Monday 4 May 2009

The first cycle path in the Netherlands

The photo shows the first cycle path in the Netherlands, along the Maliebaan in Utrecht, the first home of the ANWB.

This cycle path was created in September 1885 by the ANWB ( Algemene Nederlandse Wielrijders Bond ) - the organisation which still erects many directional signs for cyclists, even though it's a little more car oriented these days.

The sign says that the development of the path came about "at the request of fourty four members of the ANWB, including one woman." Also, it was intended from the beginning to be suitable for the sport of cycle racing, continuing a tradition of the Maliebaan which was created initially as a path for the sport of Malie and starting a new tradition of cycle paths in this country being suitable for use at speed.

The ANWB itself was formed in 1883, changing its name to the ANWB a little later. Three of the leading lights in the early movement were Willem Einthoven, who later won a Nobel prize for medicine for inventing the electrocardiogram, a banker called Everard Kol and an Englishman, Charles Bingham, who had been involved with a local CTC group in the UK and found no equivalent when he moved to the Netherlands.

If you are interested in more of the early history of cycling in the Netherlands, you may find this article in English to be of interest.

It goes through the history of this early enthusiasm, the peak of enthusiasm in the 1920s and 1930s, and the sad decline in the motoring oriented 1950s and 1960s when cycle paths were removed in some Dutch cities to make more space for cars. Most of the current infrastructure dates from the 1970s and later.

Again, I owe thanks to Mark Wagenbuur for the suggestion of this piece and use of his photos. He says "Isn't it curious that our Wielrijdersbond was created by Englishmen after an English example... And here you are over a century later thoroughly enjoying what since became our cycling culture." Indeed so !

A year later I rode along the Maliebaan with Mark:

Note: video includes captions which are only visible on a computer, not on a mobile phone.


WestfieldWanderer said...

Somewhat ironic that the first segregated cycle path was created a decade before the motor car was invented.

David Hembrow said...

I'm not so sure about it being a decade earlier. It looks to me like it's more or less at the same time.

However, cars were rare for a long while after this and clearly were not the reason why this path was built. Sharing with horses isn't ideal either, and it's quite common in this country now to have parallel horse and bike paths in the countryside.

Maarten Sneep said...

What is really ironic, is that the ANWB has left its past thoroughly behind, and now firmly belongs to the car-lobby. I'll give a few examples.

On the 'file vrije dag' (traffic-jam free day) they organised to celebrate their 125th aniversary, they encouraged people to use alternative means of transportation to get to work. Somehow they neglected their own past, and 'forgot' to include the bicycle in the list.

They have a 'handboek fietsen' (handbook cycling). This handbook concentrates on recreational cycling alone, and completely ignores commuting on a bicycle and other utilitarian use of the bicycle.

The signs they put up for cyclists frequenly point in the wrong direction for cyclists, or are missing half way.

Keep in mind that the ANWB now has almost 4 million members, and is the largest 'vereniging in the Netherlands, with significant lobbying influence. A significant portion of its members joined for the road-side service ('wegenwacht'). Yet the points of view they represent are sometimes awful. In this interview with 'natuur en millieu' (in Dutch, I'm sorry), we can read that the chairman of the ANWB would rather continue to ride his car and live half a year shorter because of 'fine dust' emissions, than to give up his car. I find that disgusting.

A the start of the 70s the bicycle dropped of the radar of the ANWB. At the end of the decade angry cyclists decided that their voice needed to be heard. They started with the 'ENWB' (echte nederlandse wielrijders bond - real dutch cyclists union). The ANWB promptly sued over the name (an won), giving the new duch cyclists union (renamed to Fietsersbond) an amount of media attention they never could have generated on their own at the time.

So while the ANWB may have started as a cyclists union, they certainly no longer are, rather the opposite.

David Hembrow said...

I can understand and sympathise with Maarten's objections. The organisation is certainly no longer what it was.

These days the ANWB operates predominantly in a very similar way to the AA or RAC in the UK, getting lots of subscribers for their car rescue service, but on the side being quite politically active in a way that many of their members might not agree with.

However, unlike those organisations which always were completely oriented towards the automobile, the ANWB does still provide some services for cyclists, including directional signs which while they may not be perfect, I find to be quite excellent most of the time - especially compared with the almost total lack of quality signage for cyclists back in the UK. It's all relative.

As for Guido van Woerkom's views about not minding his life being shortened by six months by particulates - it's not just his own life that is affected.

Anonymous said...

Of course, all this is somewhat backwards to the way the American Automobile Association, more often called AAA, operates in the US. They have supported a wide variety of controversial measures, variously including red light cameras (which is more than the news can say), the increasing of the federal gasoline tax, the increasing of gasoline taxes on the state level, supporting speed cameras, opposing an increase of the speed limit to 70 mph in Rural Illinois, supporting the creation of a vehicle miles travelled tax in Idaho, etc. The list is surprising.
It may be that the majority of their users sign up for the roadside service, but the way it often lobbies is a bit different.
It is on their Wikipedia Page.