Not culture, not history – physical change

I was struck by two details from yesterday’s blogpost by Mark Wagenbuur, about early protests for child-friendly streets in Amsterdam in the 1970s – details that highlight the importance of the quality of the physical environment for enabling cycling, over and above any prevailing national culture or attitudes.

The first instance was the contentiousness of the changes being proposed to the streets in Mark’s post. One Dutchman, surrounded by children, argued that it was ‘impossible’ to create a street without motor traffic on it. You can see this in the video, about 2:30 in.

Screen shot 2013-12-12 at 14.37.04

These were residential streets, which now have motor traffic filtered out, as Mark describes in his post. This is an almost universal treatment across residential areas in the Netherlands now, but back then, the notion of doing this was evidently completely foreign to this gentleman. These streets were for driving. (These attitudes were reflected elsewhere in the video, as a man attempting to drive down the street turns violent as his passage is obstructed).

The second thing that struck me from Mark’s post was that while the side streets have now been calmed, the main roads in this area haven’t really changed at all, and are still hostile and unpleasant today, with a seven-year-old girl killed while cycling on Cornelis Troostplein just last Friday.

These details bring home how the Dutch have been through the battles we need to go through. Their marvellous environments for cycling did not appear out of nowhere – they are not some innate condition of being ‘Dutch’. Back in the 1970s, Dutch residential streets and main roads had the unpleasant quality of their British equivalents, and were getting worse. The physical environment in Dutch towns and cities had to be changed. And this has all happened relatively recently.

When I cycled around Utrecht and Amsterdam earlier this year with Mark, and Marc van Woudenberg, they were at pains to point out to me the bad bits of their cities, the areas that haven’t got around to being changed yet. These are quite ‘British’ in their appearance, with no cycle infrastructure to speak of, or that disappears when you need it, or with parked cars that have to be negotiated out and around, and relatively fast motor traffic in close proximity. Principally, these were main roads.

Zeilstraat, Amsterdam. A cycle lane ends just as you approach parked cars

Zeilstraat, Amsterdam. A cycle lane ends just as you approach parked cars, on a busy street

Heemstedestraat, Amsterdam. Another busy main road, with nothing for cycling

Heemstedestraat, Amsterdam. Another busy main road, with nothing for cycling

Junctions in Amsterdam will occasionally leave much to be desired too.

DSCN0143

DSCN0036But these aren’t locations that have been forgotten about, or that are seen as acceptable. They are places the city has not got around to fixing yet, or where political battles are still being fought.

In Utrecht Mark showed us a striking example, on Adraien van Ostadelaan. The southern end of this street has cycle tracks, protected by kerbs.

DSCN0285

But at the northern end – just a few hundred metres away – this same street looks rather British.

DSCN0283

No cycle tracks here – you have to cycle in the carriageway, outside parked cars. The reason is quite simple – the city are waiting for this part of the street to be renewed before they put in the bike infrastructure, as part of the twenty year cycle of renewal and repair. The southern part of the street has been upgraded; the northern part is still waiting, and looks much like it did forty years ago.

There’s another nice example in Amsterdam too, which I found on Streetview. In 2008, Amstelveenseweg looked like this -

Screen shot 2013-12-12 at 15.50.25

But just a year later (and one click forward along the street) -

Screen shot 2013-12-12 at 15.51.21

The crap roads in Dutch cities are slowly being eliminated, one by one.

The important point in all this is that Dutch roads and streets would undoubtedly be just as hostile to cycle on now as British streets are, if these changes had not been made. Their streets are attractive for cycling because of physical changes, to create safe space.

A long history of mass cycling in the Netherlands would have counted for very little without these changes. Their urban roads and streets would have continued to fill up with cars, and people would have continued to abandon cycling as a mode of transport, as their streets became more and more unpleasant. Children would increasingly have been kept indoors, and would have been driven around, instead of cycling independently. It is emphatically not ‘culture’ or history that explains why the Netherlands has very high cycling levels today, but rather these measures that have been implemented in the last forty years. Without them, the Dutch would have a driving culture rather similar to our own.

Of course it may well prove to have been much easier for the Dutch to have done this than it will be for us. Cycling was still a familiar mode of transport for a larger percentage of the population, and in that sense the Dutch did benefit from their history. But the point remains that these physical changes had to happen if cycling was not to be eroded in the Netherlands, to levels approaching those of anglophone countries. It might even be argued that we have one very specific advantage over the Dutch, in that we can see how their solutions have worked out. Back in the 1970s, closing off streets to motor traffic was clearly particularly radical and contentious, even for the Dutch, and they had no-one else to point to, to show how it could be done, and how it would work. They were pioneers, while we can copy.

Safe, attractive conditions for cycling don’t simply fall out of the sky. They are not the inevitable result of history, or of culture. They have to be fought for, and argued for.

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52 Responses to Not culture, not history – physical change

  1. The residual level of cycling at the time that these campaigns began seems to be a critical difference between NL of the early 70s and many anglophone countries of today. It’s much harder to revive an activity that most people gave up as many as two generations ago, than to fight for the right to continue a well-established method of getting around, but in greater safety.

    As a child growing up in Cambridge and later North London in the mid seventies to early eighties I can remember the same kind of ‘street radicalism’, the community adventure playgrounds, building and launching giant paper hot air balloons, taking part in ban the bomb protests, supporting the striking miners. Watching that film reminded me of those days when (some) people did go out in the street to get things done, even the reserved Brits. It’s a tradition that was briefly revived for Reclaim the Streets in the 1990s. Of course, if you listen to Colville Andersen, all these are unhelpful ‘subculture peacock displays’ (as he described the die-in at TfL the other week). While Colville Andersen argues that the revolution will arrive in Prada shoes, this film shows us that a radical edge is required, at least to start the ball rolling. Unconnected external events like the Arab oil embargo didn’t hurt, providing a pretext for car-free days (it seems as though the oil crisis hit the Dutch harder than they hit the Brits, could that be because of the buffer of domestic North Sea Oil, lower levels of stockpiled oil?). I don’t think Britain ever got close to holding car-free days because of the oil shortages of the 70s – anyway, the idea is unthinkable now.

    These days, the closest things we have to this kind of street politics is the Playing Out campaign and Sustrans’s DIY Streets toolkit. Neither specifically involve cycling, which is interesting. Both play to bigger constituencies – parents and their kids, and people who take an interest in the street where they live. However, there’s no reason at all why cycle campaigners shouldn’t also be involved in these initiatives, in fact, I’d encourage it.

