|A supermarket in the centre of Assen in the 1970s. Note that the car-park is more than full. Conditions for cycling were not particularly pleasant at this time and it should be no surprise that cycling was in decline across the Netherlands when this photo was taken.|
My personal choice to cycle has never really been about saving money. I cycle because of convenience and because I find cycling to be pleasant. I've always believed that if other people could find cycling to be as convenient, safe and pleasant as I find it then this would enable those other people to make the same choice as I do. No-one needs to be forced to do something that they want to do anyway.
Sadly, few places in the world offer people a genuinely free choice to cycle.
|Outside the new supermarket on the same site as above with a study tour group last week. This shopping centre has cycle-paths at one end and other well designed infrastructure at the other end providing safe routes to both doors. Bicycles can be taken inside and parked right next to the shops. Car parking is free of charge for shoppers but cycling is the most popular way of visiting the supermarket.|
On the other hand, if we make conditions for cycling pleasant, people will choose to cycle even if parking is cheap or free of charge. We see this at many locations in Assen, as there are many locations here where free parking does not fill up. The supposed lure of free parking turns out not to be very strong at all when people actually have a more pleasant and convenient alternative.
The same shopping centre, Triade, from the air, showing the high rise car parks above the shops. The top floor above the supermarket is, as usual, completely empty. Though this car park is free of charge if you visit the supermarket during your stay, that's not a sufficient attraction to make people drive when cycle-access is more convenient. View Larger Map
By creating attractive conditions for mass cycling, people from all walks of life now have a free choice. The population reacted by opting to cycle instead of driving this is more convenient. While car ownership is quite high, those cars are not used for every journey. More journeys are made by bike than by car in Assen.
There's free car parking at many locations in Assen but though car parking is so often free of charge, those car parks remain relatively empty. Rather than trying to push people out of cars by charging high rates for parking, Assen demonstrates a more successful and less controversial way of encouraging people not to drive cars: a better alternative exists in the form of the bicycle.
|You can't find this free covered underground car park on Google Maps. It's under a different shopping centre, which we also visit on study tours. I've never seen it even close to full. Most visitors prefer to park their bikes above, right next to the shops.|
Free car parking at "big box shops" - garden centre, carpets, furniture etc. Shopping by car is relatively popular here because of the size and weight of items being bought. However, cycle-access is good: note proximity of cycle-paths. View Larger Map
Free employee parking at a health insurance company, a relatively large employer near the centre of the city. Remember that employees at Dutch companies are actually paid extra to cover the cost of long car commutes. Note easy access by cycle-paths on all sides. View Larger Map
Free employee parking at the oil company which is one of the biggest employers in Assen. Cycle-paths provide good access here too. View Larger Map
Given that people visit hospitals only under difficult conditions, it is especially unpleasant that charges at hospitals should be used to try to force people to change their behaviour. Thankfully, Assen does not do this. The hospital in Assen offers free parking for both cars and bicycles. I made a video of the public cycle and car parking at the hospital a few days ago:
Like many places in Assen, the hospital offers free car parking.
|Another not so busy day at Assen|
hospital's never full free car-park
People are more likely to drive to a hospital than many other locations because transporting someone who has discomfort due to illness or injury by bike may not be a good idea, but even in this location the car parking rarely, if ever, fills up.
|Free parking advertised in the local|
news-paper. Convenient for some,
causes no problem for everyone else.
41% of journeys are by bike. Fewer
that are by car.
To grow cycling, it's necessary to convert non-cyclists into cyclists. When the majority of the population either already drive cars or see themselves as future drivers, there is nothing to be gained by antagonizing or alienating that majority.
|Sign of a successful cycling policy. It|
costs just €28 per month to hire a space
in a secure parking garage in the centre
of Assen (300 m from the main square).
The low price reflects extremely low
parking demand. Capitalism in action.
|Do you want to reduce dependency on|
motor vehicles? Follow the Dutch
example: A higher proportion of trips
by non-motorized modes than people
of any other European nation. This
is not because of environmental
concerns but because it's most
convenient. And most importantly it's
despite the attraction of free parking.
(see also the list of myths and excuses)
However, not only does this provide the best environment for existing cyclists to make efficient journeys but it also provides the best environment possible to encourage people who do not currently cycle that they would also benefit from doing so - a step which they are far more likely to make if they do not see cyclists as "other".
It is better for cycle campaigners to spend their time on making conditions for cycling more attractive than on being concerned about the conditions for driving. The Netherlands demonstrates that this is more successful.
Cycling should be for everyone
A few weeks ago,the BBC reported on a woman in London who has no choice but to walk seven miles to her minimum wage job because she can't afford a car and public transport takes too large a chunk out of her small salary.
|Still not close to good enough, London.|
Simultaneous Green, Bridge, Tunnel,
Proper Roundabout, anything but that.
Rich people have far more options than the less well off. Those on a limited income suffer a disproportionate discrimination through costs which are not proportional to income. If the current least bad option for someone is to drive a car (which is the case for some people) then making this more expensive can make life very difficult for that person. Simply increasing costs does not provide people with another better choice.
Unlike increasing the cost of parking and also unlike the cost of public transport, making cycling more accessible is not regressive. Cycling infrastructure opens up a new option for everyone regardless of their wealth. Cycling is a great social leveller here in the Netherlands and it has the same potential in other countries. But this doesn't come without investment in proper cycling infrastructure.
When good enough conditions exist for cycling, it moves from being a minority pursuit to something that everyone can and wants to do. Some people might still be forced to cycle for financial reasons, some might do so purely because it's good for their health and there are certainly quite a lot of people across the world including here in the Netherlands who cycle simply because they like cycling. However, for cycling to become attractive and useful for the majority of people, the reasons to cycle must be those of convenience, pleasantness and relative safety.
|Why can't all children everywhere live like Dutch children ?|
Why isn't every country doing this already ?
Update: The end of free parking in Assen!
I went away for a few days and returned to see the following headline in a local newspaper:
|The end of free parking ? So soon after I'd written about it ? Read on.|
I'm not the only person to have noticed that car parks in Assen are mostly empty. The council has realised this too. Car parking is supposed to be revenue neutral but because car parks "are largely empty and economically unsustainable", the city has had to subsidize car parking in Assen. Instead of subsidizing the car parks, the city wants to make them pay.
In an attempt to attract drivers into the largely empty high-rise car parks, the city actually intends to decrease the cost of using these car parks. The all-day rate in Assen's high-rise car parks is to be halved from the current €12 to just €6 a day. At the same time, the city will increase the cost of on-street parking and remove free parking close to the city centre in order to give drivers fewer options and force higher use of the high-rise car parks.
It's not a punitive move - it's merely a way of trying to make provision of parking in Assen become revenue neutral.
|1974: At one time, Assen couldn't provide enough car parking. This is how the main city square was used. See the video below for an update|
Rather than not being able to provide enough spaces to keep up with car parking need, Assen's population's use of bicycles has led to there being an over-supply of car-parking spaces and not enough cars to fill them.
2014: The same city square today. It's used for events, not for parking. This is just one of many places in Assen which is no longer a car park.
In answer to the question posed at the top, does free car parking making people drive cars ? No. It clearly does not. But making cycling unpleasant certainly stops them from cycling, and that is when people can feel they have no choice but to drive. Where cycling is made truly attractive, people no longer have to drive and car parks can become difficult to run on an economic basis.