It isn't only in the Netherlands that subjective safety matters. Here it's been dealt with to a greater extent than in most other countries. People already cycle in large numbers. It's a rather bigger problem in English speaking countries which have amongst the lowest levels of cycling, and the lowest levels of both subjective and actual safety for cyclists.
The huge numbers that turn out for one day only events like London's Freewheel demonstrate how safer conditions create cyclists. How people will cycle if the surroundings are pleasant enough. However, single day events don't give an opportunity for people to grow a habit of cycling.
There are a number of responses to the lack of subjective safety in the English speaking world. Things that people do in an attempt to increase their subjective and actual safety for at least a part of some of their journeys. Often cyclists make use of relatively indirect back roads (making journeys slower and less direct than they would be in the Netherlands where you can take direct routes without fear for your safety). Cyclists wear fluorescent clothing and can get quite obsessive about lighting because they fear they won't be seen. Helmets are common due to a perception than it makes cycling safer.
Occasionally there are organised efforts such as the "bike bus" in Sydney, Australia. This gives an improvement in the level of subjective safety felt by a cyclist riding alone on hostile streets. It's great if they get people to cycle, however, the existence of such a thing is symptomatic of a problem. The people using the "bike bus" don't feel safe enough to ride on their own, and even in the "bike bus" they don't feel safe enough to do away with helmets and fluorescents. Many more people will remain unconvinced that it's safe even with a "bike bus".
Ultimately this is the wrong approach. If cities in English speaking countries (Sydney included) had proper cycling infrastructure which made cyclists feel safe and improved the efficiency of their journeys, there would be no such thing as a bike bus. There would also be a much higher rate of cycling in the much more attractive conditions, people wouldn't feel the need to wear protective clothing, and the injury rate would fall.
The English speaking world needs to start looking for advice not amongst other English speaking countries, but to those countries where cycling is truly a part of everyday life. The Netherlands leads in this and Denmark is in second place. This is where you find the experts who have proven success in raising rates of cycling.
We organise Study Tours in the Netherlands for campaigners, planners and others interested in experiencing for themselves the highest quality cycling infrastructure in the world. The Dutch cycling experts group is the Fietsberaad.
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The less positive stuff What not to do if you want a cycling "revolution" - Long list of interventions and policies which are not helpful. Copy the best examples from the Netherlands - a short list summarising the above. Important to copy the best examples, not just anything "Dutch". Bear in mind that the Netherlands is not perfect. Shared Space - this much hyped idea simply does not work well. It disenfranchises the vulnerable and claims of safety are exaggerated. Don't confuse the concept with far more successful nearly car free streets. Shared Use Paths designed to be used by pedestrians and cyclists together. These rarely work well because the two user groups are too different and it leads to conflicts. They are not built in the Netherlands (but cycle access to pedestrianized zones is good). Strict (or presumed) liability - If you think this is an important part of why people cycle in the Netherlands then it is probably not what you think it is. Helmets - one of several ways of scaremongering about the supposed dangers of what is actually a very safe means of transport
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A cyclist in a cycling family living in the capital of the cycling province of the world's greatest cycling country.
I was born in the UK, lived for over 8 years in New Zealand and have lived in the Netherlands since 2007.
I organise cycling infrastructure study tours, run an online bicycle shop, arrange cycling holidays and write a popular blog about cycling.
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