they can better keep up with the flow of traffic. This prevents a line of cars from backing up behind a "too-slow" bicyclist, which in turn lessens the chance that drivers will try to pass by entering the opposing lane or getting dangerously close to the cyclist.

Okay. However, this isn't what I see. What I see is what Jack complained about, bicyclists breezing through red lights and stop signs like they aren't even there. The Washcycle "we're all guilty" post is bullshit when it comes to this. There's a huge difference between running through the beginning of a red light or doing a rolling stop and just flat out flying through red lights and stop signs, which is what is ubiquitous where I ride.

by Ferdinand Bardamu on May 17, 2010 10:23 am • linkreport

What he means is that bicyclists are better off when they can get ahead of traffic. Many bicyclists say that by going through a stop sign or red light, when safe, that they can better keep up with the flow of traffic.

That may be the reasoning, but it's not very satisfying. Cyclists aren't going to keep up with the traffic on a main road. So by running a light it merely gives them a head start on getting in the way a few feet down the road.

I realize the majority of cyclists are generally law abiding, but no amount of rationalization can excuse going straight through a red light, for a cyclist or a car.

by ah on May 17, 2010 10:29 am • linkreport

I realize the majority of cyclists are generally law abiding,

Not so far as I can tell... at least in Adams Morgan/Columbia Heights/Dupont/Woodley Park.

by Ferdinand Bardamu on May 17, 2010 10:43 am • linkreport

Not so far as I can tell... at least in Adams Morgan/Columbia Heights/Dupont/Woodley Park.

I'm judging by the same standard as for drivers: not excessive speeding; close to a stop at stop signs; and so forth.

by ah on May 17, 2010 10:55 am • linkreport

notice the lack of helmets. Not that I advocate helmet-free riding. Just intersting, especially given the death and injury rates among bikers are so much lower in Nederland compared to US.

by Bianchi on May 17, 2010 11:49 am • linkreport

I ride helmet free in traffic and generally I feel pretty safe. I see other bicyclists taking risks by not stopping or even slowing down when they should and I do see them endangering pedestrians. I always stop when i'm on the road and never crowd pedestrians if I can prevent it. As far as cars getting backed up behind me, that only happens if I don't feel safe riding to the right, then I do take up the whole lane until I feel safe. The drivers can just deal with it, or preferably drive in a more reasonable manner so I feel safe.

by James on May 17, 2010 1:23 pm • linkreport

Ok, a self-appointed GGW senior Dutch expert a couple of comments:

* Note that we're looking at a bus lane, not a normal road. Only buses pass by (and a trash truck, which may have permission as well).

* Note that all bikers are dressed normally. Nobody is wearing spandex shirts, sponges and pants. Biking is a mode of transportation with the benefit of exercise, not sport with the benefit of transportation.

* Government rules require cities to consider the needs of cars, bikers, pedestrians and transit separate but equally. What this boils down to is that bike lanes are physically separated from car lanes as much as geographically is possible. In many places, a bike route from A to B will differ greatly from a car route from A to B. Bikes get a lot of shortcuts cars don't get (through narrow streets for instance).

@ Joshua: There are plenty of pedestrians, just not at this particular intersection. It is true however, that when it would take more than 5 minutes to walk, the Dutch bike.

@ Lucre: Bikers do not stop for red lights out of respect for them. Bikers stop for red lights because they do not want to be run over by buses and trams. I can guarantee you that red lights are considered a yield sign by most bikers. Cops will laugh at you if you stop for a red light at an empty intersection, just because you noticed them. And then fine you for not having proper lighting on your bike.

The unwritten rules to deal with bikers breaking all traffic laws is that non-bikers pretend that bikers do follow the law. Bikers assume that non-bikers will not pay attention to them. I may not be explaining this properly, but it does work fine.

@ mike: Obesity is less of a problem in the Netherlands than here. However, fat people bike less than fit people. On the other hand, biking keeps you fit.

There is a direct correlation between child obesity and the percentage of parents that bring their kids to school. Oh yeah, did I mention there are no school buses? Kids bike to school. Rain of shine. A parent will accompany them until they're 6-8 years old and then they can bike to school in their neighborhood. High school students bike all across town.

@ Bianchi: Helmets are required in surrounding countries like Belgium and Germany, especially for kids. Every time a Dutch politicians suggests helmets for safety, there is national laughter and another retiring politician. Wearing helmets is what raising taxes is here. Political suicide, regardless of how appropriate the suggestion is. The Dutch expect their roads to be safe enough to bike without a ridiculous helmet.

The stats? I think less that 800 deaths last year (down from 1200 about ten years ago) on a population of 16 million. That would be ~16,000 deaths on a population of 320 million (roughly the US). The US sits at ~40,000.

Separated bike lanes have helped a lot, as have ubiquitous speeding cameras and quicker loss of driver's license after excessive drinking and speeding. If you are very drunk or speed more than 50km/h you loose your driver's license on the spot, and a judge then decides when you get it back.

And then there's that law that faults car drivers by default in car-bike crashes. The burden of proof is then on drivers (insurance companies) to show that the driver could not have prevented the crash. But if you're driving in a bar district you are to expect drunks jumping at your car, and when you're in a suburb, you are to expect kids running in the street. The underlying assumption is that bikers and pedestrians have a larger incentive (life and limbs) not to run into cars than the other way around.

Oddly, mopeds are being taken of bike lanes and mixed with car traffic more and more (note the blue moped/bike lane sign in the clip). Experiments show that that is safer, however counterintuitive.

