Monday, 14 May 2012

Some cycling lessons from the Dutch

Life long learning in Holland.
Source: Atlantic Cities via
Along with light rail, cycling was a keen topic of discussion at the Building a Better Fremantle Forum that was held about six weeks ago. The discussion largely revolved around the issue of funding hard infrastructure such as new bike lanes, something which Council has increased its focus on in the last couple of years. (For me the highlight of the evening was when Roel Loopers suggested a bit of guerilla urbanism by going ahead and painting the green lanes on the roads.)

When I think about cycling, generally two things spring to mind. Firstly, the not so nice image of my father clad in lycra on his racing bicycle commuting into work, which, seen once, cannot be unseen. The second image is of Jan Gehl describing cycling in Copenhagen as a simple way of life. Jan made the point that cycling in Copenhagen is not just the reserve of Tour de France enthusiasts. My interest in this topic was tweaked when I came across an interesting article (click here) describing why there isn't as much conflict between cyclists and motorists in Holland. Here is a quote from the article, describing the way the Dutch are taught about road rules.

"It’s not just a matter of going to the park with a parent, getting a push, and falling down a bunch of times until you can pedal on your own. Dutch children are expected to learn and follow the rules of the road, because starting in secondary school – at age 12 – they are expected to be able to ride their bikes on their own to school, sometimes as far as nine or 10 miles.

Because this independent travel for children is valued in Dutch society, education about traffic safety is something that every Dutch child receives. There's even a bicycle road test that Dutch children are required to take at age 12 in order to prove that they are responsible cycling citizens."

The salient point that the article makes is that everyone in Holland, especially motorists, understands what it means to be a cyclist. The outcome is that there doesn't appear to be the type of confrontation and tension that exists here in Perth (or in other car dominated cities) between cyclists and motorists.

Back in the day (I've noticed that I'm harking back to the good old days more and more as I trudge onwards through my thirties) I remember having to earn a 'bicycle licence'. It was a training program run at my primary school. Mum took full advantage of my new cycling skills by promptly declaring that I'd be cycling to school from now on. We did a test run together to identify the safest route, and then it was up to me. I lived to tell the tale and before long I was making use of my newly found freedom to get up to mischief (and to do mainies).

I like the Dutch approach and it would be great if we could borrow their values system. Primary schools could teach cycling safety again. I'm thinking that one way for the Federal Government to contribute could be for it to assist with funding of teaching cycling safety. (It could help with getting more cyclists on the paths/roads by looking at the tax system and making it easier for employers to benefit from providing incentives for their employees to cycle.)

I'd love to see Council support these Dutch values as well. I reckon one way could be holding our very own 'ciclovia' in Freo (for a good article on ciclovia's click here). We could follow in the footsteps of Bogota and other cities around the world. In Bogota, each Sunday and on public holidays the main streets are blocked off for the exclusive use of walkers, runners, skaters, and cyclists. Here is a photo.

Bogota ciclovia. Source: Boulder Green Streets via
Freo could do something similar. A good starting point may be 'a month of Sundays' type trial held this coming Spring. For me, this kind of event would raise the profile of walking and cycling in Freo no end. The Mayor has often expressed his desire to start up a Freo ciclovia. He has my support.


  1. Very insightful. And you managed to avoid the contentious "helmet" issue, which tends to polarise views. For some reason, there is considerable antagonism between motorists and cyclists in Perth. I noticed it as soon as I returned from 11y in Melbourne - a far more bicycle oriented city. I used to cycle to work now, but have become terrified of the semi-trailers and bogons who like terrifying cyclists. You've alluded to the solution in your post. It really comes down to having the right, dedicated infrastructure (e.g. Copenhagen) and having a society that is culturally aware of cyclists.

  2. I am one of those lucky Dutch kids who were taught bicycle common sense and road rules at primary school. I even received a certificate to show that I understood what stop signs meant and sharing the road and taking responsibility.

    Riding bikes is about educating car and bus drivers and bike riders alike that it is all about consideration and sharing and has little to do with if one wears a helmet or not.

    Roel Loopers