The Bike and Train System

Unlocking the future of metropolitan areas is directly tied to mobility issues that cannot be solved by self-driving cars or ride sharing schemes alone.  A key to the mobility dilemma that complex metropolitan areas face is integrated mobility, specifically targeting the bike and train system.  In this system, bikes bridge the first and last mile problems for those who live outside of dense urban areas or transit oriented developments, giving them alternative mobility options to the car.  This integrated mobility approach that focuses on the potential that the bike and train system offers will be the new frontier in land use and transportation planning that can be employed by planners across complex urban areas and metropolitan regions to meet mobility demands.  The bike and train system is vital to mobility in the Netherlands where over 50% of people arrive at stations by bike and the demand of this bike and train system is the fastest growing “mode."  Beyond the Netherlands, this system is widely used in Japan.

A couple "dinking" on an OV fiets bike share bicycle.  These bike share bicycles are located at train stations to allow those who arrive by train to get to their destination.

A couple "dinking" on an OV fiets bike share bicycle.  These bike share bicycles are located at train stations to allow those who arrive by train to get to their destination.

The bike and train system, as used in the Netherlands, provides a real, working example of integrated, sustainable mobility that moves beyond transport oriented development to much more complicated systems of mobility that are characterized by greater flexibility within fixed transit systems and provide real competitive alternatives to single occupancy vehicles.  A major key to the success of the Dutch bike and train system is tied to the dense train infrastructure in the Netherlands and well as the OV fiets bike share system where you can seamlessly transition from train to bike with the tap of your OV chip transport card. 

Seamlessly returning the OV fiets bike at Amsterdam central station which also works using the universal transport card before catching a train ride home.

Seamlessly returning the OV fiets bike at Amsterdam central station which also works using the universal transport card before catching a train ride home.

What can be gathered from other country contexts is that the bike and train combination provides flexibility to inflexible systems and it also serves to meet issues of inequality in complex metropolitan areas.  Those living in dense urban environments can often access their destination by bike or public transportation.  Those living outside of dense urban cores are often confronted with very limited mobility options and as a result are often pushed into single occupancy vehicles.  Further developing the bike and train system will open up healthier and more sustainable mobility options.

Bikes and Trains in Amsterdam

Bikes and Trains in Amsterdam

When thinking about transferring lessons from places such as Amsterdam or Tokyo  to North American contexts, three domains need to be examined and addressed: the spatial infrastructure, the land use and transport systems in the area, and the institutional forces behind their workings.  In my Masters thesis research I looked at the relationship between what is traditionally conceptualized as catchment areas around train station and how the bike can reconfigure that conceptualization. 

BTOD is the new TOD: A case for sustainable transport in North America


Percent of Population that lives within a bikeable distance of BART stations

Percent of Population that lives within a bikeable distance of BART stations


Looking at the BART system in the Bay Area, as can be seen in the graph, certain percentages of the population of the four counties that BART services live within different catchment areas of BART stations.  9.4% of the population falls within a half-mile (accepted walking distance), 55.12% fall within 2 miles (demonstrated biking distance to BART stations in the Bay Area), 67.8% falls within 3 miles (acceptable biking distance), and 79.5% falls within 5 miles (potential biking distance) of all BART stations.  Looking at these numbers, it becomes clear that there is a great discrepancy between the percent of the population that lives within acceptable walking distances of stations and extended distances, which can be bridged by the spatial reach of the bicycle.  This points to the fact that the spatial reach of the bicycle greatly expands the percentage of a population that can reasonably access transit by non-motorized modes and therefore more attention and effort should be made to understanding and accommodating bike access trips to train stations. 

After performing my research, I suggest that new developments within bikable distances to stations should be higher density, mixed-use with a traditional neighborhood design.  Additionally, developers should make a contribution with each project to upgrade bicycle parking and infrastructure in the area supporting bike access to train station trips. 





How to move by bike in Amsterdam.

Not only is the bike an integral part of everyday life in the Netherlands, but a lifeline and tool for big changes.  When I needed to move apartments in Amsterdam, I went fully Dutch and moved by bike.  Watch as I move from one side of Amsterdam to another side of the city, completely by bike!

