Monday 16th July 2012 was a very special day for me! Professor Furth of Northeastern University in Boston had invited me to give a presentation to his students, while they were visiting ’s-Hertogenbosch, my hometown, that may after all call itself best cycling city of the Netherlands at the moment. Coincidentally the Asociación Medios de Transporte Saludables AMTS (Association for Sustainable Means of Transport) from Pamplona in Spain, asked me if I would accept their annual award. These two exceptional events both took place on the same day. The city of ’s-Hertogenbosch proved worthy of their latest title ‘Most hospitable city in the Netherlands’ by inviting all to the historic City Hall where both events took place.
In the morning I gave my presentation to 25 mostly civil engineering students about the development of the use of the bicycle as an everyday means of transport in the Netherlands. My key picture was one from 1927 in which you can already see every aspect of the transportation policies in the Netherlands. An equal treatment of all means of transport in a transportation corridor from Amsterdam to Haarlem. Cycling by people of all ages and an infrastructure that made this possible in a safe way.
I told them how cycling suffered from the rise of the automobile in the 1950s and 60s. And how changed policies made a comeback of the bicycle possible from the late 1970s. With some pictures about the professionalization of the way cycling infrastructure is planned and built under the Sustainable Safety policies since the 1990s, I closed my presentation. After which a traffic expert from the city informed the students much more in-depth about the policies in ’s-Hertogenbosch that led to the award by the Cyclists’ Union.
Then it was time for some official but festive events. Alderman Geert Snijders of the city of ‘s-Hertogenbosch was kind enough to welcome the visitors from both the US and Spain in the historic hall of Town Hall and he explained that it is his and the city’s “firm political conviction that we must strive after a sustainable mobility system, a system in which the bicycle has an important place”. Javier Dueso of AMTS in Pamplona then shared with us how they train people in workshops to ride a bicycle. In these workshops they also show participants my videos, so they can learn, that in the Netherlands, this is a very normal thing to do for everyday activities. AMTS also tries to change the views of policy makers in their region in the North of Spain with the help of my videos.
Vitoria Gracia then handed me the award made by artist Jesús Sukuntza. It is a beautifully crafted life-size stainless steel bicycle saddle, the Dutch type, not the racing type. Jesús also makes stunning life-size bicycles, in a lot of forms, from Dutch Omafiets to recumbent bike and he showed us some pictures. In an exhibition of his stainless steel bikes, he tries to let people understand that there is more to cycling than racing on mountain bikes.
After checking whether the students had the legal age, the city then provided drinks for a toast!
The afternoon was used for a cycling tour of the city. Unfortunately it poured! But the brave students never complained. One had a full rain suit, another rode with an umbrella, both with the idea; ‘When in Rome…’ but most just got wet and it didn’t bother them. The students then investigated further on their own. Interviewing the traffic experts and re-visiting specific areas in the city. All together, the students will write a wiki about a range of aspects of cycling in ’s-Hertogenbosch and I am really looking forward to reading it.
The press picked this up in a great way. The following day I was even surprised with a front page article and a large photo in the local newspaper. But it is striking how time and time again the Dutch need to be reminded by people from abroad that what they have in their country is exceptional and valuable.
The video should give you an idea that this was a day to remember! The festivities were filmed by Lei Lennaerts.