    • Angus H says:

      The North Sea was barely producing oil in the early 70s, but was well enough known about that it must have been a great economic hope for the future at that point. Also worth remembering the extent to which British culture looked up to American culture in those days – cars, and big ones at that, were as much an aspiration as a necessity. And the fantasy of the open road was far from being completely debunked in the popular imagination.

      Funny you should mention Playing Out – I’ve just gotten home from a meeting with the council to get a provisional OK to run some Playing Out events in my local neighbourhood next year. And while cycling won’t be on the agenda aside from letting the kids out on their bikes, we’ll be using long-wheelbase cargo bikes as movable barriers. I’m hoping that people will see the road closed for the kids to play out and ask themselves why it can’t be more like that all the time. Hoping to get some local paper coverage & have other streets/residents wanting to run similar events.

    • Dermot says:

      I agree with the point Jack makes here, and it isn’t made very often.

      “The residual level of cycling at the time that these campaigns began seems to be a critical difference between NL of the early 70s and many anglophone countries of today. It’s much harder to revive an activity that most people gave up as many as two generations ago, than to fight for the right to continue a well-established method of getting around, but in greater safety.”

      This graph is interesting on that point:

      http://www.boards.ie/vbulletin/attachment.php?attachmentid=173444&stc=1&d=1315313736

      (taken from here:

      http://www.fietsberaad.nl/library/repository/bestanden/CyclingintheNetherlands2009.pdf)

      You can see that certain countries arrested the precipitous decline in cycling, and they’re the ones you’d expect. The gains since are welcome, but relatively modest, and the countries that had very high levels to begin with continue to have relatively high levels.

      The exception in the graph is Manchester, which had quite modest levels and now has negligible.

      I think, though it’s only a hunch, that there may be a historical point where pro-cycling interventions (soft or infrastructure) have the most effect. After that, it takes generations to get back, if you even can, because you need a certain mass of cyclists to help out other cyclists and to normalise the activity. The closest analogy I can think of is the concept of Minimum Viable Population in ecology.

  2. bz2 says:

    Van Woustraat (further south: Rijnstraat), which is the main street through De Pijp, is the #1 worst street to cycle on in Amsterdam according to the local chapter of the Fietsersbond, which makes it a likely candidate for worst street in the country. My foreign partner found it one of the few places in the Netherlands where she wouldn’t cycle.

    The street is (obviously) on a shortlist to be upgraded, and the debate around that is probably quite interesting to UK cycle campaigners:

    A bit of background; Van Woustraat is part of the designated main routes for pedestrians, cyclists and trams, but not for cars. These routes are designated by the central city council to make sure the Boroughs don’t start interfering with the city-wide traffic circulation policy. Also, removing the on-street parking is considered non-negotiable as it would cause traffic chaos in the surrounding residential areas.

    The Borough’s original plans from last year effectively called for cycle lanes and ASLs. This plan was presented to various stakeholders and pretty universally rejected. Are you taking notes, Boris?

    The Borough is now in a real bind, because something’s got to give. Allowing private motor traffic to use the tram lane and using the extra space for cycle facilities would significantly hold up the trams at junctions during peak hours, and longer tram journey times have a significant financial impact (higher Peak Vehicle Requirement, more staff, fewer passengers). Making the street one way would cause rat runs all over the neighbourhood, and would also negatively impact parking. Removing on-street parking is listed on the website but would probably just make things worse, and is also not supported by locals and businesses.

    Judging by the noises coming out of the Borough, moving motor vehicles into the tram lane while retaining parking is going to be the solution, despite that not leaving as much space as the guidelines suggest for a high street and main cycle route (about 2.6m pavements instead of the desired 3.5m, and 1.6m cycle paths where anything below 2m is considered outdated).

  3. Paul M says:

    I was also struck by two things about the edited film posted by Mark Wagenbur.

    The first was the willingness of de Pijp residents to embark on direct action. I seem to recall from similar material such as the same author’s “How the Dutch got their cycle paths” that the “Stop der Kindermoord” campaign also involved direct action, by which I mean mass actions with an element of civil disobedience.

    People tend to say that we Brits would never do that, we are simply not engaged enough to get out and riot. That is of course palpably untrue – if people are passionate enough about something they will riot and they will climb Churchill’s statue on Parliament Square and all manner of other outrages against the determined order of things. The demos against the increases in student fees are a good example, when our Heir to the Throne and his wife were apparently in mortal danger (of being splashed by egg yolk), or the Countryside Alliance demos against the foxhunting ban when some superannuated rock star’s son was arrested for climbing the Churchill statue.

    Possibly cyclists are just too polite, or not passionate enough about the issues, but we ask permission before we “riot” so that when we all lie down in the road outside TfL’s HQ (and that did require some passion by the way – it was bloody cold lying on that road) we get pre-advertised road closures and a police escort. I wonder whether, as frustration builds, we might get bolshier?

    The other thing was the involvement of children, and quite young ones at that – I would guess that the key protagonists were no more than 10-11 years old. The impression I have is that the Pijp protest and the whole Kindermoord movement was successful partly because of the involvement of children and their mothers, and the identification of the problem not so much with cycling as with the welfare of children – cycling’s role was more about the solution, ie more bikes = less cars to pose a threat to children on the streets.

    Could we mobilise that sort of support here, now? I do wonder – in the ’70s we had no playstations or Xbox 360s, only four TV channels whose idea of children’s programming was puppet shows, and a normal presumption that the kids went outside to play, came home for tea and mum didn’t fret about them in between. Think the Halfords 2012 ad, to the sound of the Skids’ “Into the Valley”. I dare say many parents now wish that their children could go out and play in the street or the woods, but unfortunately for the most part they believe that they couldn’t, it isn’t safe, and they can’t imagine the world differently any more. How do we address that?

    • dave lambert says:

      Well it clearly isn’t safe for kids to play outside. In 1970 there were 7,499 people killed and 356,000 injured on the streets. In 2012 the figures are 1,754 killed and 193,969 injured. I suspect that a large reason for this drop is that children and people in general don’t spend as much time outside on the streets as they did back then. It’s either home, work, school, pub or some motor vehicle. Parks on weekends maybe. These figures would jump back up again if they started playing and cycling outside. Parents aren’t stupid, they can see the danger and it’s no good pretending it’s not there.

  4. dave lambert says:

    “It might even be argued that we have one very specific advantage over the Dutch, in that we can see how their solutions have worked out.”

    Unfortunately what is actually happening is that it has been decided that the UK is unique and so no lessons can be learned from those tricky foreigners. We’ll just get more facilities that are British crap covered in Dutch cheese.

