Learning from the Dutch cyclists – another important lesson
|Mass cycling protest in Amsterdam|
The Netherlands is famous for its cycling infrastructure and policy. In light of climate change and the push to engage in more sustainable lifestyles, cities across the globe have been turning to the Dutch cycling model and trying to integrate its elements into their own sustainability/transport plans and policies. The Dutch cycling culture of today; however, is certainly different than it was in the past.
In the years after WWII, automobile usage skyrocketed following the rapid rebuilding of a war-torn country. Congestion of city streets and marginalization of cyclists quickly became apparent, but one of the most terrible effects of this shift towards automobile use was the number of accident-related deaths of children (400 in 1971) that occurred (1). Mass protests, notable the “Stop Child Murder” campaign became popular, and public pressure to create safer, more cycle and pedestrian friendly streets ensued. Finally, changes in policy and planning were generated at the government level with amazing results. Child deaths were significantly reduced, many city centers became car-free, and infrastructure changed dramatically to reflect the high priority of cyclists visible in Dutch cities today.
While I could write a whole other blog post on the successes (and failures) of learning from and implementing similar cycling models in other cities, I have chosen to highlight another lesson we should be reminded of from the Dutch experience.
The shift from the popularity of the automobile towards a more sustainable means of public transportation was achieved through protesting and public pressure on the government. What alarms me is that the main driver of these protests was the loss of life. It appears as though the 3,300 accident-related deaths in one year (1) was what it took for the public to finally rally together and effect change.
When I think about the heaps of changes that need to be made in our current lifestyles to live more sustainably, I wonder what it is going to take before we get that critical mass of people that can influence our government to help us make these changes on a large scale. There is an overwhelming amount of advocacy groups, initiatives and campaigns geared towards aspects of sustainable living – could any one of these be the next “Stop Child Murder” campaign and cause a great shift towards another element of sustainable living? It is my hope that we can be proactive, that we can stand behind movements to help them reach that critical mass, but that this can be done before we begin to see such severe, direct consequences such as loss of life. Let us learn not only from the fantastic example that the Dutch sets on sustainable transportation, but also from the way this change was effected.