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So what does it really mean to "Go Dutch" ?
|Cycling home from school with a|
friend. No cars near by. UNICEF
rates Dutch children as having
the best well-being in the world.
First of all it's necessary to know why it is that people cycle so much more in the Netherlands than elsewhere. While some people roll out the same old myths and excuses time and time again, I'm still absolutely convinced that it comes down primarily to one thing: a lack of subjective safety in other countries puts people off.
|Cars so far away you can pretend|
they don't exist.
|There are cars, but they're over there|
In the Netherlands people already do cycle in their thousands. In fact, to be more accurate, they cycle in their millions, every day. It's really impressive. What's more, it's not a narrow demographic, but the entire population. The comparison with other countries is remarkably stark. No-where else is the same.
And this is what it really means to "Go Dutch". It's not specifically about cycle-paths, segregation by means other than cycle-paths, unravelling of routes, how traffic light junctions are designed, or what Dutch roundabouts look like. It's not about how much cycle-parking there is at railway stations or even about cycling being safer in the Netherlands than in other countries.
|Disabled with an able bodied friend?|
You can ride side by side in safety.
People cycle in the Netherlands because it feels so normal to do so. And why does it feel so normal ? Because cycling is efficient and stress free in a way that simply does not compare with anywhere else. Remarkably, to many people (including many Dutch people) this simple truth is hidden in plain sight. It looks like people cycle simply because "they're Dutch" but actually it's because the experience is so attractive that it pulls people in.
This is what needs to be kept in mind when people talk about "Going Dutch". It's not about putting in a few pieces of infrastructure, it's about civilizing the entire experience of cycling for everyone. Until that happens, cycling will remain a minority pursuit for those people who are relatively confident whatever the conditions.
|My mother cycling next to|
me during a visit to The
Netherlands. Is there any
need for an explanation of
why this feels safer than
riding at home ?
You can't "Go Dutch" on an inadequate budget, by setting a low target to aim for, with a few prestige projects, in a very small area of a town, at just one junction or along one road, by skimping on the standards or by proposing to build good enough infrastructure only where it is easy to do so and ignoring the parts where it is difficult. Mediocrity simply doesn't work.
Isolated bits and pieces don't work. The network is the infrastructure. That's what makes the difference between 2% of journeys by bike and 27% of journeys by bike.
As I pointed out five years ago, a short distance "may as well be a thousand miles" if there are unpleasant conditions for cycling along the route. People simply won't choose to do it.
Ultimately the result of any cycle campaigning, infrastructure building, training, publicity or anything else intended to increase cycling can be measured in its success only if it can be demonstrated that this has genuinely led to more cycling. That's what it's all about.
One more question
While Jack's editing hides it very well (we recorded our own parts separately and he edited the two separate recordings together), we had quite a lot of problems due to dropouts on Skype during the interview. As a result, one question which he asked stands out in the interview as not being answered properly. He sent it to me again this afternoon in email: "One point I thought was particularly interesting - and which I don't quite think we got to a satisfactory answer - was how do UK (or US) campaigners stay motivated in the face of continuously inadequate responses from government."
It's a very good question and it deserves an answer.
I know that some people see my contribution to the debate about cycling as rather negative. I understand why: I do not accept what I read in press releases at face value, I have rounded on child cycle trainers as having presided over a drop in child cycling and I have often criticised campaigners for setting their standards too low. However that doesn't mean that I don't respect those who give freely of their time in order to try to improve the lot of cyclists. I have experienced for myself the difficulties of being a cycling campaigner in the UK and I have seen for myself how slow progress is. There is a certain amount of churn amongst campaigners and sometimes the group memory seems to be short because those who've "seen it all before" give up and are replaced by other people who take the same roles. Some remarkable individuals stay in the same roles for far longer than I managed to and I am impressed by their ability to do so.
The gadget displayed to the right was described by one correspondent as "the most depressing app of 2013", but my intention with it was to help us all to stay focused. I'm going to continue to tell it as it is because I think nothing is gained by pretending otherwise. However, my criticism is not of campaigners and trainers but of the environment that they work in. Good people are putting in an enormous amount of effort but their efforts are being squandered by politicians who talk but do not act.
I see it as vitally important for both campaigning and training to continue and of course people must continue to see for themselves the importance of what they do.
While mass events are not genuine mass cycling, they do have a roll to play. They demonstrate support for cycling and they have the potential to get far more people involved than would normally turn up at a "cycling" event. Get as many people on bikes as possible. Demonstrate the pent-up demand which exists. Make people smile because they're cycling. Most importantly, get children on bikes. They're the only source of future cyclists.
A lot of work is still needed on the political front. Lobbying politicians is a good way of making yourself noticed but politicians can be quite good at giving the answer you want to hear. Questioning them and publishing the results is a good way of pointing out that some candidates have more of a clue than others. At a later date this also lets you compare what they said with what they did. Push the benefits of cycling and not cycling itself. The well-being of children is surely of everyone's concern and children demonstrably fair best in the countries where most children cycle. If no-one looks to be doing a good job, try to get yourself elected.
Also organise events for cyclists. There's nothing wrong with "cyclists breakfast" type events which target those who already cycle and reward them for doing what they already do. These events don't do anything much to grow cycling but they support people who are already doing the right thing and help to make life enjoyable.
|Fast cyclists benefit from good|
infrastructure just like anyone else.
They have the same need for direct,
safe and easy to follow routes.
Learn about good infrastructure
If you believe it is practical to ban all cars then you can skip this section. Otherwise, changes to infrastructure will be needed if cycling can ever be made acceptable to the population at large.
Become knowledgeable about infrastructure that works for cycling. Don't propose things that you wouldn't want to use yourself. Everyone, from 3 year olds on tricycles through to experienced fast cyclists, benefits from exactly the same things. i.e. direct, safe and easy to follow routes for cycling which are comfortable and pleasant to use. Don't seek out alternatives to well tried designs for infrastructure simply on the grounds that they are novel, less expensive, or not Dutch. Why look for an alternative unless something else from somewhere else has proven to be more successful than the best Dutch examples ? The Netherlands is not perfect, but it is the leading nation in cycling for a reason. If you're considering something else it'd better be good.
Try to get politicians and planners to come on our study tours. Come along yourself. This blog started originally as a way to keep in touch with people who'd been on the tours. The tours started because we realised back in 2006 that no-one was doing such a thing. There have always been many misconceptions about what had been achieved in the Netherlands and we do our best to show people how it really is. We're now in a unique position to explain things with the perspective of having lived both in the UK and the Netherlands and because we speak English as a first language this helps to prevent misunderstandings.
We're not affiliated to any government agency and we pull no punches. We show not only where things are good, but also what doesn't work so well.
Other good stuff
Please also read Mark Treasure's blog post from earlier this week entitled "Why do the Dutch cycle more than the British ?"
Still wondering about the success of mass cycling events ? Get up high enough and you'll see lots of people take part even in cities which set ludicrously long time-scales for progress on cycling.