    If I didn’t know better I’d think there were a lot of people in charge who don’t want to see mass cycling in this country.

  5. Joel C says:

    Great post. This is related to a point I rather ham-fistedly tried to make in one of your previous posts* about the non-uniqueness of Dutch culture or history and how there isn’t anything particularly special about it compared to the UK or the US – they were somehow brave/foolhardy enough to try a different approach to their transport infrastructure.

    Dutch-style cycling culture isn’t a pre-requisite for building good infrastructure – it’s a direct *consequence* of building good infrastructure.

    (*) http://aseasyasridingabike.wordpress.com/2013/11/18/better-cycling-through-design-how-to-really-go-dutch/

    • On the subject of pre-infrastructure Dutch cycling culture, it’s worth reading Pete Jordan’s book about the Amsterdam cyclist. It’s entertaining and, drawing on some very thorough research of primary sources, he demonstrates again and again that the Netherlands had become the world’s greatest cycling nation as early as the 1920s, if not a little before. Certainly many years before bike infrastructure came along.

      • let’s continue to ignore the 75% decline in cycle rate in NL between 1955-1975. “We used to cycle so much more!” ..”Yeah, that was because we were once the greatest cycle nation in the world.” Spot the disconnect?

        • Dermot says:

          Again, looking at this graph:

          http://www.boards.ie/vbulletin/attachment.php?attachmentid=173444&stc=1&d=1315313736

          Even with the massive decline between ’55 and ’75, the Netherlands seems to have continued to have been the greatest cycling nation, by dint of everyone else declining at about the same speed and from a lower level of cycling participation.

          And it seems eminently clear that they efficiently stabilised and somewhat improved the situation by intervention in the seventies and later. There is a general perception in the English-speaking world that the Netherlands attained good rates of cycling by creating infrastructure; the Netherlands _retained_ good rates of cycling by creating infrastructure.

          I don’t think this is a controversial point. It’s more or less made in the main body of the post at the end, for example. It would be controversial to use the point to claim that you can’t attain better rates through building infrastructure. I don’t believe anyone here made that point, though I did wonder how many generations it would take in countries that have dropped below a certain percentage to make cycling a normal activity again.

          • paul gannon says:

            I’m not sure I agree with your interpretation of the statistics here. The table you cite shows cycling levels for 3 Dutch cities (Amsterdam, Eindhoven & Enschede) rising from the mid-70s, not stablised. Also we know that cycling levels have continued to rise over recent years. Any increase must involve attracting new cyclists – attracted by improving infrastructure.
            Also it is 40 years since the mid-70s now and there will have been a substantial number of cyclists from the 70s who are no longer alive, so to maintain, let alone to increase cycling levels, there must be a process of attracting new cyclists – attracted by improving infrastructure

  6. rdrf says:

    To back up what I think Dermot is saying: the Dutch never went below a quite significant level of cycling. In addition, they only had a fall from a very high level over a short period of time (20-30 years). So they never really lost the idea of cycling as a normal everyday form of transport.

    Here we have gone down to far lower levels than they ever did, and have had far longer for ideas to develop about cycling to develop which impede the take up of everyday cycling: seeing cycling as something which you do with hi-viz and helmets, as a sport or something done by hippies or poor people (e.g. Hogan-Howe’s ideas)

    That all adds up to a difference between Netherlands and the UK.

    (A note of caution: the graph Dermot refers to has very high levels of cycling in the Netherlands – around 80% in Amsterdam in the 1950s, and not going below about 27%, with its level at 35% in 1999, and with Enschede at over 30%. My suspicion is that this might be an overestimate, possibly because of not including walking. However, the basic point remains about the trend).

    • paul gannon says:

      Well, you may be able to see such a trend, but I suggest it is only by looking at limited subsets of even this limited table (BTW, I presume that the dashed lines are estimates, so we are immediately dealing with a lot of conjecture).

      It seems to me that Dermot & rdrf’s reasoning is not really supported by the table. Look at Antwerp – 60% plus in 1950, so nearly up there with the Netherlands, but then (it is claimed) seeing continued decline, due I would suggest to the fact that the city didn’t start implementing cycle networks until later than in the Netherlands. If Dermot & rdrf’s assertion of Dutch high levels of cycling being directly & causally linked to high earlier levels, what do they think accounts for the failure of their perceived causal chain in Antwerpen?

      Also look at Basel. It started off lower than Manchester, but ended up higher. Again this challenges Dermot & rdrf’s proposed iron law of nationally determined & utterly unalterable cultural differences. Again the answer lies in the different provision of cycle networks in Basel & in Manchester (& the rest of Britain).

      It seems to me that Dermot & rdrf are succumbing to selection bias, picking out the evidence they want from this (limited) table & thus building their arguments on unstable foundations.

      I think that when you look at the overall picture (ie wider than this one source) & also don’t just focus look at stats for the Netherlands and Britain, but at a range of other European countries you will see that there have been a range of experiences. But there is a common thread – the higher cycling levels are found in those countries that have implemented cycle networks. They not only have higher cycling levels, but they have more young cyclists and more older cyclists; they also tend to have a balance of the genders in the cycling profile. British cycling policy, by contrast, is deeply ageist and shamefully sexist.

      Also, I think that Rdrf’s comments suggest that he hasn’t taken on board the point I made about the 1970s being 40 odd years ago, thus the significant turnover of the cycling population over that time & also the substantial increase in cycling levels in that time. This means that millions of new cyclists have been attracted in the Netherlands. I don’t think that rdrf appreciates what is involved in successfully reproducing that cycling culture within the Netherlands itself. It is far from automatic & instead it has been the result of policy.

      • The basic point about the selection bias is that a large number of people who are otherwise well disposed to cycling are trying to find reasons why it could not be made a mass activity in the UK in their lifetimes, so as to reduce the onus on them to make it happen. This is particularly true of persons in positions of responsibility, like Andrew Gilligan. Up to a point, it doesn’t really matter to these people how solid the evidence is, because they are backing up a stronger intuition. Hence the absurdity of AG claiming that London can’t go dutch because, eg, London is much bigger than Amsterdam, despite all the studies that show the distances travelled in motor vehicles in London are tiny. The ‘it couldn’t happen here’ intuition seems to be much more powerful then any actual *evidence* for the conclusion, and this is natural enough, since you can hardly prove the impossibility of modal change with statistics anyway. What, after all, was the situation of statistics and research at the launch of the ‘Stop Der Kindermoord’ campaign? That wasn’t evidence-based policy making, and it strikes me as a mistake to put the onus on cycling campaigners to Prove the possibility of something for which no proof of impossibility could possibly exist.

