There really aren’t many places like our beautiful home of Santa Cruz county. From our pristine coast, charming cities, and abundant nature, this little slice of the California coast really is the picture-perfect place to live. Given our temperate climate and beautiful nature, it is a shock that most trips are taken in a private automobile as opposed to active or public transportation. Aside from lowering the quality of life, the lack of robust active and public transportation options increases car dependency. Our car-dependent habits will need to change if we as a community want to get serious about climate change.
Recently I had the privilege of studying in the Netherlands, Amsterdam. My accommodation was a few miles from where I took classes, which meant that I joined the thousands of other commuters every morning. Had I been in Santa Cruz, my first instinct would have likely been to get in my car and drive across town, as it would be the fastest and cheapest method of transportation. However, unlike Santa Cruz (and really most other American cities), in Amsterdam, I had several different options for my commute across town.
When in Rome, do as the Romans do – Because of the strong bicycle culture in Amsterdam, the most obvious choice of commute was by bicycle. Since I am a cyclist back at home, I felt more than confident biking around Amsterdam. My commute on my upright city bike included a two-kilometer stretch through Vondelpark, with countless places to stop for coffee or breakfast on the way, and most importantly, segregated bike routes where I rarely interacted with car traffic.
My commute ended up actually being a highlight of my day. I got fresh air, good coffee and got the blood pumping before class. I was not alone on my bike commute; In the Netherlands, there are about 1.3 bikes per person. This isn’t just because the country is flat. This bike culture is the result of large investments in cycling infrastructure that encourages bicycle use. In short, Dutch people chose to bike because it is often the fastest and safest way to get around.
For me, the biggest deterrent to biking to class was the weather. If it was pouring rain, the last thing I want to do is get on my wet bike and get soaked on my way to class. This is where robust public transport comes into the equation. My accommodations were only a short bike ride or walk away from both the Amsterdam Metro as well as various tram and bus lines that could get me at least a little closer to where I needed to go. Having multiple public transportation options meant that I could get across town no matter what. Metro delay? Get on the tram. Does the Tram not go close enough to class? Find a bus that does. Moreover, I could usually bring my bike with me and ride home in the afternoon when the rain stopped.
I also found myself needing to take a taxi a few times during my stay. Since people have options for their commute, the roads have significantly less traffic. Herein lies the solution to traffic: viable alternatives to driving. If you hate traffic, you should be actively lobbying your locality to build more infrastructure to enable residents to get around without cars.
In Amsterdam I really saw that successful urban transportation relies not on one transit method, but rather a system of safe streets, public transportation, and designated road uses to give residents options on how to get from point A to point B, also known as “multi-modal” planning. Here in Santa Cruz, the rail and trail project presents us with a great first step into a less car-dependent community. This would empower people like me to feel safe enough to bike across town. Completion of the Coastal Rail Trail, in addition to the eventual use of the branch line presents Santa Cruz county with a true solution to our transportation woes, and it will usher in a systems-wide approach for transforming our transportation.