Tuesday, December 6, 2011

How the Dutch got their cycling infrastructure


How did the Dutch get their cycling infrastructure? This question keeps coming back because it is of course relevant to people who want what the Dutch have.

Road building traditions go back a long way and they are influenced by many factors. But the way Dutch streets and roads are built today is largely the result of deliberate political decisions in the 1970s to turn away from the car centric policies of the prosperous post war era. Changed ideas about mobility, safer and more livable cities and about the environment led to a new type of streets in the Netherlands.

The recent video to introduce the Dutch Cycling Embassy explains this very briefly, but there is a lot more that can be said about it.
Please watch this video before you read on.

“The Netherlands’ problems were and are not unique, their solutions shouldn’t be that either.” 

Thus ends the video, but what do I mean by that? I think the Dutch could and should be copied. If you look at the key factors for the change in Dutch thinking, you see these are just as valid today. The world is still too dependent on fossil fuels and many cities in the world have congested streets. Streets and roads which are also very dangerous, especially for vulnerable road users like pedestrians and cyclists. And that is even more so when these road users are elderly or children.

Other elements leading to the change are also not unique. That is not only so for the protest posters.

Cycle protest posters Amsterdam 1980
Critical Mass posters 2007-2011 various places

The mass cycling protests in the 1970s look very similar as well, compared to protests in other countries today. Like the massive number of people protesting by bike on London's Blackfriars bridge just a couple of days ago.
Cycling protest tour 1979, Amsterdam.
Blackfriars protest tour 2011, London.
(Picture by Joe Dunckley)

Even the rogue painting of cycling infrastructure on roads is something that could be witnessed just a few weeks ago in Moscow.

Painting cycle lanes, Amsterdam 1980
Painting cycle lanes, Moscow 2011

So where then is the difference? The below picture from 1974 says a lot. It shows the then prime minister of the Netherlands Joop den Uyl and his wife, accepting a record from the foundation ‘Stop de kindermoord’ (stop the child murder) with a protest song.

Prime Minister Joop den Uyl and his wife accepting a record with a protest song by 'Stop de Kindermoord'  with the radical title:
"playing on the streets: death penalty"
This was at their home where they were adressed as parents. It gives a clear picture of how the pressure groups of the 1970s managed to get the political powers to listen to them and take action. It took them a decade, before not only decision makers, but also the planners finally listened to the protests. Getting the people who take decisions and those who have to draw plans for the streets to adopt the new ideas: that is where the real change started.