Simon MacMichael February 14 2016
Did the UK miss an opportunity to ‘Go Dutch’ in the 1970s, just at the time that across the North Sea the Netherlands began prioritising people on bikes, putting policies in place that four decades on have resulted in the country becoming the envy of campaigners around the world?
Conservative politician Lord Young, who held cabinet posts under Margaret Thatcher, this week gave a glimpse into the views on cycling of the Labour Government in the mid-1970s as he opened a debate on cycling in the House of Lords.
As David Hembrow notes in this post on his View From The Cycle Path blog, the Dutch Bicycle Master Plan 1999 acknowledged that “from 1950 to 1975, the bicycle was almost entirely excluded from the government’s vision.”
That the situation was turned around is in large part due to the Stop De Kindermoord (Stop the Child Murder) road safety campaign launched by grass roots activists in 1973, a year in which 450 children were killed on Dutch roads.
By putting the focus on children, Hembrow explains, the campaign struck an emotional chord that resonated with the public and politicians in a way that lobbying for more money to be spent on cycling infrastructure can’t achieve on its own.
The result was a commitment to reduce road casualties partly through building separated cycle paths and engineering out conflict, improving the safety of not just children but adult cyclists too.
Opening Wednesday’s debate, Lord Young – once nicknamed the “bicycling baronet” and now, following his elevation to the peerage, the “pedalling peer” – referred to an earlier debate he had tabled in the House of Commons on 11 July 1975, when Labour were in government under Harold Wilson.
“The Minister who replied was Denis Howell—the Sports Minister—indicating that the then Government regarded cycling primarily as a form of recreation,” Lord Young recalled.