Allen On Travel

A 30 year veteran of world travel (but knows nil about Orlando-area attractions), Will Allen III writes about his weekly odysseys by air on business and how the airlines rob him--and you--of time, the most precious commodity on earth. Time: It's all we have, and the airlines routinely take it from us. This blog challenges the airlines to keep their basic promises.

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Location: Raleigh, North Carolina, United States

Born 1948 in Kinston, NC and raised there in beautiful eastern North Carolina, I now live in Raleigh and commute around the country and the world.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Getting Around Like a Dutchman in The Netherlands on Business

Flying to Amsterdam is easy.  Schiphol Airport is a joy to use, with great air connections worldwide, including intra-European flights to everywhere.  The train service that connects the airport to Amsterdam is a snap to use, too, both convenient and frequent.

Opting to travel by rail from other European cities to reach Amsterdam, it's hard to beat the frequent and comfortable Thalys and ICE TGV-like fast train services (like the one pictured below that just arrived Amsterdam from Paris Gare du Nord).  

Trains from other cities and from the airport arrive to Amsterdam Centraal in the heart of the city.  From there it's easy to get a tram or an expensive taxi to one's destination in the city, or simply to walk.  But once there, how do you get around to conduct business? 

Most Dutch depend upon their bicycles for a good deal of local transport, not only in Amsterdam, but throughout all cities and towns in The Netherlands--for business conveyance as well as for personal trips.  Bikes are faster, cheaper, easier, and far more convenient than other modes of travel.  This is especially true in an environment where a great deal of the land is reclaimed from the sea and hence is very precious.  

Living on reclaimed earth has brought a different perspective.  Room for roads is limited, let alone the square footage needed to park one's private automobile, and consequently the little space allocated for motor vehicles is expensive and hard to find.  

Thus the Dutch bicycle culture prevails.  In fact, biking is the most common means of urban and suburban transport.  Take a look at the bike parking spaces at Amsterdam Centraal, for example (below photos).  I couldn't even find the parking lot for private autos, assuming there is one.

Bike parking wedged between the train station and the canal in Amsterdam

A sea of of bicycle parking just outside the Amsterdam train station 

Dutch city streets have been engineered to favor public transit, pedestrians, and bicycles.  Dedicated bike lanes are the norm, and even have their own traffic signals.

Traveling to other Dutch cities from Amsterdam on business, it's common to take one of the many all-day trains that connect the towns and cities of Holland.  Train service is clean, convenient, modern, and frequent, as can be seen from the below pictures.  It's possible to get almost anywhere in the country throughout the day by train.

Trains run all day between Amsterdam & other Dutch communities

On-board screens track train schedule & progress

Dutch trains have silent zones conducive to working

Many Dutch train travelers, including business travelers, take their bicycles with them.  Due to the strong cycling culture, trains in Holland are routinely fitted to accommodate on-board bikes.

It's normal to bring your bike on the trains in The Netherlands

Dutch towns and cities, as these photos demonstrate in Leiden and in Enkhuizen, are extremely bike-friendly places, with bicycle parking conveniently located almost everywhere very close to trains.  By contrast, in none of the Dutch city and town stations I visited was automobile parking apparent.

Bike parking at the Enkhuizen train station is just a few steps from the trains

Bike Parking at the Leiden train station as far as the eye can see

The sheer number of bicycles in Holland is staggering compared to the U.S.

Covered bike parking is available at most rail stations for commuters

Of course private cars are available, along with public buses.  Yet despite the population density in Holland, most streets and roads there are not as congested as in America because so many business and personal trips are made by bicycle and rail rather than by motor vehicles.  

An uncrowded roundabout near Leiden as seen from the train

Almost every street and highway in Holland has dedicated bicycle lanes, and most bike lanes are very busy with cyclists day and night.  Bike lanes even have dedicated rail crossing warning devices, as seen in this photo:

Dedicated warning devices at rail crossings for cyclists

Once a meeting is over in a remote town or city, the typical Dutch business traveler returns to the train station by public transit (tram or bus) or bike for the trip back to Amsterdam:

Going home to Amsterdam after a business day trip

Of course Dutch everyday use of trains, bicycles, and public transit modes as the principal means of getting around, on business as well as for personal trips, is hardly news to anyone who has spent any time in Holland.  I greatly admire the Dutch culture of biking and taking the train.  

While it's certainly true that not every Dutch business trip is, or can be, made using trains and bikes, the fact that it's the norm--the default means of getting around--is in striking contrast to American practice. We should aspire to this paradigm to counter our total dependence upon the private automobile as the means of conveyance for every trip in America.  


Anonymous Jeremy said...

I liked the "educational" tone of this post, but with lots of great illustrating photos showing your trip. I live in Australia, where bicyling is about as common in the US. I have a colleague who just moved here from Amsterdam who is continually frustrated by getting places that are a bit far to walk, since he can't take his bicycle as he's used to! I keep telling him to go ahead and get one, but he wants to fit in - and is worried about the danger since car drivers aren't used to cyclists as much here.

5/20/2013 9:01 AM  

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