Internship puts focus on Europe’s bicycle transportation

Published on 
Thursday, November 3, 2011 - 14:30

Cortney Mild plans to apply her research from The Netherlands to challenges faced by commuters in the U.S. who want to commute by bike but need better infrastructure.--

The words almost literally spill out of Cortney Mild, whose last name belies her level of enthusiasm for her passion, which is how to make commuting by bicycle as convenient and commonplace in the U.S. as it is in Europe.

Not content to spend just part of her summer abroad in a University of Oregon class in bicycle transportation in Amsterdam, Mild added on an eight-week internship at Goudappel Coffeng, a leading firm in integrated transportation planning in Deventer, the Netherlands.

“It’s shaped so much of my schoolwork and what I hope I can be employed in after graduating,” she says of the class and her internship, both of which were through UO’s Department of Planning, Public Policy and Management. “Many people want to get around by bike or are interested in doing so but don’t feel safe, and I wanted to explore what I can do to make cities better for bike commuting.”

Mild on a bikeMild was a ballet dancer in Salt Lake City when she began commuting by bike, a transportation mode she continued after moving to Chattanooga, Tenn., where “I got involved with other bicycle commuters and felt the energy of the community and was able to create a network,” she says.

“That’s how I found planning as a profession and how I found Oregon,” she says. Now a graduate teaching fellow in the community and regional planning program at UO, she says “Oregon is one of the most progressive states in bicycle planning and UO specifically is a leader, and with (Associate Professor) Marc Schlossberg having that as his interest too, I’ve gotten great opportunities here.”

But she felt she needed to go “one step further, and that was to look at Europe. We’re good but European countries such as the Netherlands, Denmark, and Germany are far, far ahead. We have ten percent of ‘mode share’ (percent of people who commute by bike) in Eugene, while they have in their better cities around fifty percent. Through my study abroad I got to see the best of what’s going on in the world. It’s shaped my thesis a lot.”

Her summer immersion in Euro bike commuting began with a scholarship from the Oregon Transportation Research and Education Consortium (OTREC) to participate in Schlossberg’s initial “Sustainable Bicycle Transportation” study abroad course, which focused on the practices and policies that foster safe, convenient and accessible bicycling.

“Professor Schlossberg is very much into applied learning and having his students take action on what they’re learning and starting to apply these lessons into the community,” Mild says. Schlossberg and his students met with transportation planners, engineers, and bicycle advocates in five cities in the Netherlands over seven days, touring each city by bike to learn the background of its bike planning within the national context.

The lessons from the class segued nicely into Mild’s internship, which she developed with guidance from PPPM Internship Director Rhonda Smith. The internship gave her additional networking opportunities, allowing her to meet international experts and gain exposure to European concepts of integrated transportation planning. On weekends she traveled to other European cities where she met – and toured the cities by bike – with other professionals and graduate students.

The research during her internship gave her “an understanding of the full range of measures that (U.S. cities) should implement to promote bicycle transportation and reduce urban automobile traffic,” she says. “With examples from top European cities for cycling, it is no mystery as to how U.S. cities can become bike-friendly.”

Her challenge now, she says, “is figuring out how to generate the momentum to enact these changes. For my thesis, I will interview U.S. planners and politicians who have participated in study tours to Europe hosted by the Federal Highways Administration and Bikes Belong,” the latter a national coalition of bicycle retailers and suppliers working to increase bicycling (www.bikesbelong.org). “I want to learn how the study tours have affected the way they approach their jobs on a daily basis, what measures they have implemented after returning from their tours, and what support they need to make further improvements.”

She believes her summer experiences will benefit her classes this academic year, in particular with the Sustainable Cities Initiative.

“The opportunity to live and work in a top European city for cycling was priceless. I am returning with a wealth of resources including Dutch contacts, Dutch literature, the experience of getting around in these cities, photographs, and transcripts from conversations with professionals. I look forward to drawing on these resources in Professor Schlossberg’s bicycle transportation course this fall. I look forward to bringing European concepts around integrated transportation planning to Springfield through our Sustainable City Initiative class project.”

Working at Goudappel Coffeng also gave her a new look at how people in other countries shape their workday and perspectives.

“I loved the culture of the company. Every day the colleagues from my floor walked through the central city together. In addition to providing fresh air and a bit of exercise, the walk reminded us of what we were working for.”

Mild’s summer experiences helped focus her long-term career goals. Goudappel Coffeng’s director even suggested that “perhaps one day I could start Goudappel Coffeng USA. When I started graduate school, my aspiration was to return to Chattanooga as a transportation planner for the city. Now, perhaps private consulting is a possibility. I will continue to foster the relationship with Goudappel Coffeng in hopes that we can create a firm that will bring the Dutch ideas around integrated transportation planning to the U.S.”