MCFly reporter Roger Bysouth attended the recent two-day cycling event, and sent us this. For another view, see madcyclelanesofmanchester.blogspot.co.uk.. Update: all the presentations are now available here.
The Dutch have been in our City evangelising about cycling. Alleluia. They’ve recently held four big events around England and have stirred interest among campaigners, planners and even politicians. Over there 27% of all trips are by bike. Here it’s 1%. Why is that? And can we improve by looking at what they’ve done?
The first thing to note is that the Dutch are not so different from us and have not been cycling merrily for generations. In the late 1970s cycling seemed in permanent decline, just like here. But get this; they decided to do something about it. Two main factors brought the issue into the mainstream:
- Cars were killing lots of cyclists, particularly children. There were years of street protests. It became a popular political cause.
- The seventies oil crisis alerted institutions and people to the dangers of reliance on oil.
It seemed a no-brainer to embark on a programme of encouraging cycling by building infrastructure. The decades since have seen cycling embedding in all aspects of life: a change in the law so that civil cases start from an assumption that the car driver will pay a minimum of 50% of the costs of any car-cycle collision. Campaigns to promote cycling. Improving parking. Links with wider urban design to create better city environments. Cycling organisations have a much higher profile and are less fragmented than here.
Little of this would have happened without not just support but leadership at national and local level across the political spectrum. At the moment it would be a brave national or local UK politician who proposed Dutch style investment in cycling. But the Dutch now have a coherent infrastructure and a cycling culture; and we don’t.
The events have been put on by the Dutch Embassy and the Dutch Cycling Embassy dutchcycling.nl – itself a reminder that public, private and non-profit sectors can work together to promote a social good that few other countries (Denmark, er, that’s it) can claim as good practice on. Yes it’s growth Jim, but not as we (at least David Cameron and co.) know it.
They’ve been two-day affairs:
On 19th November the Dutch went with local engineers and campaigners to look at some particular Manchester cycle planning challenges. They trooped off to the Stretford/Hulme Roundabout at the southern end of Deansgate (“it’s fundamentally too big”) and the Curry Mile (“make some choices about priorities”). They observed how these were used by cyclists and others and came back with some detailed recommendations. When do we start?
The following day, 150+ people from all over the North and North Midlands: councillors, local and transport authority staff, campaigners, assembled in the Town Hall. Mostly male and white. The morning was filled with presentations ranging through the history of bike planning since the 70s, an overview of where the rest of the world is up to, the value of giving bikes separate, continuous space from other traffic, parking and the health benefits (definitely bigger than the risks). For a great introduction watch youtube.com/watch?v=XuBdf9jYj7o. All the presentations may go up on nbso-manchester.co.uk, but if not ask firstname.lastname@example.org .
Worth a close look, especially for fellow Climate Monthliers and Steady Statists, is decisio.nl/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/SCBA-apr12-en.pdf’s explanation of social cost benefit analysis. It’s bringing factors into consideration in planning decisions that UK growthistas shy away from – quantifying and putting a cash value on how planning decisions affect communities and individuals’ health, as well as the supposedly “harder” criteria like creating employment and encouraging trade. Such tools are showing there is not necessarily a zero sum game of choosing either an economic or a social good. The tools can help work out how an informed judgement can mean both being met better. This may sound like potential greenwash fudge. But often it’s about showing the value of mixed urban environments, healthier communities, denser housing, local production and distribution and minimising carbon use. Such analysis sounds to me like a useful one for the steadystatemanchester.net toolbox.
The afternoon gave us a choice of workshops. I went to Health Benefits of Cycling to the Economy andCreating a Cycling Culture; Highlighting the Social Cohesion Benefits, eschewing the more technical/design ones. More on these available too. It’s no surprise that everyone thought the Dutch model is a great example to follow.
The $1m question is what is Manchester (in the guise of the City Council and Transport for Greater Manchester) going to do about it? The City Council has long had engineers, traffic planners and cycling officers but now has a great opportunity for (for a change, real) synergy coming up as it has recently got new statutory powers and staff on public health as well. Professor John Whitelegg compared what we could do now to the 19th century leap in public health engineered (literally) by local authorities providing clean water and effective sewerage. Can we afford it? Maybe not all at once. The Dutch advise: work out what we want to achieve and gradually build it up. This is fine and pragmatic; but how much time have we got? Perhaps making it a political issue and a social movement will move things a bit quicker. And that’s how it connects to steadystatemanchester.net.