London cycling and the “by chance” success of Amsterdam
A new book about the cycling cultures of Dutch and other European cities offers some valuable guidance for London
Dave Hill Saturday 26 November 2016 19.34 GMT
For many London cycling activists and politicians with transport responsibilities the Netherlands is the touchstone nation for urban cycling policy, as demonstrated by the London Cycling Campaign’s ongoing “Go Dutch” theme and Boris Johnson’s borough-centred “mini-Holland” schemes. It is easy to see why. In 2014, cyclists accounted for a commanding 32% of modal share across the Dutch capital Amsterdam, higher than any other category and rising. Only walking rivals it as a way to get around. How did Amsterdam come to be such a beacon as a cycling city and what can London learn from it?
Professor Ruth Oldenziel of Eindhoven University – a Dutch person and a cyclist, just so you know – is co-editor of a new book called Cycling Cities: The European Experience. In it, she and a colleague characterise Amsterdam as the “world bicycle capital, by chance”. Last week, presenting the book’s findings at a London Travelwatch event, she summarised the city’s cycling pre-eminence as resulting from “a kind of coincidence”.
The professor’s Amsterdam cycling story is not of the city’s authorities introducing a visionary type of street design and everything proceeding from there, but one arising from the interplay between a range of factors over time, during which cycling policy was never more than “makeshift” and change has been untidily incremental. Nor is Amsterdam representative of every city in the Netherlands. “There are many different Dutch cycling cultures,” Oldenziel said. While Groningen and Enschede have banned cars from their city centres, Rotterdam’s cycling levels are very low.