Friday 24 June 2011

Raalte - a town without "clearly visible reasons" for its high cycling rate ?

A new Fietsberaad article discusses how Raalte has "a high percentage of bicycle use without any clearly visible reasons".

When I read this article, I immediately thought this was the type of press-release from the Fietsberaad that was ripe for quoting out of context by that special breed of cycling campaigner who is against cycle-paths. David Arditti pointed out this morning that this has indeed happened.

For a reader with no experience of the Netherlands, the Fietsberaad article is actually very misleading. I've cycled through Raalte a few times now, on the way to visit a friend in Deventer. Last time, I stopped for a beer at this cafe before continuing:

Grotere kaart weergeven

The cafe is on the edge of a pedestrian area, which as is normal in the Netherlands also allows bicycles. While sitting there, any number of bikes went past. It is not a busy through route for cars.

On the way into Raalte, I rode on this cycle path, which linked up with all the other cycle paths and cyclist oriented roads which made up my 100 km journey that day:

Grotere kaart weergeven

When in Raalte, I rode on these cycle paths to get to the cafe in the centre:

Grotere kaart weergeven

Grotere kaart weergeven

Grotere kaart weergeven

Note that just like elsewhere in the country you can see all age groups cycling and especially children cycling on their own, with the high degree of subjective safety necessary to make this a reality.

On the way back out of the town, I rode along here:

Grotere kaart weergeven

For the Netherlands, this infrastructure, joining up everything, is just considered to be normal. You can go to any town in the country and find this cycle paths and roads prioritized for bikes which link up everything. Elsewhere, this would be exceptional, but for the Dutch, this is not something to make a fuss about. That is what the article is trying to say - that the town has had success with promotion of cycling given normal infrastructure for cycling but without any extra special big projects for cyclists.

It's misleading to think that Raalte used only "audacity" to achieve a high cycling rate. Like anywhere else in this country, the infrastructure of this town emphasizes cycling as a means of transport in a way you don't find outside the Dutch borders.

Please don't make the mistake of believing that the "audacity" mentioned in the Fietsberaad article has anything at all to do with promoting cycling in other countries. It doesn't. Only when you already have the extensive and well designed infrastructure can you can say you don't have to do much to get people to cycle. They're starting from a completely different base here.

Please read Mark Wagenbuur's comment which goes further in explaining the headline is a case of an unfortunate translation of the original article more than anything else.

To copy Dutch success you need to copy successful Dutch policy
We offer study tours in order to help to educate people about real cycling policy. We show what truly works as well as demonstrating what does not. Lessons are learnt from both these things. Because we're native English speakers we do not suffer from the translation difficulties which can otherwise occur.

Like the rest of the country, Raalte isn't perfect, of course. I found an obstruction there last year. However, that wouldn't have been possible if not for the fact that the cycle paths existed, and one particularly pleasant one coaxed me into riding towards the wrong end of the town.


Mark W. said...

“Lost in translation” is an understatement here! Because of one wrong word we read there is a high cycling percentage "“without any clearly visible reasons” where it should have read “without ONE clearly visible reason” and it should have read further: because a lot of factors play an important role.

In the Dutch version you can read that between the lines because everybody knows the situation here. But without that background the English translation now states the exact opposite of the original article. You do need to do a lot of things to have a high cycling percentage. And it is all the things David states in his post!

Just see what that report itself summarizes are the 10 success factors for Raalte’s good cycling environment.

"Ten success factors that could be recommendations for other small and medium sized towns.
1 The presence of a group of enthusiastic people of very diverse backgrounds from the community who were willing to pull the cart together
2 A council that had the guts to approve the ambitious plans of the consultancy they hired. This was a long used local consultant.
3 A good cycle climate that grew by taking diverse stimulating measures to increase cycling over a long period of time
4 An integral approach, in the broadest sense of the word. In this case:
-the relation between people’s knowledge, the different departments of the council and politics.
-the cooperation between council and town’s people
-the integral approach of infrastructural measures and the communication about them
-public information in collaboration with stakeholders
-a continued line, then, now and later
-a cohesion between various infrastructural measures.
5 A large degree of consensus between politics and officials (civil servants).
6 Continuity in actions and a number of basic assumptions coupled with a strong determination.
7 Consistent policies.
8 Effective physical measurements like
- a fine grid cycle network with a direct relation to destinations and origins of cycle trips
- primary cycle routes away from main arteries and cycle lanes on collector roads.
- closing roads for motorised traffic to make short cuts for cyclists to improve the competitive position of cycling.
- creating a large area in the heart of the town where motorised traffic is not welcome so people like to stay there (in shops and café/restaurants) longer
- priority for cyclists on all of the primary cycle routes
- getting rid of junctions with traffic lights
- paid parking in the centre of town (even though not expensive).
- a compact structure of the town, only interrupted by one main provincial road. For which barrier a cycle friendly solution was found.
9 An expert approach for the communications.
10 The possibility to divide the costs of the communications campaign between a number of stakeholder organisations."

Micheal Blue said...

Oh man, can you lend us some of your politicians? Enough said.

Willie B said...

Thanks for putting us straight, guys. Five years ago, we would have been left to believe the anti-cycling facility propaganda.

Rona said...

Um... yeah... I want my hubbie to read the original because he's a professional translator. He has so many problems when companies think they are getting a good deal by using automatic machined translation (such as Google translate) or other such internet based programs. This translation reads poorly in English as it is. :(

Rona said...

I talked to my husband... we found the original article. "durf" is not audacity, it's daring.. which has a different connotation in English. They are similar but not the same.


WildNorthlands said...

I have yet to meet a bona fide cycle campaigner who is against cycle paths. I have met plenty who are against crap cycle paths, of which there are many in the UK.