filed under: current issues

Success or Chaos: Attitude Makes the Difference

The bicycle and pedestrian facilities of European cities are often cited as examples of an enlightened future.

by American Trails Staff

It is certainly fascinating to see how many people are walking, cycling, and riding transit– but the streets are still thronged with cars and every sort of wheeled conveyance.

On a recent trip to France and Belgium I was interested to see how all this transportation interaction works out. One point that struck me is the difference in attitudes between Americans and Europeans.

Drivers in the US are not accustomed to obstacles on the road except for other cars. You’ll hear a chorus of horns when a car making a right turn lingers for a slow pedestrian. Once behind the wheel we become desperately impatient and quick to anger.

American bicyclists live in a different world as well. The surprising challenges of European streets include cobblestones and bricks, curving tramway tracks, and streets that diverge at odd angles and narrow abruptly according to some medieval logic. Then there are the swarms of pedestrians striding purposefully across every foot of roadway and bikeway.

Sharing the street in Lubljana, Slovenia

Sharing the street in Lubljana, Slovenia

But attitudes seem to make all the difference. European drivers accept their status as second class citizens, but make up for it by parking on the sidewalks and speeding down improbably narrow alleys. Yet they are conditioned to anticipate walkers stepping into traffic at any moment and to inch along with stoic politeness as cyclists putter down the middle of any street. And given the state of the sidewalks, motorists are likely to share the road with wheelchairs as well.

Of course there are miles of cycle tracks along major roads, and this is where the tourist quickly finds that an attitude adjustment is needed. Yes, you are holding up bike traffic and confusing the truck drivers with your lack of aggression. Get with the program!

We like to see facilities as the solution, and we like to blame our policies and politicians. Yet so often, success comes down to what can’t be funded or legislated: attitude.

Published December 2012

More Articles in this Category

Trails and Resilience: Review of the Role of Trails in Climate Resilience and Emergency Response

Trails are often overlooked as elements of essential infrastructure for a resilient transportation system.1 In emergencies where other transportation facilities are shut down or inaccessible, people may use trails to get where they need to go.

COVID-19 Conservation Corps

Successes and lessons from the COVID-19 Conservation Corps programs in Juneau, Anchorage, and Sitka that trained and employed out-of-work Alaskans in 2020.

The Trail Fund Announces a $50,000 Collaboration with the Ford Motor Company

The Ford Motor Company will make a donation to American Trails via the Bronco Wild Fund to support on-the-ground trail projects across America.

Digging Into the Numbers Behind the Pandemic Trail Boom

As the summer unfolds, park and trail managers across North America are preparing for yet another recording breaking season. While it is too early to make definitive calls about the state of pandemic trail boom and future volumes on trails and in parks, early analyses suggest the boom is alive and well. During this unprecedented time, automated count data serves as a crucial tool to track changes, understand use, and make the work of trail managers just a little bit easier.