A metaphor that Mikael Anderson has been promoting is that Danish cycling is like a vacuum cleaner: a useful tool to complete a task but nothing special. Just as vacuums are a helpful element with home care, bicycles are useful means of physical travel in cities. People don’t need six shiny bikes in the garage, lyrca or “other” experience. There’s little need to ‘celebrate’ cycling because its “built into” the activity of getting around; its what people do.
An unstated implication is that that the knowledge-base for vacuuming (possibly for cycling?) therefore fails to warrant special consideration. You do not need a professor to help teach you about the merits of vacuuming, the ‘hows’ of vacuuming or the conditions under which vacuuming might be met with success. But do you need professor to help you with bicycling? That is the question I found myself asking over the past week.
I am honored to begin an appointment a visiting professor of “cycling in changing urban regions” in the School of Management Sciences at Radboud University in the Netherlands (part time, 2014-2017). You ask: an American as the “cycling professor” in a country with more cycling than anywhere else in the world? It’s a bit ironic. And, it would be a bit misguided for an American to think they can teach the Dutch about cycling.
Or can they? Relatively speaking, the Dutch do an outstanding job with their cycling environs. Interestingly the “supposedly” rich knowledge base has been fostered by practitioners and/or consultants. Research has played a surprisingly small role. Dutch cycling has basically evolved and generally speaking, they don’t know themselves what they did so well. Their systems have rarely been planned, assessed, or evaluated. It just moves on, sometimes with guidelines and other times without.
Just as we take for granted the inner workings of a vacuum cleaner, we take for granted the dynamics of successful cycling systems. Maybe there is role for a cycling professor? At least fresh eyes and fresh perspectives would help position attributes of successful systems. Documenting some of the why’s would be beneficial as well. This new position has a number of goals, inter-alia: helping lead a research program on cycling, solidifying the scientific research base for cycling, critically examining which elements of Dutch cycling can be better ‘exported,’ and collaborating on various initiatives in Nijmegen, around the Netherlands and Europe. I’ll be living in the Netherlands for roughly a month a year (not all at one time) and working with faculty in the spatial planning unit at Radboud University. As posts and insights come available related to Dutch bicycle planning and this position, they will be identified with the ”nl” label. Just as I am looking forward to learning more about the ins and outs of cycling in new contexts, some members of my household might be looking forward to me learning more about the ins and out of vacuuming.
I started focusing on bicycling as a research theme in 2002. The novelty for the first few years was “exciting” (e.g., is it really possible to have such a sliver the larger transport landscape comprise a larger portion of a research agenda?). The next few years was more so “interesting” (e.g., why does this mode of transport have such a difficult time integrating into major transport discussions; how can research methods from other modes be applied to cycling). The last few years have been “surprising” (e.g., who would have thought that such a previously marginalized transport mode could garner such attention?). A dozen years later, the continually shifting landscape helps maintains interest in cycling (at least for me). Here are at least four reasons:
- The media and other attention that the mode is receiving suggests that more and more people (including political leaders) are starting to devote considerable resources towards bicycling. It’s a bit unclear why this mode has taken off at this time (I have some explanations).
- Transforming transport systems in cities suggest a strong role for repurposing of primary rights of ways. Cycling will be a large beneficiary of this space.
- Large-scale, long-haul transit has a distinct role in the future of cities. How people access these transit systems—and more broadly transit/cycling integration—is a key research topic moving forward. Oh, cycling egress also plays a role.
- ICT is having a revolutionary affect on everything in society, but specifically, ICT is facilitating and transforming both cycling research (e.g., smart phones) and cycling use (e.g., apps for wayfinding).
Over at streets.mn, I comment on the political spectrum of road re-purposing discussions.
Prior to a 2 month hiatus, the EU BICI series travels to (arguably) Northern Europe’s best cycling success story: Odense.
The last of the mohicans has fallen. My colleague, David Levinson, told me,
“how can you expect to be a self-respecting and authoritative voice on the future of urban transport if you don’t own a smart phone?”
Owing to this and other complications, I just acquired my first cell phone in 43 years. Based on 24 hours of use, I have three semi-philosophical observations:
1. We (as a society) have the lost the art of planning (e.g., where should we meet? It does not matter, I will text you).
2. No one asks for directions anymore; our ability to accurately give them is probably at an all-time low as well (not that it was anything great to begin with).
3. No one talks on the phone anymore, socially. We have seemingly moved to texting for all socially related interpersonal communication when physical proximity jeopardized (and even then texting seems preferred).
The EU BICI series travels to Denmark’s capital city: Copenhagen.
Upon arriving, I was immediately struck by three observations:
- An intersection on the east edge of town carrying 36,000 cyclists per day.
- A feature spread in the daily newspaper highlighting cycle track rage—not between car drivers and cyclists—but between cyclists.
- Public officials informing me of their desire to widen the cycle track standard from 2.5 meters to 3 meters (formerly it was 2.2).
The 10th post of the EU BICI series looks at Dutch cycling by exploring Delft and the Hague and benefits from the insights of co-author, Peter Furth, Professor of Civil Engineering at Northeastern University and frequent instructor of a sustainable transportation course via TU-Delft.
“With tulips and clogs, bikes are a signature element of the Netherlands—lots of them. Everywhere. It’s the only country in the world with more bikes than people. More than anywhere in the world, bicycling here appears to be a form of “mechanically assisted walking.” Where residents in other countries might walk for short distances, the Dutch pedal. But because they pedal, their “velo-walking” extends far greater distances than normal walking ever would. Cycling is used as the default mode for short trips like running errands. Except in busy shopping areas, bikes far outnumber pedestrians; cycling is pervasive.
But even in this exceptional national context, people are surprised to learn there is still wide variation in cycling use…”
The next installment of the EU BICI series comes from Stockholm—the self-proclaimed “Capital of Scandinavia”—which endures incessant questions about how it cannot achieve Copenhagen-like status…
There is reason to believe that Padova—a town with more than 200,000 people in the Veneto region in the north of Italy—is capable of becoming one of the country’s best cycling towns…
Here is the next entry in the EU BICI series including: Seville (Spain), Bologna, Ferrara (Italy), Berlin , Munich (Germany), Zurich (Switzerland), and Cambridge (U.K.).