by David Hembrow
Published at a A view from the cycle path
May 3, 2013
I spent many years trying to promote cycling in the UK in many ways, including driving around the country with a huge bus full of bikes for people to try out. It was never even slightly difficult to convince people to try our bikes and to cycle in a controlled environment. There is huge enthusiasm and people virtually snatch bikes out of your hands in order to ride them. The huge pent up demand for cycling is also demonstrated by the massive popularity of other events on closed streets, such as Sky Rides across the UK and Ciclovias in the Americas. Events like this make “cyclists” out of “non cyclists”. Such events are not demonstrations of true mass cycling in themselves, but they are very effective demonstrations of unmet pent up demand for cycling.
It’s not the same story if you ask those same people to ride to work in the rush hour, or to let their children cycle to school. Make these suggestions and you won’t find much enthusiasm outside of the self-selected group who already cycle.
In the Netherlands people already do cycle in their thousands. In fact, to be more accurate, they cycle in their millions, every day. It’s really impressive. What’s more, it’s not a narrow demographic, but the entire population. The comparison with other countries is remarkably stark. Nowhere else is the same.
And this is what it really means to “Go Dutch”…
People cycle in the Netherlands because it feels so normal to do so. And why does it feel so normal ? Because cycling is efficient and stress free in a way that simply does not compare with anywhere else. Remarkably, to many people (including many Dutch people) this simple truth is hidden in plain sight. It looks like people cycle simply because “they’re Dutch” but actually it’s because the experience is so attractive that it pulls people in…
You can’t “Go Dutch” on an inadequate budget, by setting a low target to aim for, with a few prestige projects, in a very small area of a town, at just one junction or along one road, by skimping on the standards or by proposing to build good enough infrastructure only where it is easy to do so and ignoring the parts where it is difficult. Mediocrity simply doesn’t work.
Isolated bits and pieces don’t work…
…a short distance “may as well be a thousand miles” if there are unpleasant conditions for cycling along the route. People simply won’t choose to do it.
Ultimately the result of any cycle campaigning, infrastructure building, training, publicity or anything else intended to increase cycling can be measured in its success only if it can be demonstrated that this has genuinely led to more cycling. That’s what it’s all about.
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Author David Hembrow cycling with his mother recently.