Zeeland, the most south west province of the Netherlands which shares a border with Belgium, has declared 2010 to be "the year of the bike." The idea is promote more cycle usage in the province.
However, that's not all they're doing. Sadly the good stuff is rather overshadowed by Zeeland having decided to promote the use of bicycle helmets amongst school children, starting in one area with the intention of spreading across the province if they are "successful". That's pretty much a first for this country.
So, what's wrong with it ? Well, there has yet to be a helmet campaign which has been accompanied by a rise in cycle usage. In Australia, huge falls were seen.
Zeeland ought to take note of what happened in New Zealand, which was named after the province. I grew up in New Zealand, returning to the UK at the age of 15. As children we always cycled to school. However, now ? The website for my old secondary school doesn't mention cycling at all. Rather, there is now a bus route promoted for the 4 km trip that I used to make by bike. Is this the future that Zeeland wants to see ?
English speaking countries don't provide any good examples. I watched cycle sheds being torn down at the secondary school near where we lived in the UK a few years back.
Dutch secondary schools have lots of cycle parking at present because they need it. Do we want to see this go away altogether as it has in countries where cycle helmets have been promoted and cycling has not been supported ?
Also, consider how children use bicycles in the Netherlands. If someone turns up at a friend's house without a bike and an outing is planned, they borrow someone else's bike, or ride on the back of a friend's bike. No-one thinks of this as dangerous. However, if it becomes the norm that a helmet is required, neither of these options will work if just one child is without a bike helmet, so none will travel by bike. Perhaps Mum will helpfully suggest she can give them a lift in a car ? That's how it is in other countries - ones where very few people cycle.
Just imagine if you could only walk somewhere if you took along some special piece of personalized equipment. Say expensively custom fitted walking boots, and if there was a campaign to say that without fitted walking boots, walking was dangerous. If you cycled to a friend's house, with your normal comfortable cycling shoes, and they suggested that you go for a walk you'd not be able to take part.
What's more, this type of cycle promotion plants a seed of an idea. The idea being that here in the world's safest cycling country, cyclists are not actually safe at all. Perhaps this suggests that it's best not to cycle. Cycling relies on a high degree of subjective safety. Without this, cycling declines.
Zeeland is also the province where the fuss arose last year about considering implementing a speed limit on cycle paths. Apparently, Belgian cycle racers who come across the border to ride on Zeeuwse cycle paths are a nuisance. However, the only reason these cyclists come across the border is because conditions are better for them in Zeeland than on the roads in their own country.
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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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