      • Dermot Ryan says:

        Paul Gannon misunderstood what I was saying, or trying to say.

        He says:
        “It seems to me that Dermot & rdrf’s reasoning is not really supported by the table. Look at Antwerp – 60% plus in 1950, so nearly up there with the Netherlands, but then (it is claimed) seeing continued decline, due I would suggest to the fact that the city didn’t start implementing cycle networks until later than in the Netherlands. If Dermot & rdrf’s assertion of Dutch high levels of cycling being directly & causally linked to high earlier levels, what do they think accounts for the failure of their perceived causal chain in Antwerpen? ”

        Funnily enough, I didn’t make any causal claim such as you perceive me to have made, and I was not saying that Dutch cycling levels are high merely because they have always been high. I said, just as you did, that the countries that built infrastructure maintained good levels and even improved them somewhat (which is itself impressive, since going from, say, 30% to 35% is a lot harder than going from 1% to 2%). The other countries didn’t.

        I did make a more general point that I assume it gets harder to get back to mass cycling the further you allow your cycling population to drop (a point made in the post itself and in one of the first comments), and I was making a distinction between the perception of the Dutch creating a cycling population from scratch using infrastructure and the reality, as far as I can gather, that they saved a cycling population by building infrastructure (and some other car-control measures) and then expanded the population. I’m sure most people who read here regularly are aware that the latter is the case, but it is often presented otherwise. Maybe it’s just an academic point, since good-quality infrastructure is at this stage almost universally identified as the key way to grow a cycling population from low levels as well.

        rdrf makes a very good point: the graph certainly must over-represent cycling levels, but it’s the best graph I’ve found so far for historical levels of cycling at a variety of locations in Europe, and as rdrf says, the trend seems correct.

        Incidentally, Paul Gannon also says:
        “Also look at Basel. It started off lower than Manchester, but ended up higher. Again this challenges Dermot & rdrf’s proposed iron law of nationally determined & utterly unalterable cultural differences. ”

        In particular, I didn’t say anything like that. I’m not sure rdrf did either.

        • paul gannon says:

          apologies for misunderstanding your general point. However, I think the table (for what it is worth) shows a variety of possibilities. Copenhagen in the 1930s is closer to Manchester than to Amsterdam, but, despite a very steep fall, is one of the first to arrest the decline and resume growth, so this does seem to pose a challenge to your as well as rdrf’s interpretation. Re your suggestion that there is a causal relationship between depth of decline and extent of recovery – ‘south-east Limburg’ falls faster and further than nearby Antwerp, yet recovers while Antwerp doesn’t.
          If one looks at all the entries on the table and one gives them all a role in one’s analysis, then it seems that no firm conclusions can be drawn about a causal relationship between the recorded declines and the recorded recoveries.

          • Dermot says:

            Hi Paul,

            Sorry it took me so long to get back to you, especially because you made a nice apology and a good point!

            I had a look at the three cities you mention.

            From what I can see in the graph, Copenhagen falls steeply till the late 60s or early 70s, then bottoms out, and then commences a healthy rise, though it’s more gentle than the preceding decline. Manchester continues to fall throughout. Copenhagen’s lowest point is still over 20%, which is quite high for that period. Copenhagen also seems to have risen to greater prominence in the graph later partly from beginning its recovery earlier than most other cities.

            South East Limburg goes from a low of about 12% to 18% by the end of the time series, from what I can see. It then appear to level off. It’s not a stellar recovery, though it’s decent enough. Antwerp seems to be about 12% by the end of the time series. If I had to group the cities into good performers and mediocre performers, both SE Limburg and Antwerp would go into the latter, along with Basel. Manchester is in a class of its own, unfortunately.

            Funnily enough, SE Limburg begins its recovery quite early, at about the same time as Copenhagen, but has a weaker recovery that is not sustained to the end of the time series. I could argue that this is because it dropped further than Copenhagen, but I assume it’s far more complicated than that. In particular, I don’t have a clear idea what interventions were made in each of these cities.

            I think part of the point I was groping towards is that I think that MORE intervention is required when the numbers go lower, in much the same way conservationists have to intervene very intensively when the numbers of a particular species drops below the Minimum Viable Population. A species that drops below the MVP isn’t doomed, but it’s in real trouble without that intervention.

            I think, though, after all that, that perhaps the graph doesn’t really bear this level of scrutiny. As you say, the dotted lines are probably estimates, and a general indication of trend is probably all that can be usefully taken from the graph.

  7. rdrf says:

    To refer to Jack’s comments: the Reclaim the Streets movement was linked in with specific anti-road building campaigns (M11 link road, Newbury etc.) In RTS there was a strong idea that there were problems with mass car use as such. There was the claim that the campaigning led to a halt in the road building programme, and the Road Traffic Reduction Act brought in by New Labour. Of course, the RTRA was dropped under John Prescott and road building is now back on the agenda.

    I have to say that there do seem to be differences between the UK and other countries with regard to the problems associated with mass car use. Whether it be the destruction of the local environment, loss of traditional community, noxious emissions, greenhouse gas emissions, or health problems for the car users, people in the UK just seem to be less concerned.

    One of the reasons for this is the domination of the “road safety” lobby and its ideology. For example, having a low level of reported deaths and casualties per head of the population in comparison to other countries is seen as an indicator of success.

    I hope I don’t have to explain on this blog why it isn’t.

    • It’s an interesting compare and contrast, RTS in 1990s Britain and the 1970s Dutch street campaigners. I get the impression that RTS was focussed on motorway building, at stopping the bulldozers, rather than on civilising residential streets. It was possibly more ideological and based on a fundamentalist critique of car culture as a whole, rather than the Dutch road deaths protest movement which was more narrowly focussed on getting places where kids could play and people could walk and cycle around without fear of being killed. Dare I say it that the Dutch protest movements, led in many instances by mothers and kids, may have come across as more ‘reasonable/respectable’ and thus attracted a broader coalition of support? Alternatively it could be that the Dutch system of government is more amenable to local campaigns, local politicians have real power, whereas in the UK, power is heavily centralised in Whitehall, and more able to resist/ignore local campaigning. Having said that, as Bob points out, and Joe Moran explains in his great book On Roads, RTS and the other protests did succeed in ending the predict-and-provide approach to roads policy, at least for a certain period of time. I guess there’s some irony in the fact that the Dutch town centres are kept relatively free of through traffic because most have bypasses. Bypasses were of course one of the main targets of RTS type protests in Britain.

