Thursday, November 3, 2011

"Everybody" Knows

American cyclists and progressive planners who visit the Netherlands are amazed and covetous of the separated paths and the cross section of society that uses them.   We tend to think that these paths are an outgrowth of the social-political system or are somehow engrained in the culture, and we could never achieve them here.

While admittedly the US has a different density and settlement pattern, there are a lot of places in the US that aren't physically that different than the Netherlands,  and their paths weren't always as fantastic as we see today.

This video, produced by the relatively new Dutch Cycling Embassy,  gives an excellent history of the social movement in the 1970's that transformed the bicycling landscape.  This video implies that the lynchpin of the movement was concern over child safety,  and I'm curious if that was indeed the main focus, or if there were other historic preservation/ density concerns.

There's definitely a virtuous cycle a brewing.  More facilies= more cyclists=demand for better facilities=attracting more cyclists, and at some point you end up with the political will to create a comprehensive cycle path network!


  1. Ironically, the origin was born in a desire to simply get cyclists off the roads. Needless to say, it has mutated a LOT since the tawdry beginnings. IMO, many older areas of Boston could do well to emulate what the Dutch system has become. Areas such as Lowell, not really.

    I do not live near an area where the Dutch approach would be even remotely plausible. One problem a lot of cycling advocates have is they seem to lack recognition that the solutions will vary dramatically depending on the locale.

  2. This is an excellent video indeed. I used it on my site as well:

    They simply made smart decisions. They quickly learnt that centres of the cities are not for cars but for people.

  3. A while back (maybe 2-3 years now) I read a great piece in The New Yorker on healthcare reform. The main point of the author was that every nation with universal access or coverage handles health care in a different way. All of them are "path-dependent" (great term in a biking context), meaning that they accomplished the same general ends with very different means depending on where they started, what resources they had, what kind of political climate they met with, and so forth. There was no one-size-fits-all magical answer to health care.

    It seems to me that developing bike infrastructure in the US needs to be path-dependent (I'm loving this wordplay). We are starting from a very different place today, decades after The Netherlands began its process. We're a different kind of population with a different political process and a far different tolerance level for certain kinds of government actions.

    I wouldn't look at our national politics and public investment priorities and say that concern for children is going to get us very far, for one thing. (If we cared more about kids no child would be without health care and a decent education all the way through postsecondary, as just a couple of elements.)

    A couple of days ago I wrote a post about developing bike networks in my town that addresses the need to localize solutions. ( In a nation our size I could foresee that the bike system in a flat city in a temperate climate might look very different than the network in my hometown of Spokane, with steep hills and four-season weather. That's fine, as long as we get to a point where the "transportation system" isn't just a "car-moving system" the way it primarily is today.