By Ryan McGreal
Published March 29, 2012
The always-impressive Streetfilms recently produced a new documentary titled, From the Netherlands to America: Translating the World's Best Bikeway Designs.
One of the crucial messages in this film is the fact that the Netherlands has become a cycling mecca through a long series of deliberate choices to promote cycling, not through some innate quality of the place. As Bruno Maier, the vice president of the Bikes Belong Foundation, explains:
It hasn't always been this way in the Netherlands. Over the last 30 years, the Dutch made a conscious choice to become pro-bike.
Hillie Talens a Dutch traffic engineer, sets the historical context:
In the '50s, the passenger car became affordable for all the people, and every Dutch family wanted to have a car and that was the best for the economy. But then, in the '70s we had this oil crisis, we had an environmental crisis, we had a lot of fatalities in traffic, and then the whole society said, We do not want to depend on oil, we do not accept all these fatalities in traffic, we want a new road system.
This is the same message we see over and over again in cities that are today considered bicycle-friendly: through the mid-20th century, these cities were as committed to automobiles as anywhere else, but at some point, they decided to start shifting and re-balancing their transportation system.
Not surprisingly, those cities that are most advanced in cycling today are the places that started first in the mid-1970s. In places like Amsterdam, Groningen, Copenhagen and so on, it's easy to assume they were always this way.
It's convenient for cities that are not bicycle-friendly to assume these bicycle-promoting measures couldn't work there, but in much more recent examples like Paris and New York City, we can see that these engineering principles are universal.
The best part for cities looking to make a change today is that we can take advantage of the lessons learned by those cities that came before us. This documentary sketches out the best practices that have emerged from decades of on-the-ground research into the safest and most successful bike network designs.
I'll close with a quote from Danny Solis, Alderman for Chicago's 25th Ward:
My thoughts about biking before I came on this trip was more recreational. But I realize now, especially with this country, that biking is a vital cog in terms of getting people to and from. And it's great, it's healthy, it's environmentally friendly, it gets people to be more connected with each other, and so I really want to try to be a big promoter when I get back.
No more excuses, no more exceptionalism, no more squelching. There is no reason - not climate, not geography, not temperamental, not cultural, not economic - that the proven best practices for creating a bicycle-friendly transportation network cannot work in Hamilton as it has worked in a number of diverse cities around the world.
(h/t to RTH user arienc for sharing this video.)
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