Posted by: benj2919 | August 27, 2010

Belated Daily Diary: Monday, August 16th

Like the city felt sad we were leaving it, the weather was rainy – a light mist really – during the early morning hours of our last official day in Amsterdam. Accustomed to running in the rain, like any good Seattleite, I still took to the streets for one last final run before the final presentation ceremony!

Everyone gathered in the courtyard punctually at 9 a.m. However, as any day with important presentations scheduled, we had a run-in with Murphy’s Law. Waiting for the bus to take us to the VKS with a combination of nervousness and excitement, we neglected to flag down the bus driver. It sped right past us. Standing in the cloud of exhaust, everyone was a little dazed and confused, but as the expert travelers and navigators we have come to be during our stay here, we regrouped and started on foot to our destination. On the bright side, walking is a much more gezellig form of transportation than public buses.

After a combination of walking and hopping on an alternative bus, everyone arrived at the VKS with a spring in their step, alert, awake, and ready to present his or her research. Some final remarks of wisdom from our professors led right into the student research presentations. The next several hours were a grand academic and intellectual adventure through the city of Amsterdam.  The journey began with a deep analysis of the Indische Buurt neighborhood, continued with a plunge into the inner workings of the Aya Sofya mosque, and then took a whirl through the streets of Amsterdam on a bicycle. We discovered that ferries can be gezellig. Although in the case of buses and trams – not so much. Next was a jaunt through the illicit, licit, and tolerated activities in Vondelpark, and finally, we were left with visions of urban screens playing in our heads.

A fantastic success everyone! Congrats! Celebrations began with a lively reception in the VKS lobby.  A portion of the group carried them on at the brewery underneath the windmill just a short walk from the VKS. It was my first visit, and I would highly recommend it – a fine establishment. Although being in the company of good friends and having the burden of presentations, research, and deadlines alleviated contributed much more to the convivial atmosphere.

This evening, we held the final group dinner at a wonderful Iranian restaurant. Traveling to the restaurant, Clifford led one last procession through the streets of Amsterdam by bike. Once there we relaxed in a small inner courtyard as the food was being prepared. Dinner was fantastic, and soon it came time for some final words from Rob and Clifford. After which each of us had the honor of receiving a certificate of completion.

Rob put in words perfectly what I feel created the best experiences of this program: entrepreneurial learning opportunities.  Getting out of your comfort zone, taking chances, and putting yourself in new situations helps us grow, keeps our minds sharp, and enriches life. Thanks to everyone for making this program a fantastic experience!

(P.S. More photos and videos are on their way when I’m at a decent internet connection back in civilization)

Posted by: benj2919 | August 2, 2010

Running Adventures

Since arriving in Amsterdam, I have taken a few runs around various parks in the Netherlands to escape the noise, crowds, and the smell of cannabis wafting out of coffeeshops. So far I have been very impressed! Not straying very far away from the city, I have found fantastic landscapes, impressive wilderness areas, and the familiar high that only running through a forest can induce. Here is short summary of my wanderings:

Zuid Kennemerland

Sand dunes, forest, beaches, plenty of bike trails. Beware of dead bodies.

Oostduinpark and Scheveningen

More sand dunes and beaches. Scheveningen was a crowded tourist destination but pretty with blue skies and sun.

Texel Island

An hour train ride north brought me and Max to this island with expansive tidal flats, sand dunes, quaint villages, herds of sheep, picturesque Dutch farmland, and dikes!

Posted by: benj2919 | August 2, 2010

Bicycle Infrastructure

Posted by: benj2919 | July 29, 2010

Amsterdam: A New Experience Around Every Corner

I love to run when traveling, and of all the places and cities I’ve been Amsterdam has provided the most interesting and memorable running experience. I think this ad from Pearl Izumi summarizes it nicely:

It has a positive outlook to it and almost makes you proud to be a runner. From experience, I’m now a big fan of this tagline: “So do your civic duty. Run like an animal.” Suddenly, inexplicably, I have the urge to go out for a run….. =)

Posted by: benj2919 | July 25, 2010

Research Methods

Revised Research Question:

What is the difference in the bicycling infrastructure between the inner and outer city?