  8. Great article! Thank you.

    (On a not-cycling related note, it was great to recognize some streets I just ran a marathon on, back in October ;)

  9. rdrf says:

    First, a response to Jack Thurston: RTS was indeed more of a general critique of car culture. It also was linked with movements rather like Occupy is today. While there was the “crusty” outlier feature of RTS, the specific anti-road building campaigns got a lot of local support from “respectable” residents.

    Second, re-Paul Gannon’s comments :

    1. I agree the graph is limited. I am particularly concerned that the proportions are inflated: so for Amsterdam in the (dashed line estimate) to be at about 80% would mean practically nobody walking about, as there must have ben some freight, tram, bus, car use then.

    2. “Rdrf’s comments suggest that he hasn’t taken on board the point I made about the 1970s being 40 odd years ago, thus the significant turnover of the cycling population over that time”. I don’t quite get this. If it becomes normal for, say, a typical mother in employment to cycle regularly 40 years ago then it should be normal for her daughter to do so when she has the same status. It doesn’t mean that something special has had to happen to recruit the daughter. It just means that the determining factors have had to stay the same.

    3. Two things I didn’t say in the original post: (a) The reason for decline is the attractiveness and convenience of cars. This includes overly cheap fuel, space for parking, inadequate traffic law enforcement, creating a more crashworthy environment for the car occupant, moving towards more car dependent amenities etc. I think these things need to be examined. (b) Don’t forget that a big feature of the Netherlands is low bus use (Bikes are far better than buses, but buses better than cars IMO).

    4. 4. OK – here’s the nub of what I was saying, and that I don’t think has been satisfactorily demolished: (a) Compared to the UK, the Netherlands never really went down to very low figures of cycling modal share. (There is a big generalisation here, because each city is different, there are differences when you bring in suburban and rural areas). If your society has never gone below a LB Hackney level of cycling modal share for all journeys, then you have never forgotten cycling as a basic form of everyday transport. Potential and actual cyclists are more likely to be able to deal with issues as diverse as what to do with a puncture and having a local bike shop around, as well as the fact that cycling just seems more normal.(b) The period of being in the doldrums was very short in the Netherlands compared to the UK. Both these things mean that the UK is in a quite different position to the Netherlands. Also note my point about the UK being less pro-sustainable transport than other European countries

    • paul gannon says:

      Re rdrf’s comment no.4: Bob, I repeat my question – how do you explain why Antwerp suffered further decline and/or no immediate recovery despite its high pre-mid-70s-event cycling levels, comparable with those of the Netherlands?

      The factors you list regarding the Netherlands are all positive ones derived from the fact of there being a lot of cyclists previously. In your example of the mother in employment and her daughter you describe the process of getting new cyclists as ‘natural’. Why didn’t these (natural) factors also apply in Flanders?

      Was it A) something special about Antwerp that prevented these factors from working (and therefore your theory stands)? If so what was that special thing?

      Or was it B) something that differentiated Antwerp from the experience of Dutch cities, such as a time lag in the development of cycle networks? We know, of course, that Belgian cities did indeed lag behind the Dutch (though were still well in advance of us tardy Brits).

      Why do you reject this as a causal factor, especially when we also know that those European countries with cycle networks have many more cyclists, more young cyclists, more older cyclists and a balance of the genders in the cycling population?

  10. Some thing I take from the blog that seems missing from the historical analysis offered by rdrf and Jack Thurston: Dutch Infrastructure is not and was not a one time event. Instead of inaugurating an overnight installation of cycle-freindly everything, the Stop Der Kindermoord turned around a ship of *policy*, and that policy has yet to run to full implementation. In the light of this, it seems mistaken to argue that infrastructure installation ‘saved’ or ‘maintained’ or ‘revived’ levels of modal share, because there wasn’t such an event. Installation was and remains a process, not an event – and as that process continues, modal shift continues. In this respect, the argument of the blog post is that the Dutch even today are responding to infrastructure installation not differently to the way that the residents of Hackney respond. In sum, there is no phenomenon of differential response which requires explanation, and because nothing stands in need of explanation we particularly do not need an explanation along the lines of ‘we have forgotten that cycling is a mode of transport’. I don’t believe that, and survey evidence does show that either – as the LCC reminds people from time to time there is latent demand for cycling if this is made possible, and that latent demand helps explain how modal share numbers in London can make such large jumps in very short periods of time. Like Brits, Dutch who live somewhere less well arranged for cycling *cycle less*. So it is not clear that there is any historical innertia or cultural oddity that would stand in need of a speculative explanation citing about some vital threshold of modal share. The explanatory hypothesis is superfluous because there isn’t any behaviour difference for it to explain. Where cycling is possible, people cycle.

    Paul Gannon perhaps over-did it slightly when he characterised rdrf and Jack Thurston as hypothesising an “Iron Law” – but he was surely responding to the conversational implicature of responding to a blog post on continuing Dutch infrastructure work with a series of hypotheses about differences between the UK and Holland. There is no need for any of these hypotheses. History or no History, the Dutch and British would appear to respond in exactly the same *rational* way to various modes being made more or less attractive. If there isn’t a response-to-infrastructure-difference that stands in need of explanation, then by offering an explanation you imply a difference that is not there.

    Or so it looks to me. Obviously there is a difference in modal share. But there is not a difference, so far as I can see, in modal-share response to decent infrastructure. So we don’t need to talk about a nation forgetting anything.

    • paul gannon says:

      Yes, you’re right I did exaggerate the characterisation of an ‘iron law’, but rdrf is effectively proposing a ‘natural’ cycling cultural transmission, so you know what I mean.

      You’re right too about Dutch people not cycling where it’s not nice – I worked for 3 years in the Hague & coming from Britain it seemed a cycling paradise. However, I had one Dutch colleague who came from Arnhem. He found the motor traffic and the incomplete cycle network in the Hague too daunting to use.

      You’re also right about the Dutch implementing a long-term cycle network programme – and the statistics show over the last 15 years a trend of an increase in cycling as the network is improved and attracts yet more people to pedal about.

  11. Then it looks the same way to us. On how it looks to others, I think rfdf & Jack Thurston are confusing a problem in cultural transmission with the problem of political will – and on political will they do at least have hold of a difference between the UK and Holland that invites explanation. It may even seem to invite the variety of explanations they have tried out. Except that it invites a much simpler and more persuasive explanation: since what gets done in the UK as in Holland is down to the people exerting political pressure, the thing required to make up the difference at this point is for us to exert political pressure. Any general theorising about why this would not be likely to happen comes to the same thing as not exerting pressure, or attempting to explain failure in advance.

