Thursday, October 16, 2008

Burlington: The Dutch Connection

John Rennison, the Hamilton Spectator
Dutch cycling expert rolls into Burlington

, The Hamilton Spectator

BURLINGTON (Oct 16, 2008)

In the shadow of Burlington City Hall, the tall, lanky Dutchman Wim Mulder looks down at the bike helmet as if he doesn't often wear one or hasn't even seen one before.

Yet, the traffic engineer visiting from Apeldoorn, the Netherlands, is here to help Burlington build its cycling infrastructure. He rides. In fact, his job is all about growing his hometown's cycling network.

"We have a policy that we want to make the roads safe enough that it's not necessary," Mulder says of his bike helmet, loaned to him before a group ride to see how Burlington measures up on cycling terms.

Mulder was in Burlington as part of an official delegation this week from Apeldoorn, which signed a twinning agreement with Burlington in 2005. That has led to several exchanges of citizens and staff.

Mulder shared his bike-planning expertise with city staff, consultants helping with the city's new cycling master plan, the Burlington Cycling Committee and others.

Apeldoorn is a city of 155,000 people -- similar to Burlington -- about 100 km east of Amsterdam, a flat area with a tourist trade.

Mulder said that, like most of Holland, cycling caught on in the 1970s as an antidote to car-dominated land use planning. It was cheap, healthy, eco-friendly and is now part of the Dutch identity.

After his visit to Apeldoorn last year, Burlington Cycling Committee's Gary Murphy came away with an overwhelming impression: "We have a lot of work to do, but they have been working at it for 50 years. We are in our infancy."

Mulder's arrival came at a time when Burlington is considering everything from bike-only traffic signals to bylaws requiring bike parking in a new cycling master plan. The focus is on connectivity, and safety, around areas like the QEW and 403 interchanges.

Census information suggests just 0.8 per cent of Burlingtonians commute by bike to work; 79.7 per cent drive a car; more than half of all commutes are less than 10 kilometres.

In Apeldoorn, the split for trips of less than 8 kilometres is: 44 per cent by car, 6 per cent by bus, and a staggering 50 per cent by bicycle. Mulder says it didn't come easily, and still involves fights to get money for new bike lanes, lights and paths.

On the bike tour, Mulder's mood was upbeat if flabbergasted: the painted-on bike lanes on Maple were so skinny, the asphalt bike laneways near Optimist Park unsigned, the crossing to the Burlington GO station disconnected from what should be the easiest, straight line to the trains.

"You don't charge for parking!" he exclaimed, amid the sea of cars parked by all-day commuters at the GO station.

In Apeldoorn's train station it's $10 a day for parking. It also has 5,000 bike parking spaces.

"Potential" was a word Mulder used often. Think about the extra space North American roads already have, compared to Europe. Or how Burlington's grid layout is an easy navigation tool.

Norma Moores, of urban development consulting firm IBI Group, said that working on the City of Burlington's cycling master plan raised concerns and possibilities.

Burlington may put some roads on a "diet," devoting space to bikes at the expense of cars; it has to deal with the risk of freeway crossings; the waterfront needs links to other areas.

Even in Apeldoorn, cycling didn't happen by accident. Dutch laws allow cyclists a right of way in many situations, and in an accident the motorist is assumed to be at fault, unless proven otherwise.

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