If you’ve cycled in the Netherlands, or even read County’s cycle guide lines for engineers, and of course listened to our local, cycle campaign gurus, then there was little new that Dynamo could usefully incorporate into its project.That’s not to say there was nothing on offer to learn.
Last summer while cycling through the main, busy shopping mall in Den Hague I was surprised to see a long stream of cyclists riding out of a ground floor shop/office space. I learnt that due to a massive demand for cycle parking Dutch local authorities now rent out empty office space for secure bike parking. The Dutch problem though, of how to manage an already mature system is of a different order from our own. Wim van Bot’s global graph of cycling levels had the UK in the bottom ‘Starter’ section. Yes, barely out of nappies.
Wim, president of the Dutch National Cyclists Union and a man who sits in and advises Parliament on cycling, outlined some of the historical and cultural differences between the Dutch and us, which he believed determined our polar positions on cycling. You may consider them so great as to want to give up cycle campaigning as a serious hobby and take up raffia bending instead.
Historically, when car ownership, car journeys and car killings boomed in the late 60’s early 70’s, mass protests from cyclists against the road slaughter initiated the democratic transport system that the Dutch have rolled out today. In England the car boom just went on and on and continues to do so. Dave Horton put it most graphically when he said that we have had 50 years of urban an rural transport planning that ‘compels’ people to drive whether they want to or not. We have to reverse engineer this if we want Dutch levels of cycling. (I hope I’m not skewing you views here, Dave).
Also the Netherlands is not riven by class antagonism, so political and cultural consensus is easier to gain. Since 1973 no Dutch cycling budget has failed to get political consensus. Cycling is not seen as Green, Blue, Red or Yellow. Moreover, the Dutch like some Scandinavian countries do not like to show off their wealth, fitting in rather than standing out from others is the social norm. Throw in the Protestant work ethic, a flattish topography and you have it. Can you see any leverage here?
Finally, Alasdair Simpson was there, and as obtuse and elusive about his role as a so-called sustainable transport officer with a remit for cycling in the county. Following his apparent lack of commitment to cycling at our AGM, when he admitted he didn’t brief councillors on cycling, I pushed him hard on how his dept’ operates. Apparently, when the officers have decided on a scheme and its at the shovel ready stage, then and only then do they inform councillors. Hence, at best, ill informed cllrs get to tinker with officer determined schemes. I think we need to investigate this practice which seems quite undemocratic for non-elected officers to wield so much power.