If sports clubs used by children after school look like this:
If extra temporary bicycle parking has been constructed but it's still difficult to find anywhere to park your bike when there is a large (non-cycling) event in town:
If thousands of others have already ridden their bicycle to the beach before you get there:
If bicycle ferries sometimes have a long queue on nice summer days:
If school cycle parking is full every day including winter, if railway stations struggle to build extra parking spaces quickly enough to cater for ever increasing bicycle usage, this crisis is reported in newspapers which are critical of more cycle parking not being built more quickly, and if city centres also have this same problem then perhaps you really do have true mass cycling.
|One of the first photos of the centre of Assen which I took just after we moved here. It's a normal day and there are hundreds of bikes everywhere. Cycle parking in the centre of the city has been expanded and improved twice in the last six years, as have many things around the city.|
Other Dutch cities have all the same problems because similar policies have led to similar results right across the Netherlands. Everyone cycles. Children, students, commuters, older people, slow or fast, women and men, people with disabilities, immigrants. Everyone. That's why cycle-parking is particularly an issue.
|Cyclist in London. Wearing a reflective|
vest but squashed between a bus and a
pole. Not everyone would do this.
Cyclists are the coal mine canaries of our towns. If cyclists are few and far between, frequently dress in canary yellow, wear helmets, face masks and other protective equipment, are largely of an identifiable cultural group (often male 20-45 years of age), they're viewed as an out-group, openly hated or picked on by the local press and if you simply don't see bicycles being used in the numbers that you see them in the videos above then you do not yet have true mass cycling.
How can we create true mass cycling ?
If you want mass cycling where you live, you must first identify where future cyclists can come from.
Campaigns aimed at "cyclists" or for "cycling" are unlikely to work because in this case you are campaigning specifically for the hated out-group so this creates limited sympathy amongst the public at large. Those people who already find conditions on your streets to be acceptable for cycling already ride bikes. We can't reach more
There are three sources for more cyclists:
- Non-cycling adults who don't drive
- Non-cycling adults who do drive.
|Children ride their own bikes in the|
centre of Assen and they hunt for their
own cycle parking spaces. They would
not be here if this was still a busy
traffic light junction with many cars
UNICEF rates Dutch children as having the best well-being in the world and this comes in large part because they have freedom to make their own journeys by bicycle. Shouldn't all children be so lucky ?
People who are dependent on public transport often complain about the problems that they have with their transport. It's expensive. It's indirect. It's time consuming and there are delays. Public transport is not seen as aspirational and is often viewed as second best to owning and driving one's own car. It's difficult to make people choose public transport unless forced by being unable to afford their own transport. Public transport usage is highest in countries where it is more difficult to own and use cars and lowest in countries where cars are most affordable. However, users of public transport can be offered another alternative: the bike. In wealthy countries where cycling has been made accessible and convenient, public transport usage remains at much the same low level expected due to wealth but that bicycles offer a positive choice that people will take instead of using cars.
|A cyclist in London. Cyclists wear|
these clothes to cycle because even
they don't feel safe in this situation.
Most people would rather drive here.
Free parking !
|Parking is inexpensive or free in many|
places in the Netherlands. It's not
necessary to punish people out of cars
if the bicycle offers a truly attractive
|Covered car parking places to hire in|
Assen city centre. €28 per month, all
in. It's not the price of parking that
makes people cycle here. The price is
so low because demand is low, even
for free parking. Mass cycling brings
benefits for drivers.
I think it's very important to remember that present day drivers in other countries are in exactly the same situation as everyone else. They are taking what appears to them to be the easiest safe option. The main reason why people drive is that because for them this is the least bad way of getting about. We know already that Londoners make the same journeys by car as Dutch people make by bike, but it's not only the distances and purposes which are the same. The motivation to drive in London is exactly the same as the motivation to cycle in the Netherlands. Whether the choice is made to cycle or to drive, that choice is based mostly on what feels safe and is convenient. If cycling was easier than driving and just so safe then this would attract current day drivers to ride bikes instead.
So what does attract people to cycling ? That's easy to answer - a comprehensive network of very high quality cycling infrastructure which offers shorter faster journeys, fewer stops and on which people feel very safe to cycle. This is what makes cycling attractive and makes cycling into a positive option rather than something which it is a struggle to convince people to do.
This is also exactly what the Netherlands has built. This country has achieved a greater level of success than anywhere else and that is why it makes sense to learn from this Dutch success.
|This photo illustrates a "problem"|
which keen Dutch cyclists sometimes
complain about. Children riding 20 km
to school, riding in a group and taking
up the entire cycle-path as they do it.
Note that I had to go back to 2009 to
find a photo which showed this.
I went on a recreational ride with some local cyclists this morning and the conversation in a cafe turned to a familiar topic: School children slowing them down.
To me, this is a very nice problem to have. It's a problem which only exists because school children actually do cycle in the Netherlands.
Other common complaints are from older cyclists complaining that sport cyclists go too fast and don't use bells and from sport cyclists complaining that older people riding together go too slowly and don't hear bells when they're rung. There are occasionally small conflicts but these are all minor issues in reality.
cyclists are an out-group in other nations and many of the same prejudices which are applied to cyclists in other nations are applied to moped riders here. In particular, Dutch people often think that mopeds are exceedingly dangerous when in fact they are not nearly so dangerous as they are commonly thought to be.
Complaints about cycling in the Netherlands can be seen as an examples of "First World Problems". Dutch cyclists have relatively little to complain about in comparison with their counterparts in other countries. If we had to ride with trucks passing centimetres away and deal with cycling infrastructure design which was as poor and inconvenient to use as is often the case in other countries and if society as a whole seemed to be against them as is the case for cyclists elsewhere then these concerns would be of greater importance here than the relatively minor concerns that people see as a problem.
A word about "bike culture"
In the past, I might have tagged a piece like this "bike culture" and thought not too much of it. Unfortunately, I think the term is being misinterpreted.
The Dutch do not cycle simply because they "have cycling in their culture". The "cycling culture" of the Netherlands is the direct result of infrastructure which makes cycling pleasant, convenient and safe.
When Dutch people leave this country and go to live in a place without good cycling infrastructure, they give up on cycling. When people migrate to the Netherlands from places without cycling infrastructure, they start cycling.
The Dutch respond to their built environment much as does anyone else, wherever they were born.