Last week the Danes held their National Cycling Conference. Not in Copenhagen, but in Randers, the town that was announced the cycle city of the year. I was invited as a keynote speaker, to deliver some insights about cycling in the Netherlands. The Danes took full advantage of me, by putting me 3 times in the program. A pleasure for me, as I like Denmark and the Danes and I want to continue our friendly battle being the best cycling countries in the world.
The first presentation was about the rural cycling in the Netherlands. Although we always show nice pictures about cycling in the countryside, investigations of the University of Amsterdam show that the amount of trips of cycling in the rural areas has gone down in the last 10 years. Reasons can be found in the marginalization of rural areas, a trend also happening in the Netherlands. Ways to slow down that process can be found in special regulations to keep the small scale facilities alive in villages. In case schools and shops are not available any more, the connections to neighbor villages should be safe for cycling. By example to build new cycle paths. An other development in the Netherlands is to increase the perceived safety of cycling, by the installation of a network of safe bases. This is a network of people living along cycle routes between villages, recognizable by a sign in their garden. These people are available to help stranded cyclists, the network is backed up by the police and the municipality. The number of demands is not very high, but it provides a good backup.
In my keynote I recycled a refurbished bike bell to Joachim Parbo, who turned out to be best bike collector in the room (and is an avid cyclo-cross rider). As this was a preach to the choir of bicycle lovers, I could dig a bit more into the work I do to discover how we can get even more people on bicycles. With 26-28% of all trips done by bike in the Netherlands, the low hanging fruit has gone and other measures are needed to increase cycling. To achieve this, more investments must be done. Getting more money into the local political arena I try to support the municipalities with easy to use tools, like I helped to develop the cost benefit calculator and a bicycle transport model covering the region. As this is work in progress, I could only show the draft model we made with the data provided by volunteers of the Fietsersbond. Later more about the transport model.
My final contribution was about the huge amount of bicycles at the railway station in Utrecht. The connection between cycling and trains is very strong in the Netherlands, on average 40% of all train trips start with a bike ride to the station. In best circumstances, like in Houten, Haarlem or Woerden, this can even reach 60 to 70 percent. As Utrecht is the largest node in the railway network of the Netherlands and has only one intercity train station, this means an “Ocean of Bicycles” parked. In the renewing of the station area 33.000 bicycles must be parked, 22.500 of them related to the train station, the others related to the offices and shops. To make this possible several garages are being build, like the huge bicycle flat under the raised entrances of the station. This Monday the small version (“only” 4.200 places) at the west side opens for public, the garage at the eastern side will take some years to be build.
Besides the lectures the conference itself was a little different than a Dutch cycling conference. Not only was the conference 2 days, what gave the opportunity to have a diner and a loud party, also bike tours were included. Presentations will appear at the website of the conference.
Next week the battle between the Dutch and the Danes continues at the conference Velo-City Global 2014 in Adelaide, Australia. Stay tuned via Twitter hashtags #vcg14 and #dce. I will be present with two topics: how to seduce cyclists to alternative routes and Cycle Highways (in cooperation with Sjors van Duren of Stadsregio Arnhem-Nijmegen).
For my return I travelled to Aalburg and tasted some of the cycling culture there. As it is a city with a university I saw a lot of students cycling. Confusing was the city centre itself, a nice square to put up a big screen to watch the Cup final (Aalborg won of Copenhagen) was still open for car traffic. Although not much car traffic went on, there was not much space for terraces, while it was clear that the square was the meeting point for all kind of activities.
I ‘d like to thank the organization for inviting me to share my knowledge about Dutch cycling with the Danes. Special thanks to Jens Peter Hansen, who invited me by Couchsurfing to stay at his place. He is a great host, a very driven politician and a very sportive person.