Count bicycle traffic

  • Morning and evening rush hour
  • Various distances away from Centraal Station
  • Create graphic/map showing most heavily trafficked areas

Map bicycle lanes

  • Inner city/outer city
  • Compare bicycle lane construction

Transit time

  • Compare the time it takes to bike a route of equal distance in the inner city vs. outer city

Research new construction

  • New bicycle lane construction
  • New road construction

Direct Observations

  • Intersections (Centraal Station vs. outer city)
  • Bicycles on public transportation
  • Type of bicycles typically used (lightweight vs. heavy)

Interview city planning officals

  • European Cyclist Federation
  • Department of Infrastructure, Transit, and Transportation
  • Department of Physical Planning
Posted by: benj2919 | June 10, 2010

Bicycling and Public Health In Amsterdam


A tourist visiting Amsterdam will notice right away the numerous bicycles filling the avenues and streets. Bikes can be seen at every block, intersection, building, and home; and passengers range from mothers with children to a young man in a suit and tie. The bicycling culture of Amsterdam is unique to their society and proves to be successful in allowing people to get to their destination. Many countries, such as the United States, lack such an integrated bicycling society and rely on cars or other modes of transportation.

Preliminary Questions:

What are the benefits and consequences of having such a prominent bicycling community?

How does bicycling affect the quality of one’s health, how people live, and how people interact with one another?

Definitions and Terms:

Youth of Amsterdam
• Ages ranging from eighteen to twenty-four

Physical health
• Wellbeing of the body of an individual

Social interaction
• How people collaborate with one another as a result from riding bicycles

Mental health
• How people think differently because of riding bicycles

Healthy Environment
• “…one that provides a range of opportunities for its inhabitants to shape the conditions that affect their lives” (Lindheim & Syme, 1983, p. 388).

Research Question

Objective: This study aims to see if Amsterdam’s unique bicycling culture is a factor that contributes to a healthily environment. If so, it is possible that other cities could adopt a similar attitude towards biking, which could become a valuable tool with planning and designing urban environments that contribute to healthy living.

How does Amsterdam’s unique bicycling culture affect the overall health of the city’s youth?

• Do the frequency, duration, and intensity at which the youth living in Amsterdam ride bicycles affect their physical health?
• Does bicycling affect the number of meaningful social contacts of Amsterdam’s youth or their interaction in groups with strong social ties?
• Does bicycling in Amsterdam have an effect on the mental health of the city’s youth?


 In order to gather a large volume of personal information from individuals among Amsterdam’s youth bicyclists, we have decided that a standard questionnaire and/or personal interviews with individuals would be the most effective method of inquiry into this topic.  We would take this questionnaire to high bicycle traffic areas (like bicycle parking areas) and attempt to get young people to quickly respond to them.

Person’s background and how frequently each individual engages themselves with bicycling:

“How old are you?”

 “How long/far do you travel by bicycle on average each day?”

 “How long/far do you travel by motorized vehicle on average each day?”

 “How long/far do you travel on foot on average each day?”

Physical Health

“How many illness-related doctor’s visits have you made in the past year?”

“Have you ever been injured in a bicycle related incident?”

Mental Health

“On days on which you use a bicycle does your mood tend to vary from days on which you do not use a bicycle?  If so, how?”

“Have you ever experienced a strong change in your own mood as a direct result of a bicycle related incident?  If so, what was/were the change(s)?”

Social Health

“Have you ever had a problem with another person as a direct result of a bicycle related incident?”

 “Have you ever made a new friend while bicycling or as a direct result of bicycling?”

“Do you frequently bicycle with family/friends?”

“In your opinion, do your bicycle related habits improve or worsen your relationships with friends/family?  If so, how?” 

Ethical Issues

Because of the questionnaire format we are using, we should have relatively little problem with ethical issues related to consent. 

Our biggest problem in that respect will probably be just getting people to respond to us.  Another useful resource may end up being personal interviews with people within the Gemeentevervoerbedrijf, or GVB, (Amsterdam’s public transit authority) or the Stadsregio Amsterdam, however we have no specific plans for such interviews at this point.