* Finally, it is interesting that a video of bikers generally stopping for red lights leads to the recurring GGW debate of frustrated people (bikers included) vs biking idiots who recklessly break the law.

by Jasper on May 17, 2010 2:42 pm • linkreport

@Jasper; do you think the Netherlands admirable death rate for road accidents is due to stringent laws and enforcement, or that Dutch people don't drive as much?

And that was my response to the video: look how funny it is to see bicyclists following the signals and not wearing stupid helmets.

by charlie on May 17, 2010 4:14 pm • linkreport

Just wanted to add one thought about safety, since David mentioned congestion on the Capitol Crescent Trail:

On a Saturday, I would feel safer riding from Georgetown to Bethesda on Wisconsin Ave rather than the CCT. It's terrifying. Roller-bladers, fat guys on TT bikes wearing flip-flops passing in the oncoming lane, speed walkers making abrupt u-turns.


by oboe on May 17, 2010 4:40 pm • linkreport

@ charlie: I carefully avoided that conclusion. I think it's a combination of both.

Holland is a small country, a bit larger than Maryland. So, the distances people drive to family for instance are a lot smaller than in the US.

Transit is a lot better in Dutch cities than in the US. So people drive less. There are no school buses, so that's a lot less miles driven.

Rotterdam is the harbor of much of Belgium, Northern France and Germany. So that give a lot of trucks driving around. A lot of trucks. Trucks that are smaller than American trucks.

On the other hand, traffic enforcement is way more stringent than in the US. Mention the word 'flashing' to a Dutch car driver, and they'll go of on a rant how unfair it is that a speeding camera 'flashed' them again near their home doing 54 km/h where the speed limit is 50km/h (poing €60). Oddly, there are no red light cameras. But police do every couple of months set up to catch high school students biking to school in deficient bikes (no lights, no reflectors) and souped up mopeds.

Finally, getting your driver's license is very hard in the Netherlands, compared to the US. 30 hours of driver's ed are recommended before ever trying to go for the official test. Only 45% passes. It is estimated that most drivers would not pass the driver's license test if they were required to do it at a random moment. Compare that to the joke it is to get a DL in VA.

I could go on and say that even the political climate is different. Ministers bike to work. Nobody is anti-transit, or anti-bike in the Netherlands. It's just that the right would prefer to build more roads first, then build more railroads. The left pretty much wants to outlaw driving.

This is picture of an adviser to the Queen walking up the stairs of the palace having handed his bike to the lackey of service. Odd, but it did happen. Can you imagine anybody biking up to the White House? Guy later became ministers and there are many pictures of him biking around The Hague. He's 70+.

We do pretty ok compared to other European countries.

So, many differences. Only one hard number. Less deaths.

by Jasper on May 17, 2010 4:48 pm • linkreport

Sorry, looked it up. He's 61 now, so 50 in the pic.

by Jasper on May 17, 2010 4:50 pm • linkreport

I'm not opposed to the idea that the dutch are bike-friendly, or bike-crazy. I was curious to know the number of cars, vehicle miles per year, or other hard data. Quick google searches didn't pull anything up.

From memory, the average car in the UK gets about 10K of usage every year, and the percentage of car ownership is far less. Given that the UK is more car-centric than the nederlands, I would suspect the dutch numbers are even lower.

Another stupid question: what do you think the average cheap bike in holland costs, and it better quality than the $130 bikes at Target/Walmart?

by charlie on May 17, 2010 5:17 pm • linkreport

the studies i've seen make estimates for VMT and/or trips by bike using self-report data from surveys, gallons of gas sold, etc. so comparisons can be made using rates like number of deaths/VMT over a year, or by mode-share (% biking). I read recently biking injury in the US is 6x that of the Netherlands.

Worth noting: The number of years of life lost due to risk of injury from biking (in the US) for someone who bikes regularly (~3x/week) is significantly less compared to years of life lost due to chronic sedentariness(sp?). Also, risk of injury walking is about the same as for biking in the US.

by Bianchi on May 17, 2010 5:22 pm • linkreport

Wow, all those helmet-less riders. They look nude to me.

by Ward 1 Guy on May 17, 2010 10:20 pm • linkreport

The best I could find was 8 million cars in the netherlands. VMT of private cars seems steady at 15,000K a year (9000 miles).

Eyeballing it, that is roughly 1 car for every 2 people.

Compare to the US: 250 million personal cars/trucks for 300 million people. Average usage is around 15K miles per year, may be higher. I think VA is at 17K.

by charlie on May 17, 2010 11:00 pm • linkreport

that figure I stated yesterday, 6x more bike crashes/injuries in the US compared to Nederland-I think that's raw numbers rather than bike crashes per trip or by proportion of mode-share.

by Bianchi on May 18, 2010 10:22 am • linkreport

A bicycle is a VEHICLE- STOP at Stop Signs and red lights.
If you HAVE to be biking on the sidewalk (and WHY should you be there?) Announce "ON YOUR LEFT" or "ON YOUR RIGHT" when about to pass a pedestrian from behind -- and GIVE THE PEDESTRIAN ROOM TO MOVE!!! Better yet -- since you are usually going 20 -30 miles an hour -- STAY IN THE STREET!!!

by AceMoose on May 18, 2010 11:35 am • linkreport


Thanks for the refresher. Feel better?

by oboe on May 18, 2010 12:06 pm • linkreport

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