Friday 30 March 2012

Study Tour report - a young group from Norway

First day: Single file on a direct cycle-
path between a village and Assen
Two weeks ago, we hosted a Study Tour group from Norway. Six students aged between 13 and 15 from the Kjølnes Ungdomsskole (a secondary school) in Porsgrunn came with two older students aged 18 and two adults, Michel Fouler from "På sykkel i Telemark" who organised the tour and Bent Gundersen who is one of the teachers. All are from the Telemark county in Norway.

A discussion with Dutch students
allowed experiences to be shared.
Due to the efforts of cyclists in the area including Michel's cycle training organisation, Alle Barn Sykler, and an enthusiastic cycling headmaster, 60% of students cycle regularly to the Kjølnes Ungdomsskole. However, the same is not true of Norway in general.

Posing with the Fietsles (cycling
lesson) statue in Groningen
Cycling amongst teenagers has declined sharply in Norway. While 15% of those aged between 13 and 17 cycled on a daily basis in 2005, by 2009 this figure had shrunk to 9%.

This is one of the reasons why there was interest in comparing the conditions in which Norwegian and Dutch children and teenagers cycle, because how pleasant the conditions are for cycling certainly affects how much people will cycle.

Pre-schoolers in Groningen riding home
from day-care on their own bikes
Work on a presentation started even during the journey home. On Friday 23rd of March, a week after returning home, the students travelled to Oslo to a workshop with the Road Transportation Department in Norway, connected with planning for the Norwegian Bicycle Masterplan for 2014-2023. Tobias and Chatrine, two of the 15 year old students, made a presentation based on what they had seen in Assen and Groningen on the Study Tour.

Amongst the items in their presentation was this film, made by the two older students, Ingvild Stensrud and Herman Andreassen. It combines footage from a pre-school, primary school and secondary school in Assen and Groningen. See how children, all types of children, even very young, with disabilities, from immigrant families, cycle to school in the Netherlands and gain independence by doing so:

Our observations
This was a wonderful group to host. The confident and intelligent manner of the teenagers outshone their ages. They were genuinely interested in the issues and they asked sensible questions.

The last day: Confident and without
It was interesting to see how confidence on the bikes grew over just three days in the Netherlands. At first the group was reluctant to cycle two abreast due to concerns about taking up too much space. This concern passed quickly. In its place came the Dutch, confident and sociable way of riding next to a friend and talking at the same time.

One of the missing
helmets was
in a bin on Friday
Similarly, on the first day, all the students wore helmets. By the third day, no-one could find one. We'd never presume to tell anyone what to wear when cycling, and that goes double for other peoples' children. However, by the end of three days there had been a revolution. This is subjective safety at work. People reacting to the conditions.

Index of child well-being for a
range of countries. High cycling
countries highlighted in orange
It was mentioned to us that Norwegians were not entirely happy about being in 7th place in the index of child well-being from UNICEF (is your country in the list ?). As I've noted before, the top four nations in this survey are the top four cycling nations in Europe.

The connection with cycling should not be surprising. Dutch children and teenagers see cycling as freedom. Even though we live in a rural area and the distance that some have to travel to get to their chosen school can be long, there are no school buses here. We were told by in our school meeting in Assen that one of their students currently rides more than 60 km as a round trip each day to get to school and back home. This is interrupted only for a brief period mid-winter when her parents object to her riding the entire way in darkness. Why prefer cycling ? Because otherwise she'd miss out on the social aspect of riding with other students.

Subjective safety at work: Five Dutch
children on skates and one on a go-kart
chasing us as we pass a man walking
two dogs. All separate from the road
While they were here, the Norwegian teenagers experienced some of the freedom that Dutch teenagers find to be normal. This freedom comes because of the safe cycling conditions and the safe cycling conditions are due to the infrastructure. Our Norwegians visitors were passionate about what they saw, and wanted to take this back with them. We hear that the presentation and film have had quite an effect and hope that Norway's planners and politicians will listen to their youngsters.

Children and teenagers need freedom. Instead of designing around adults in cars, planners must design around the needs of children. Children must be seen as the rightful heirs of our future transport network.