    In fairness to rfdf & Jack Thurston, there is an important *political* point from the dutch history that does get forgotten sometimes when cycling organisations campaign, simply because what they are campaigning for is *cycling*. What it appears the Dutch were first campaigning for was something more the theme of http://rethinkingchildhood.com/2012/03/15/outdoor-child/ – and in this respect the cycle presented itself as an effective general solution, rather than an interest group to be negotiated in struggle with other interest groups. There *is* something that campaigning groups could learn from that just now, about building successful political coalitions, and the marked appearance of *pedestrian* safety campaigners at theTfL ‘Die-In’ is a hopeful sign. The ideal upshot of that campaigning energy, provoked by outrage at ‘victim blaming’, might be getting the media to see that “cycling protests” aren’t simply put on or advanced by “cyclists”. Lets follow the dutch in more focus on alliance with schools and parents about disappearing spaces to play. For there is a danger that the disheartening way in which some talk about cycling as a ‘forgotten’ transport mode might come to describe outdoor children as a forgotten mode of being a child – and this *is* the sort of thing that “middle england” have a conscience about, not to mention the baden powell types. That children end up entirely indoors and school for obesity and ill-health vy the prejudices of transport planning is by no means a historical or cultural inevitablity, and we ought to be doing something about it.

    The business about ‘cyclists’ being adventure sport types who wear hi-viz and helmets is really the same business as people who get about on bikes being called ‘cyclists’. And in both cases transportism gets it’s toe in the door through old DoT prejudices a) that *all* roads including residential areas are for traffic, and b) that ‘traffic flow’ means cars. Fact-finding missions to correct this dotty idea… maybe in the end we will be saved by the civil servant’s innate love of foreign holidays. Here we are talking about “culture” in just the way that rfdf & Jack Thurston are concerned with: culture *in traffic planning*. How do you do something useful about that culture, beyond applying political pressure to the political masters of the planners? You write informed blogs like “as easy as riding a bike”.

  12. rdrf says:

    Thanks for comments:

    I didn’t want to get into this, but “culture” can include just about everything. Essentially it is about how people do things in a “taken for granted” manner – it takes sociologists/anthropologists and just ordinary people from other countries to notice and describe it.

    In that sense I agree with both Pal Gannon and David Robjants and have mentioned this: there is indeed a fundamental difference between the UK and other European countries, particularly in northern Europe. This certainly includes what transport planners, highway engineers and politicians at local and national level think about cycling. It’s just that I think it needs to be considered on a wider basis – culture – into how ordinary people feel and think.

    So, to take the example of Antwerp versus similar size Dutch cities – and for the sake of argument I’m prepared to accept that the non-building of a particular kind of infrastructure was the reason for relative decline in cycling compared to the Dutch cities. Now, a difference between cultures may well include the difference between those willing to put in a certain kinds of highway infrastructure and those who are not, but that is only part of it. Other things, particularly a general willingness to see car usage as problematic, come into it. I agree that there is no real political commitment to have a modal shift towards cycling in the UK, and there are a number of posts on the RDRF web site which describe this.

    The issues that have not been referred to are the ones I have mentioned twice – that the UK already had a far lower modal share by the 1970s and also has minimal memory of people cycling for a far longer period than the countries referred to. I think that’s important.

    I also think that there are lots of reasons why people don’t cycle. Probably the main one is the availability of cheap, convenient, safe (for the car occupant), motoring. I have mentioned others in my posts. A different kind of infrastructure won’t be enough, given the factors about cycling in the UK I refer to in the last paragraph, to fundamentally shift cycling’s modal share. And if it did, I suggest impacting on the convenience of driving (by removing road space – including car parking – from motors) would be a significant part of it.

  13. The problem with this catch-all use of the word “culture” is that it blurs boundaries. Each thing is what it is and not another thing – and “culture” in road engineering circles as a real causal factor in modal share is not the same thing as “culture” in the general populous as a mythical causal factor in modal share.

    The general hypothesis that the main reason people don’t cycle is ‘the availability of cheap, convenient, safe (for the car occupant), motoring’ might seem to gloss over the point that motoring is no more expensive in the Netherlands than it is here. David Henbrow has tackled this one in http://www.aviewfromthecyclepath.com/2011/02/all-those-myths-and-excuses-in-one-post.html

    I don’t see why one would conclude that modal share change would be got from “impacting on the convenience of driving”, because it is very hard for me to understand a world in which someone refers to private motor vehicle transport in London as “convenient”. Car travel may have largest proportion of G. London trips at 40%, but that still makes getting about by car in G. London *massively* second-favourite to public transport and shank’s pony. Shouldn’t road layout therefore be designed around the *convenience* of people on foot on their way to the tube? Bus and tube and walking are the transport that people vote for with their feet – not the car.

    Then there is the question how you collect and present this data on use. Who are the individuals that are getting about London by private car, and *when* and *why* are they doing it? Might they be doing it because walking a mile or two to Tesco feels dangerous, because of all the traffic? It’s the same problem with people getting in cars to defend against or get away from the people in cars, all over the world.

    Owning a car in GLA is at 60% of households only – less in inner boroughs. Suppose the deal is, we remove the danger that gave you a feeling you needed that metal cage for a tiny journey, while you save money on insurance and servicing. There is no reason why you would not get takers for that deal – but you can be sure that you will not get takers if the deal is never put.

    Rdrf’s best point is that *if* we treat the negotiants as on the one hand drivers and on the other hand cyclists, there is a potential for conflicting interests over road-space for parking. But people don’t come out the womb labelled “driver” or “cyclist”, so I don’t see how that is a fair way to set up the issue. Lots of “Drivers” who are also “cyclists” might be quite glad to see the back of the banger if they thought they could get to grandma’s on the push-bike they already use for getting to work, or that their children could be allowed out the house other than in a metal cage.

    On some streets, one way motor-vehicle routes and dead-ends might open up more space for nose-to-kerb parking, rather than less – and still leave room for a bike lane and the occasional tree.

  14. Tim Gill says:

    A timely reminder of the battles that have been fought – and that will need to be fought – to reduce road danger and improve streets for walking, cycling and children. Thanks for alerting me to this post – I’ll share it around.

  15. Tim Gill says:

    Reblogged this on Rethinking Childhood and commented:
    “Their marvellous environments for cycling did not appear out of nowhere – they are not some innate condition of being ‘Dutch’.” An important history lesson for those of us arguing for more child-friendly streets.

  16. rdrf says:

    In reply to David Robjant:

    About the costs of motoring: Why were there more cycling journeys in the UK in 1954 than motoring? Because of cycle tracks? Are you seriously suggesting costs have nothing to do with it? Amounts of driving are certainly effected by the costs of driving.

