Ever thought about why countries like the Netherlands and Denmark have such a great bicycle culture? And have you then thought about why the UK is only getting started now?
In the 1970’s the Danish people realised that they had to do something to prevent the Danish cities to become a car/motorway/concrete nightmare and that was the tipping point. Since then they have been focusing on cycling-specific infrastructure and ways to calm down traffic.
At the same time in North America another idea blossomed: vehicular cycling, meaning that as someone who is riding their bike, they should mix in with the rest of the traffic and act like they were driving a car. This philosophy also influenced Britain and because of that, no bike paths were built.
These two philosophies are two very different ways of thinking of bike riding and in the end it makes two different kinds of cyclists. If you want to ride a bike but are forced to ride on the road everywhere you go, the fewest will bring their children with them and most people will find it intimidating as a slow road user to share the room with cars, busses and lorries. Because of that the people who rode bikes in America were mainly middle aged men on fast bikes.
We saw a completely different development in countries like the Netherlands and Denmark. With infrastructure specifically for bikes, the bike riding group of people became more diverse. Today you see young and old, men and female riding in Copenhagen – simply because people feel safe. And the feeling of not feeling safe is still the most dominant reason why people do not ride a bike in England.
Tom Godefrooij of the Dutch Cycling Embassy writes: “Cycling is too important as a mode of transport to leave it only to the daring helmeted cycle warriors in conspicuous jackets. Cycling should not be elitist, but for all.”
I heard in the news the other day that Birmingham got 1.6 miles of bike path. 1.6 MILES. In the same broadcast they said that Copenhagen had 200 miles of bike path and it is worth mentioning that Birmingham’s population is double the size of Copenhagen’s.
Two ideas were born in the 1970’s and to me it is clear which one we should adapt to in the UK and that does without a doubt involve changing the infrastructure.