We still have places on the public study tour in May, and can organise tours on most dates to suit groups. Contact us to make a booking. We would be very pleased to meet with an official group from Norway this year. We can show you exactly what the students saw.

Please also read more feedback from the Norwegian group.

Around 4% of journeys in Norway as a whole are made by bicycle. Youtube videos reveal many of the same problems for cyclists in Oslo as in many other cities around the world. Click for more stories about school travel in the Netherlands.


Don said...

I'm not sure what's sadder - that the UK is so low on the UNICEF list - or that the matter gets so little attention here. I sometimes wonder if the British really do detest their children..

Har said...

Don, I guess it's more because people don't know any better. I don't know many native Brits, but I'm sure most people in the UK love their children as much as the Dutch do. The last time I was in London, I did notice more unhappy faces than I do over here. Surely, life in the UK is not that bad, compared to Holland?

Not bitter, Oh no said...

Don: There is something in the Anglophone world cultures where indeed children are detested. They're called brats and insulted all the time automatically regardless of their individual behaviour.
It's changing for the better as people in progressive places are deciding not to continue it but it still happens.
If children are threatened or there is a perception that they are of course parent's instincts kick in.
Add to that the particular English language convention of using "to be" instead of "to behave" and you get a weird state of messed up child raising.
In English speaking countries, if the discourse is such that children are said to be "spoiled" and "not deserving" then the idea that their conditions could be improved never gets to the table.

But don't get me started.

Michel from Norway said...

First of all: thanks again David, we had a wonderful time.

Fantastic was the word who came out from students mouth by all the three days.

Students wrote these, on the way home, about the tour in Assen-Groningen:
"Observation on cycling in The Netherlands":
“It is not just about cycling, It is about integrated transport, it is about peoples and it is for everyone”

“And mainly the all cycling infrastructure have been built to serve children freedom, so do parents can choice transport mode too and so can older peoples keep practicing active transportation, mostly on the bicycle and because it is safely and enjoyable!”

Students are even more motivated, now, to improve bicycle facilities in their school (bicycling storage, all year cycling and more...)

As you mention so well in one of your post:
"For real progress in cycling, campaigners need to start to think of the children. However, children should be thought of not as small people to be condescending towards, but as the rightful heirs of our future transport network. Today's child cyclists are tomorrow's adult cyclists. It is by working with today's concerned parents, by understanding that their concerns are valid and need to be addressed, that tomorrow's adult and child cyclists will best be catered for”.

I have been reading a lot about children and cycling those two last years.

What is chocking me is that most of cycling campaigners and planners in Norway (and so im many countries)disregard the role of child cyclists!

And many of them have been in Groningen or some where else in The Netherlands for a study tour!

So I do wonder, wheter they haven't seen what should be seen, either they might have spent more time watching at presentation or they might be quite incompetent because It didn't take more than one day before our students got the point, it 's just obvious!
I will like to write more about it, keep in touch!

Charles Martin said...

In an earlier posting, David mentioned that some study tour refusniks had said that he needed to improve the marketing in order to get more people to participate. I wondered what they could mean, but I now think I have the answer:
Transport Solutions for a Green Future
A 7 Day Luxury Study Tour of The Netherlands
You will stay in the luxury 5 star Palace Spa Resort and Golf Course. A full itinerary of business and leisure activities will be provided. During your stay, you will be introduced to leading personalities from The Netherlands and surrounding countries for the furtherance of your commercial and personal interests. On three of the days (two afternoons and one morning), you will be taken by personal chauffeur-driven limousine to a specially constructed hospitality suite, from where you may observe ordinary Dutch people using bicycles (binoculars will be provided). Lunches will be by Michelin-starred chefs especially flown in for each occasion.
Attendee cost is £12000 per person, plus VAT (billed as "Transport Consultation Services"). Accompanying wives and girlfriends enjoy a 20% discount. Wives will be accommodated at the separate Hotel Splendide upon request.

Michel from Norway said...

Cycling to school: I watched today Paris Roubaix, Bonen‘s demonstration, as a youth he used to bike 25 km to school every days, like many children from the Flemish side of Belgium, as well as many Dutch teenagers, the guy is 31 years old, so we aren’t speaking of the sixties or the seventies, that was just about 16-18 years ago! Nice!