    Actually, in terms of the adverse effects of motorisation, the Netherlands, considering its far superior modal share of cycling, is not that much better than the UK. For example, look at “The True Costs of Automobility: External Costs of Cars: Overview on existing estimates in EU-27” (Becker, Becker and Gerlach, 2012) which I analyse here http://rdrf.org.uk/2012/12/31/the-true-costs-of-automobility-external-costs-of-cars/ with only about 15% less of an external cost per person. (Of course, as I discuss, this is a figure which is based on cost-benefit analysis economics with all its problems – but still a reasonable rough indicator of how the Dutch are not actually that much better than the UK in terms of the adverse effects of motoring). One of the reasons for this is that cycling took over from public transport – while cycling is indeed better, it didn’t lead to the reduction in car use that would have happened if it had primarily replaced car usage with its various problems.

    Besides, there are very good reasons for correcting the relatively small difference in costs of motoring and cycling in the UK for social justice reasons.

    I also think there is optimism about how people are just waiting to switch from cars to bikes. I am afraid that driving is associated with all kinds of psychological factors: status; fear of being in the public realm (that’s another kind of “subjective safety” issue) etc. Do you think people drive mile long journeys just because of a fear of being hurt when walking? Or because they wouldn’t like the environment? They do it because they like driving and they don’t have the disincentive not to.

    RE: London: peopled drive relatively less than outside cities because there isn’t the space for them on the road or in parking space, as well as a continually improving public transport system. With half the journeys made being under two miles, congestion, swifter and more convenient public transport and widespread poverty, we still have over a third of journeys in London made by car. Is this just because there are not Dutch style cycle tracks?

    I’m afraid that Robjant’s attitude is a bit too close to the Travel Awareness paradigm of politely persuading people to drive less by trying to appeal to their nice side.

    • paul gannon says:

      Rdrf asks, ‘Why were there more cycling journeys in the UK in 1954 than motoring? Because of cycle tracks? Are you seriously suggesting costs have nothing to do with it?’

      Not really a useful question in relation to the actual issue at discussion – namely whether provision today, and in the immediate future, of attractive cycling facilities can lead to more cyclists, including more women, older and younger people in the cycling profile.

      The reason it’s not useful is because there were many millions fewer vehicles in the 1950s, so the cycling experience was so substantially different then. Thus the question about cycle tracks and the 1950s is historically wonky.

      More useful is to address the key issue – the undeniable correlation between provision of high-quality cycle networks and high cycling levels etc. in a wide range of European countries starting in the mid-1970s in the Netherlands, and later in other countries.

      Why should it be different here? We have a little bit of evidence, eg Bath/Bristol path and Royal College Street, Camden (for all their faults), that there is indeed plenty of suppressed demand for cycling in Britain.

      Another form of overlooked evidence for this is the embarrassingly sexist cycling profile in the UK, heavily dominated by YAMs (young adult males). The average ‘cycling life’ (ie the period between when people start and give up cycling) is clearly much, much shorter than in ‘cycle network provided countries’. The implication of this is a more rapid turnover of UK cyclists. Our low cycling levels thus hide another fact – that we do actually manage to get a lot of people to start cycling. Most people when asked why they gave up cycling blame it on traffic danger and the like. Thus, if we could just extend the ‘cycling life’ by providing the cycling facilities/experience to keep people cycling for longer we can increase the overall cycling stats – and with no change in training or marketing or communications of other substitute action whatsoever.

      • pm says:

        Can I just say I am really undecided about this argument, and that while I definitely favour the ‘go Dutch’ position as being the only even vaguely plausible way foward I can see (with respect, I can’t figure out what RDRF proposes as an alternative), I think there are certainly questions that need to be asked about the fundamental issue of ‘why do British people drive so much?’, which I don’t think you have satisfactoraily answered.

        I have very little insight into this question myself becuase, for some unknown reason, I’ve always disliked cars and (probably due to being a lifelong Londoner) have generally found that most people I have known in my life were not drivers themselves.

        I mean, one big reason seems to be that motoring is effectively subsidised and kept artificially cheap – drivers don’t have to pay the real cost of their habit. But politically that seems almost impossible to change because its kind of self-perpetuating.

    • Dear Dr. Robert Davis / rdrf

      Other than that I can see how they would represent me as having failed to put any serious thought into the matter, I do not understand your characterisation of my remarks. I certainly do not accept any of your straw men, but I am feeling for a response more conducive to collaborative discussion than to quote myself back at you, alongside your précis of my statements. The horror of it is, that my rotten statements are my rotten statements, and incriminate *only me* – I know you wouldn’t think you were engaging with what I had opined there by counting me among some blasted “go dutchers”, and addressing your comments at views and hypotheses you project upon a mass.

      I recognise what you say about the aspect of status display through motor vehicle ownership and use. But as to whether this or any of your further points take us forward on citing “culture” as a causal factor, I’m not clear that you understand the sentences in which I expressed my point.

      I pointed out that in this talk of cultural differences you appear to be offering us explanations without an explanandum. Yes, there is a modal share difference between the UK and the Netherlands, only there is not an empirically observed behaviour difference in response to well designed transport planning and road-layout. And an empirically observed behaviour difference in response to well designed transport planning and road-layout is the only thing that “cultural” difference can be presented as trying to explain. Therefore, it seems quite plausible to suppose that what Dr. Robert Davis offers to explain under “cultural” difference does not exist at all, and further to suppose that his various explanations for the existence of this non-existent are mainly meant to assert by implication that the English react differently to adequate transport planning than the Dutch. Only, they don’t – so far as anyone has actually been able to determine.

      Suppose I explain at length how it is that six angels dance upon a pin, and no more. If you treat my explanation seriously over the fourth pint, you might catch yourself accidentally accepting the premise that angels dance on pins. Which, to be clear, they do not. No more are dutchmen a special race selected for responsiveness to cycle-freindly transport planning.

      The extent to which I want to “go dutch” is just this: here’s an example of something that is proven to work. There are other solutions that also work to increase overall traffic capacity and also increase modal shift, and they too should be more widely implemented. I particularly enjoy the little I know of the Poynton shared space scheme – what removal of motor-priveledging infrastructure has in common with segregated cycle infrastructure is that both approaches make space for things other than motor-vehicles, and in so doing have the potential to increase “traffic flow”. We need more research, ministers will always say in preference to spending money – but actually no, where Dutch implementation is concerned the “more research” has been done. What’s missing is the will.

