Sustainable Transportation Abroad - Netherlands

Safe Bicycle Infrastructure
September 27, 2017

We are pleased to provide you with the fifth in a series of blog posts from our 2017 Global Student Ambassadors.  This week, we highlight the Sustainable Transportation Abroad (Netherlands) program which provides students with the opportunity to spend two weeks studying sustainable bicycle infrastructure in the Netherlands.  Our Global Student Ambassador in this program, Anna Nord, writes about her experiences.  

Before studying abroad in the Netherlands, I was confident in my knowledge of the aspects that define safe bicycle infrastructure. I believed in my ability to solve problems associated with the dangers of inadequate bicycle facilities in the United States. Yet, within hours of being in the Netherlands, I quickly realized that my solutions were naïve and missing vital details. The Sustainable Transportation class taught by Dr. Kari Watkins, truly enriched my academic experience at Georgia Tech.  My trip to an environmentally conscious country introduced me to new perspectives and insights into how we can retrofit our land use policies and roadway designs in the United States, so that they offer people of all ages and genders the safety and support to walk, bike and utilize public transit.

Each day during the study abroad trip, we traveled to a new city via bicycle or train, where we met with public officials and engineers to talk about the history and future of their local transportation networks. The Netherlands has one of the most expansive regional bicycle networks in the world, which is getting more built out every year. In 2008, 28% of all trips in the Netherlands were made by bike. For all age groups, the ratio of women to men using a bike for transportation is one to one.  In comparison, as of 2008, the United States has a bike mode share of about 1%, where the majority of cyclists were men (Buehler and Pucher, 2012). These statistics alone suggest that we, as Americans, have a lot to learn from the Dutch.

I returned from my trip inspired, humbled and eager to share my new ideas. Unfortunately they were grudgingly greeted with responses, such as, “well, that would never work here.”  As engineers, it’s our job to figure out how to adjust and tweak microscopic to macroscopic dynamics of the infrastructure so that they do work here.  The Sustainable Transportation class not only exposed us students to different transportation systems, but it taught us how to apply what we learned. As part of the class, we worked in teams to redesign a roadway, in Atlanta, according to the Netherlands’ design standards.  Through studying abroad, I learned that there is not one solution or one formula for creating a “sustainable” transportation system. Instead, it’s our job, as global leaders, to observe and absorb, without judgment, the methodologies of different counties and cultures implementation approach, which we can potentially use (or mimic) to solve our own similar problems in the future.

If you would like to learn more about our experiences, I encourage you all to read other blog posts from our class, as well as this opinion piece by fellow student Spencer Maddox.

This spring, SLS launched its Global Student Ambassador Program, partnering with six Summer 2017 Study Abroad programs at Georgia Tech: France LBATGermany LBATSpain LBATLeadership for Social Good (Eastern Europe)Design Develop Build Program (Ghana), Japan Summer Program in Sustainable Development, and Sustainable Transportation Abroad (Netherlands).  The Global Student Ambassador Program is designed to provide students with the opportunity to meet each other and learn cross cultural perspectives on sustainable communities and share their experiences with other students.  Interested in learning more?  Attend the Study Abroad Fair on October 3rd (10am - 2pm, Student Center Ballroom) and come here from our Global Student Ambassadors as they share their experiences on October 5th (11am - 2pm, Clough Lounge (Clough 205)).