Cycling for everyone; a history lesson from the Netherlands

Transport yourself, if you will, to the Netherlands in the 1970s...

Following the post-war prosperity of the 50s and 60s, the country found itself suddenly racked by multiple crises..

Oil crisis..
Dollar crisis...
Environmental crisis....

Cycling For Everyone from Dutch Cycling Embassy on Vimeo.

Indeed as this must-watch video from the Dutch Cycling Embassy explains, despite the price of fuel going up and up, more cyclists and pedestrians were being hurt on the roads than ever before.  The flow of motor traffic was prioritised whilst concerned mothers brought their children in from the streets.  Congestion grew, air pollution worsened.  Cycling became something uncomfortable, defensive, dangerous.  Does all this sound familiar, fellow Londoners?

The tipping point came in the Netherlands with the "Stop the Child Murder" campaign.  (Pictured above) Families took to the streets to tell their Government that enough was enough and that streets which presented inequality were no kind of streets at all. (See my previous post, "Boris! Give us streets for people!")

The Netherlands Government listened and the automobile was tamed.  Not eradicated, or pushed out as some anti-cycling nods would have you believe, but restrained, balanced and put within context.  Now, the Netherlands has the highest cycling rates in the world, the happiest children, cleaner air, a fitter population and best of all the bicycle has become a genuine transport option for most of the population.  Who wouldn't want that in their own country?

Meanwhile, here in the UK we have somehow grown accustomed to death on our streets.  Every time another cyclist is crushed beneath the wheels of an HGV, or an elderly lady crossing the road is killed by a speeding van we seem to shrug it off as being inevitable collateral damage that is somehow an acceptable trade off in return for squeezing as many vehicles through our streets as possible.

I'm not prepared to accept that macabre 'inevitability' any more.  I truly do believe that there is another way (you only have to watch the video to see that it works).

We have to start somewhere, and London needs an event to act as a catalyst and to act as a tipping point in it's quest for more equitable streets.

I don't even cycle on Blackfriars Bridge on a regular basis, but I know the problem here is typical of much of London.  Simply put, the ongoing battle for Blackfriars Bridge comes down to this; space for motorised traffic is being put above the needs of people on foot and people on bikes to the extent that conditions will actually become more dangerous for the most vulnerable simply to expedite the journey of the minority.

If streets are designed for motorised traffic, with all other transport modes half-heartedly clipped on as an after thought then the fact that as pedestrians and cyclists we all too often have stressful rides home, near-misses, aggression, incidents and death is inevitable.  Which is why so many people are terrified of riding a bike; not of the actual act of riding itself, but of riding in the current conditions our roads present.  We need to highlight why what is now inevitable is NOT acceptable.

That's why I'll be at Blackfriars Bridge this Wednesday October 12th to support the London Cycling Campaign's flashride.  Meet at Dogget's pub at 5.45PM on the south side of the bridge and let's tell TfL to give us streets for people once and for all!  Over 500 people have already pledged to attend, as have a number of politicians and press - but we must have more people to really ensure that our voices are heard. Do what you can to spread the word and be there; even if you don't use Blackfriars Bridge regularly this really is about how London's roads are designed and making our city safer for cyclists.

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benji said...

ibikelondon said...

Very nice images and words Benji, I like it!