Research Schedule


Sun Mon Tues Wed Thurs Fri Sat
        1 2 3
4 5 6 7 8 9 10
11 12 13 14 15 16 17
18 19 20 21 22 23 24
25 26 Begin Questionnaires @  Amsterdam Bike Ramp by Centraal Station 27 Questionnaires 28 Questionnaires(Vondelpark?) 29 Questionnaires 30 Questionnaires(Flevopark?) 31 (Interviews?)


Sun Mon Tues Wed Thurs Fri Sat
1 2Questionnaires 3 Questionnaires(Other locations? 4 Questionnaires 5 Questionnaires(Other Locations?) 6 Questionnaires 7 (Interviews?)
8 9Last-Minute Interviews and Analysis 10Last-Minute Interviews and Analysis 11Last-Minute Interviews and Analysis 12Last-Minute Interviews and Analysis 13 14
15 16 17 18 19 20 21
Posted by: benj2919 | June 5, 2010

Refined Research Question

After some thought, we came to the conclusion that we really had three research questions bottled into one: “How do cultural factors unique to Amsterdam’s urban environment affect public health?” Within this umbrella topic we were going to explore the effect of drug culture, prostitution, and bicycling on public health, which turned out to be too difficult. Significant problems arose when brainstorming ways to collect data and investigate Amsterdam’s drug culture and prostitution scene. Privacy issues and the problem of getting cooperation and responses from the people we wanted to interview were two big concerns.

This led us to refine our research question to focus on only the effects of bicycling on Amsterdam’s public health. As Nathaniel pointed out, we could even go further and narrow our topic to study the health of a certain group of people in Amsterdam, such as the youth living in the city. Our refined research question has now become:

“How does frequent bicycle use in Amsterdam affect the health of the city’s urban youth?”

The population of young people in Amsterdam may be a more interesting group to study, since making healthy lifestyle choices early on can greatly affect a person’s health in later years. Also, Amsterdamers similar in age to us might be more willing to participate in our surveys and interviews.

Posted by: benj2919 | May 18, 2010

First Attempt at Field Research (Assignment Three)

Parking lots, strip malls, and fast food? Or parks, bike lanes, and running trails? The environment and culture we living in can seem to make a big difference regarding the overall health of a society.  The physical environment could make getting exercise more convenient or necessary, and a culture could favor healthy diets and staying away from harmful habits (alcohol or tobacco).  For example, while living in a cubical-sized apartment in Tokyo, I was more inclined to spend most of my time outdoors. I was up and walking much more frequently during the day, and I filled my free time with activities such as sports. I noticed this was the case for most of the people around me as well – no one spent much free time indoors. This may be a cause for the legendary health and longevity of the Japanese people. Could environmental and cultural factors like these affect the health of people in Amsterdam?

With this question in mind, my partners, Colin and Nathaniel, and I took a bike ride down to the UW Medical Center passing the Burke Gilman trail and the IMA on our way. On a Sunday afternoon, the Burke Gilman trail is as busy as a freeway. We observed bikers, walkers, and runners. There were those in sports wear and bikers geared up looking like Lance Armstrong – obviously using the trail specifically for exercise.  Riders with large bags and more casual clothes also passed by, utilizing biking and the trail as a mode of transportation. At the IMA, the drone of exercise machines echoed around the building. Despite the nice weather, lots of people were around the various gyms and fitness rooms. Finally, we stopped at the UW Medical Center. The stylish modern lobby was welcoming, and we visitors milling about.

After completing the site visit, we formulated a research question along these lines: How does the physical and cultural environment affect the health of people in Amsterdam? What specifically contributes of detracts from the health of society in Amsterdam? To answer these questions, we could examine the typical lifestyle of a person living in Amsterdam. Surveys and questionnaires could be used to gain insight into how often people exercise, what people eat regularly, and how frequently people become sick. Do people in Amsterdam have particularly unhealthy habits (alcohol or tobacco)? An interesting investigation would be if the popularity of bicycles has made Amsterdam a more healthy society. We could use interviews as primary sources to understand how bicycling contributes to the average person’s health. Data regarding how often and how long people in Amsterdam ride their bikes in a given time period could be collected. The biggest hurdle will be deciding what makes a “healthy” society. To create a reference point, we could compare Amsterdam to other cities or places around the world.

