Pedestrian-friendliness promotes wellness

Americans should implement European bike infrastructure and culture

One of the best strategies for reducing emissions is encouraging the public to use environmentally-friendly forms of transportation. In dense cities that have good infrastructure for pedestrians and bikes, the public does not need any convincing. Biking, walking, and public transport already provide the most convenient options of transportation in these scenarios.

Bike pathways are spacious and make travellers feel safe and comfortable. Pathways like this one are crucial to keeping the Dutch bike culture strong.

We experienced this first-hand while staying in The Hague and in Eindhoven in the Netherlands. The hotels where we were staying, The Student Hotel, directly rent bikes to guests. This shows an understanding at the community level that bikes are a necessity for daily life.

Every day, we used our bikes to get across town, through the Dutch countryside, to the beach, to visit businesses, and beyond. Both throughout the Netherlands and within the Hague, there is an extensive and well-developed network of bike paths. Bikers feel safe, and that is the key to getting all of the community to participate.

When we biked to the small towns of Schipluiden, Maasland, and Leiden, we used bike highways that connect the cities through the countryside. It was beautiful to ride through the fields past family farms and rural neighborhoods. People on bikes, roller blades and scooters were the only individuals using the pathways, which ensures safety of the area. Non-motorized vehicle highways allow travelers to completely avoid the dangers of cars.

Along the non-motorized vehicle highways in the Netherlands, there are lots of opportunities to stop along the way at gathering spaces, groceries, markets, and restaurants. Accessibility to these sorts of gathering spaces encourages interactions and develops social capital.

When we biked within the city, like when we visited the Dutch Urban Farmers location in the Hague, we used spacious bike lanes that help prevent bike-car collisions. These lanes make bikers feel safe, and encourage more community members to feel comfortable on the road.

European infrastructure also caters to multi-modal transportation. If citizens need to travel longer distances that are not feasible via bike alone, they have the option to bike to the local train or bus stations, store their bikes, and then move to their final destinations.

When residents elect to commute via walking or biking, there are lots of benefits not only to the individual, but to the community. For the individual, there is a positive trend towards mental wellbeing and productivity. Additionally, by biking or walking, they engage in exercise, which improves physical health, as concluded by Dr. Rundle and Dr. Heymsfield in the JAMA published study Can Walkable Urban Design Play a Role in Reducing the Incidence of Obesity-Related Conditions. These benefits to individuals in turn benefit the community; residents are happy, healthy and productive. Use of these pathways also decongests the city. Personal vehicles take up a tremendous amount of space on roads, and require parking within the downtown area. When workers choose to walk/bike instead, the roads are more open and efficient.

Bike highways in the Dutch countryside lead pedestrians and bikers through fields and over bridges. The dynamic nature of the landscape makes the highway more attractive.

American urban planners should work to implement similar infrastructure and bike culture in the United States. There are already movements towards this cause, like the Huron Waterloo Pathways Initiative (http://huron-waterloo-pathways.org/) in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I am excited to see initiatives like this one make progress and have success in the States!

-Olivia Corriere