In answer to the question, why should I want to visit Amsterdam – there are obvious reasons, of course (who wouldn’t want to visit Amsterdam!?) I’ve identified as a “bike commuter” for the past ten years in Portland, Oregon and have been studying bicycle planning at school. I continuously hear references to how great bicycling is in Amsterdam. People who love biking want to import every idea they can from there (or from the nearby Copenhagen). People who hate (or at least are annoyed by) biking like to tell those of us who want make biking safer and easier to “move to Amsterdam”. So when there’s a chance for me to go see what all the hoopla is about, with the added bonus of getting to hear the bicycle planning and design wisdom straight from the folks who do it over there, of course I’m going to go.
I don’t really know what to expect or all the questions I will evenutally have. But I’ll start with this one, because it’s been on my mind lately: What are lawsuits against bicycle planners like in the Netherlands? That is, if a bicycle planner/traffic engineer puts a bike path down somewhere and a bicyclist gets hurt riding on it, do they sue the city or the traffic engineer for putting the bike path there in the first place? It seems to me that traffic engineers and planners in the U.S. are somewhat restricted in what they’re willing to build because of liability. I’m not saying I DON’T want engineers and planners to be careful in how they design bike paths – but at what point are individuals no longer responsible for their own safety?
It’s not an easy ethical question (and presumably the legal question is related to the ethics). And it’s not a question that can be boiled down to just the bicycle laws in the U.S. and in the Netherlands; it stems from the overarching cultural approach to liability and lawsuits and personal responsibility. It also can’t be separated from the differing cultural values surrounding automobile and bicycle transportation. There are never just two sides to any story (or lawsuit) – there may be a dozen or more.