Posted by: benj2919 | May 1, 2010

A Walk Around The Blogosphere

In my search for a blog to examine, immediately one describing a person’s cycling journey through Amsterdam and the nearby towns caught my interest. Frankly, buses, trains, and planes are only good for going from one tourist destination to another, and as a traveler, it is impossible to interact with the local people while confined to the faster modes of transportation.  So what better way to explore the “space” of Amsterdam and the surrounding countryside?

The blogger first notes the change in landscape as she traveled from the city center to the less densely populated areas. First, she passed the crowded urban center of Amsterdam and then slowly found herself in a more open environment, described as the “slums,” or less picturesque outskirts of the city.  Eventually the surroundings turned from narrow streets and city buildings to large motorways, open spaces, and factories spewing smoke into the sky.  This gradual transition from urban metropolis to freeways, factories, and open spaces seems to be a pattern for major cities – something noticeable from a bicycle but not necessarily from a train or plane.

The blog also describes encounters with locals at a street side market, on the bicycle path, and in the center of Amsterdam.  This is a particularly rewarding experience of traveling by bicycle, especially since stopping and asking for directions is unavoidable. Although not mentioned in the blog, I would bet that encounters with locals would be much different in an urban environment, like downtown Amsterdam, than the open spaces of the surrounding areas – another consequence of differences in space.

In this case,  “play” could be the act of traveling. Since, the blogger is on bicycle the destination is not as important as the adventures she experienced bicycling to the destination.  This imparts meaning to the act of traveling. In contrast, moving about by trains, buses, or planes may not carry any meaning other than getting from point A to B, and could not be considered “play.”

Posted by: benj2919 | April 8, 2010

Close Looking -Interrogating Visual Material:

To me the adventure and excitement of traveling to a foreign city is exploring every facet of your new surroundings. Weaving your own path through the city from street to street, taking unconventional routes, and even getting lost can be great methods for learning about the environment, culture, and people’s way of life in that city.  Of course, exploring a new place requires some mode of transportation such as walking, biking, tram, bus, or train. These two photographs caught my attention because they depict a variety of different types of transportation.

This first picture is centered on a tram or streetcar next to a busy sidewalk. Even thought the street appears to be very narrow and crowded, we can see people traveling in three different ways: on foot, in the tram, and even on bicycle. The buildings lining the sidewalk look narrow but are several stories tall, using all the vertical space available. Perhaps the high density of this area has made walking and biking popular as space-saving and compact modes of transportation. Bulky, cumbersome cars and wide parking lots could not possibly fit in such a narrow street. If they must, it looks like people use the skinny street car for traveling longer distances. The stores and restaurants seem to take advantage of the many pedestrians and bicyclists going and coming. Pedestrians in the picture are often looking from storefront to storefront, some stopping to take a closer look through one of the windows. If walking or biking are major ways of traveling in Amsterdam, it would be interesting to know if people spend the majority of their time outside their home, using these shops and restaurants as living rooms and kitchens. If this were the case, their lifestyle would be very different from ours in the United States, where most of our time is spent in individual private homes, cars, offices etc.

While still including a streetcar, pedestrians, and a few bicycles, the most interesting aspect of this picture is that the street looks cut off from motor vehicle traffic, like an urban park or town square. Everything (the stores, streetcar) looks very accessible on foot or by bike. This area of the city also seems dense – tall, narrow buildings and crossing cables overhead are visible in the picture. 

 It will be interesting to explore if the popularity walking, biking, and using public transportation in Amsterdam has influenced the Dutch way of life. Rather than being segregated in cars and private homes, has traveling by foot, bike, or tram affected the way people in Amsterdam interact, communicate, and respond to one another?