Step 1

Rent a Cargo bike.  These huge bikes can carry large heavy loads and can be rented from select bike shops throughout the city.  Getting on the massive bike for the first time, I was excited and nervous.  It was much easier to maneuver through the city than I had anticipated and I thoroughly enjoyed the words of encouragement from passersby.   

Step 2 

Tempt some friends into helping you out.  Dutch stairs are very steep and even more treacherous when carrying heavy loads.  Tempt some friends into helping you move with the promise of stroopwafels and beer when you are finished.  

Step 3

Enjoy the positive feedback from Dutchies and looks of horror and amazement from tourists on your ride to your new home.  People are excited to see such an undertaking, especially by a foreigner.  While other cyclists might pass right by you, you may receive complements from others who are impressed with your will.  Tourists with open mouths may point, gawk and take pictures of this strange sight.  Take it all in!

Playful Passageways in Amsterdam

Amsterdam uses pedestrian and bike tunnels to inspire a sense of play and wonder

Underpasses can be foreboding places in a city, but Amsterdam inspires non-motorized travelers with the playful atmosphere they create in bike and pedestrian tunnels.  This post features a few of my favorite pedestrian and bicycle tunnels in Amsterdam, highlighting how the city has invested in activating spaces that support active transportation.  The highlighted spaces inspire a sense of curiosity and fun at the human-scale.       

The Living Tunnel

The Tugelaweg bike and pedestrian tunnel has been retrofitted with a light installation that has transformed this once dark and ominous space to one of fun and curiosity.  The municipality sponsored a competition in order to active the space, as the tunnel used to be perceived as desolate and unsafe.  After neighborhood voting, the winning design features a wildlife inspired LED installation, where the people become visitors.  As you pass through the tunnel, you may spot shadows of an elephant or a lion, as the big five from the African savanna roam the walls.

The Most Magnificent Passageway

Have you ever biked through a museum?  Most Amsterdammers have.  The passageway through the center of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam has marvelous gothic style ceiling and views directly into the entrance hall of the museum.  Riding through the most magnificent bicycle tunnel did not come without controversy.  While the original design of the museum included a traffic corridor though it, over the years there has been continual pressure to close the passageway to cyclists.  Most recently when the museum was being renovated from 2004 to 2013, the head architect furiously tried to close the tunnel to cyclists, but was overruled in great part due to the work of the cyclists union.  Today,  the priority of beauty that cyclists and pedestrians experience when traveling through the Rijksmusem passageway tells the story of a city that has fought to prioritize life and a livable city where people really get to experience the splendor of Amsterdam. 

The Tunnel as an art gallery

The Voormalige Stadstimmertuin tunnel, once simple and short, has been dressed up with a collaborative art project.  Students helped to create art in the tunnel that connects the Amstel river to the Wibaustraat.  Not only is the tunnel now exciting to look at, but it is further connected to the place where it hangs.  The ostentatiousness of the art is intentional, meant to connect with the Carre theatre just down the street.  The first time I rode through the tunnel after the art was installed in July, I was immediately struck by the art, so much so that I came back later that day on foot to really admire this new free, street gallery.     

The most convenient bicycle tunnel

The Amsterdam Central Station tunnel was long anticipated and after running several years behind schedule, it was recently opened a couple of months ago!  It runs through Amsterdam central station directly connecting the Ferry terminal behind the station to the city center.  This vital connection prioritizes and caters to active modes in the city and it has been estimated that around 15,000 cyclists and 10,000 pedestrians will use the tunnel daily.  With such high-anticipated volumes of traffic, a lot of care has been taken in the design of the tunnel to influence the behavior of pedestrians and cyclists, using lighting, pavement treatments, and heights.  Besides providing a new, safe link, the tunnel features a beautiful, hand painted tile mural inspired by a 17th century scene of the IJ river, connecting the space inside to tunnel to the spatial surroundings.   

These examples demonstrate how a focus on the human-scale caters to and inspires bicycle and pedestrian trips.  These spaces have been reclaimed, activated, and connected to their surrondings so that tunnels and passageways are no longer perceived as threatening, rather they actually attract people to come and enjoy them.  See the map below to explore the tunnels yourself or join one of our Play City Tours where we will explore them in further detail.