Bicycling is popular in both Munich and Amsterdam. In Pittsburgh, we see a newly encouraging number of brave, lonely souls pedaling amongst cars and pedestrians.
In Pittsburgh, the bicyclists wear helmets. And some loose approximation of athletic-styled gear.
Vanishingly few helmets are glimpsed in Munich; in Amsterdam, a helmet would look positively ridiculous. And it being October, most persons on bicycles in our two European experimental-groups are merely "dressed for autumn".
But this is where obvious similarities between Munich and Amsterdam bike culture end.
Munich at any given location carries perhaps four times as many bicyclists as the 'Burgh does at its most prime location and on its best day.
Munich also boasts about 4,000 times as many bike lanes as Pittsburgh, or three times more than seem warranted as a practical or political function related to its true number of bikers. And it may be misleading to call them "bike lanes", they're really "bike tracks" and they're omnipresent.
Pedestrians be aware! The Munich bike tracks are usually raised up right even with the sidewalk, yet only painted or labeled in intersections. The trick is, milled asphalt is for bikes whereas tile, brick or stone pavement is for pedestrians. And these bike tracks are not just on "major" streets but on most secondary residential streets as well. Near any significant intersections, the Munich bike lanes acquire burgundy paint and sprout whole new left-turn lanes in most busy intersections.
|Bicycling in Munich|
Amsterdam biking on the other hand is an entirely different kettle of fish
I'd say there are actually about four times as many actual bicyclists on Amsterdam streets than on Munich streets, or sixteen times as many as Pittsburgh. It doesn't take much to have more bicyclists than Pittsburgh, but in Munich they're still a supporting player on the grand stage of cars and pedestrians.
We can illustrate it like so: in Amsterdam, there are simply piles of bicycles along the side of streets.
"Where did I park my bike?" "Oh jeez, I just threw it in that pile of bicycles, and now that pile is so much bigger! Boy, this reminds me of that Seinfeld episode, only different."
(Is how I imagine it must go. I'm a Pittsburgh bicyclist. A green one. The riverfront trails are nice...)
As an American might presume from their respective national and civic reputations, there is a lot more order in Munich, Bavaria (clear lanes for all modes of transport, traffic signals, traffic signs, clearly and uniformly market street signs, all individuals moving quickly, less eye contact, a little like New York that way) and a lot more free flow in Amsterdam, the Netherlands (boats are about the only thing with a convincing right of way along the canals; most modes of transport seem equal before the law assuming there is a law, cars seem perpetually outnumbered.)
Speaking of the law, I believe I saw the cops once in Amsterdam. They were wearing blue uniforms trimmed with white, and with geometrically precise hats and badges on their breasts. The possible cops were traveling in tight formation, the four of them on their bikes, two women in front and two men in back.
Munich police I think I also only saw once; they were wearing olive green leather jackets, ferocious boots, and were calmly but curiously addressing what might have been an alleged trespass of some kind at Oktoberfest.
And Amsterdammers rarely put as much effort into speeding around as the Münchners. Unless, of course, they are on a scooter or a motorcycle, which is a somewhat common way to avail of the civic bicycle infrastructure yet enjoy some of the deference instinctively paid to armored, motorized machines.
One way Amsterdam cyclists cope with their communal, multi-modal organized chaos is to chime. It's a very soft chime, a demure "zhing zhing". Just enough for somebody to sense, "Hmm, it's almost as though there is a bike somewhere in roughly that direction, and he or she seems mildly mindful of a traffic situation." It's my belief that every time it looks like they might come within 8 feet of another sentient life form unaware of them, Amsterdam bikers "zhing zhing". They might even be using echolocation. ("Them bikers is smart, they use radar.")
And when I say multi-modal, I mean all major modes. Don't get me started on the light rail differences (European rail goes directions other than South) or the rest of public transit.
In conclusion, we see that "bike friendly" can mean any number of different things, that is, express itself in personalities organic to many cultures. Just like "business friendly" or "technology friendly".
And we also see that, suffice to say, the next time someone tells you Pittsburgh is a "world class city," they are talking about natural beauty, history, sports, friendliness, or access to the global stage -- all of which are fantastic amenities. But right now it's impossible for Pittsburgh to measure up in terms of things like population density, high-end shopping options and all manner of transit systems and infrastructure*. For anyone who appreciates either biking or simply getting around without a car, these must be very major disincentives to invest very much time here.
+ UPDATE: Null Space finds a good recent video about cycling in the US by a Dutchman.
(*And perhaps in terms of other forms of "infrastructure", period. I have a strong impression these cities aren't still flinging their poop in their waterways. A topic for a future post, and a project in a future pipeline.)