      Yours

      David Robjant

    • Andy says:

      @RDRF
      “I also think there is optimism about how people are just waiting to switch from cars to bikes. I am afraid that driving is associated with all kinds of psychological factors: status; fear of being in the public realm (that’s another kind of “subjective safety” issue) etc. Do you think people drive mile long journeys just because of a fear of being hurt when walking? Or because they wouldn’t like the environment? They do it because they like driving and they don’t have the disincentive not to.”
      And yet you later state;
      “Such is cultural change. It happens over a short period of time…”

      http://aseasyasridingabike.wordpress.com/2014/01/03/one-activity-can-have-different-forms/#comment-14334

  17. paul gannon says:

    Yup, agreed, it is important to ask why do so many drive in this country, but on this discussion thread it’s only worth exploring in so far as it affects the question of whether building a high quality cycle network would increase cycling levels or not which is what ‘aearab’ originally blogged about.

    Similarly, rdrf’s concerns that “the Dutch are not actually that much better than the UK in terms of the adverse effects of motoring”, I would ask so what if you’re primary objective is to increase cycling levels? I don’t accept that everything we do must be validated in terms of how effective it is in a general ‘de-motorisation’? Enough of this airy-fairy, ‘it must solve all the world’s problems or I will try to stop you doing it’ approach – I just want to ride my bike (with the easy pleasure that it was when I was lucky enough to live in that troubled little country where, according to rdrf, the inhabitants haven’t done all rdrf thinks they should have done in terms of “the adverse effects to motoring”). I’m not against your objective, rdrf, but I am against using it as a brake on those of us trying to achieve real progress towards making cycling feasible here.

  18. I feel we are wearing out this thread, so a few points which I hope won’t repeat stuff or add too much new:

    • Paul Gannon’s “I just want to ride my bike” approach: Don’t we all. Unfortunately politics comes into it however apolitical we want to be, and that means raising the car/motorisation issue. There has to be a justification for supporting shift to cycling: the key one is that it is part of superior alternatives to car and motor use. Even without this, you have to have the basis for reducing space and time for motors. Politics will find you even if you don’t want to be policical…Even pm recognises that you have to look at why people choose cars.

    • “Why should it be different here?” I have tried twice to explain this by reference to the difference in experience of cycling. Beliefs, everyday ideas, culture.

    • A quick point I haven’t mentioned: a thing that really interests me about the cycling demographic (because it is hardly ever referred to) is the bias towards affluence. Ordinary working class people are less likely to cycle than wealthier people. Partly this is because of the ridiculously low differential between cycling and motoring in cost – we really need to talk about widening this, I would say at both ends. Also, the – you guessed it – the cultural significance. Holding on to motoring is more important for some first generation users than for the wealthier who have worked through the status symbol thing.

    • I have evidence from my work pushing the Direct Support for Cycling programme at LB Ealing (I don’t work there anymore and don’t represent them) that intensive direct support (confidence training, home parking, subsidised kit etc.) can get more people on to bikes. Unlike some Go Dutchers I don’t think that it is morally questionable to support people who want to cycle. Yes, I do think it is worth it for those interested to cycle in present urban conditions.

    • Reducing danger: Highway engineering may well be one of the ways to reduce danger to cyclists. So could vehicle engineering, law enforcement – which a lot of people think we should have anyway – transport policy reducing the amount of motoring etc., etc. All of these require cultural change and become part of it. (That might answer pm). I’m least enthused about segregation because of its lack of applicability to most of the roads I ride on, the effects on already unsympathetic motorists who have got used to the idea that I don’t belong on “their” roads in “their way”. This issue of what happens in the real world when you base yourself on grafting a model from a different country in different circumstances (which I have said enough about) has not been sufficiently questioned.

    • You are perceptive about the cycling demographic, except in that you don’t like to emphasise that a normalised demographic is quite widely achieved where the road-layouts lake the feeling of danger away. What the observation you make says about the sensitivity to perceived risk of different economic classes might interest economists like Amartya Sen.

      On status, and catch-all uses of “culture” more generally, I’ve replied to your reply to me. I don’t think we need to be “wearing out this thread”, through talking past each other seems to be a bit of a worry, failing a response on my original complaint that your explanations lack an explanandum.

      D

  19. rdrf says:

    FYI, sometimes I appear as Robert Davis, sometimes rdrf

  20. Peter Clinch says:

    Tangentially related is Chris Boardman’s piece on the Daily Politics, http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b0 … 8_12_2013/ at 1 hr 20 mins and as usual with Chris Boardman he talks a lot of sense, and the presenters and political guests are in a fabulous state of not-gettingness which shows us what we’re up against (kudos to CB for not just hanging his head in despair).

      • That was utterly appalling, and very bad marks all round. CB was in effect hanging his head in despair from the moment he discovered they had chose that music – and I detect that had they chosen anything less cliched and infantalising as background he may have been more tempted to point out that polystyrene doesn’t protect you against crushing by truck, and that allowing yourself to be marginalised as a uniformed and badged out-group is part of the problem with UK transportism. That doesn’t look like information they were particularly likely to take on board – cue follow-ups on headphones and light jumping, which follow ups I suppose CB was anticipating and trying to avoid wasting time on. Only, by annoyance he succeeded in wasting the maximum possible time on them. His interview strategy might have worked if the piece to camera had been offered from Copenhagen or Amsterdam, so that evidence of the irrelevance of helmets was plain at hand and something to refer to. It might also have worked if the interview had been conducted in the studio. Given where he was, I think CB failed us here, in overestimating his audience and inappropriate disappointment. The DP is the Express & Mail, not the Financial Times or Cycling Weekly. Much, much more successful on the DP, possibly in part because of his kudos as a journo, but also because he didn’t allow himself to get righteously cross about idiot questions and idiot background music (the same idiot background music) and was on-hand in the studio to eye-ball the ignorant, was Jon Snow’s stint: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0LgBcYQ5lJg

  21. Diane M says:

    As a pedestrian, I have felt the least safe in Amsterdam due to the huge numbers of bikes and their attitude of always having right of way.

    • You are commenting on subjective safety (the data on this blog and elsewhere might suggest that being a pedestrian in Amsterdam is objectively a condition of relative good fortune), but the subjective safety question is important, and we should certainly think about dutch cycling from the pedestrian angle too – since the ‘cyclists’ are ‘pedestrians’ and the ‘pedestrians’ are ‘cyclists’. I don’t like to make assumptions about your main residence, so I hesitated to ask the question I now ask – nonetheless curiosity triumphs…. The question your comment provoke is a question about norms and normality. One might well experience “huge numbers of bikes” as dangerous if they are a kind of presence one is not used to.

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