Of US students and a Spanish Award

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.

Road Amsterdam - Haarlem 1927
The road from Amsterdam to Haarlem at Halfweg in 1927. A transportation corridor with six types of transport. We already see perfect cycle tracks and motorised traffic is only one of the many means of transport in this route.

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.

Spanish Award
Photo by photographer Henk van Esch. Picture used with kind permission of the city of ‘s-Hertogenbosch.
Left to right: Javier Dueso (AMTS), award winner Mark Wagenbuur, alderman Geert Snijders, Vitoria Gracia (AMTS) and Jesús Sukuntza (AMTS and artist).

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.

14 thoughts on “Of US students and a Spanish Award

  1. And of course when I click on the page to go to that Dutch press release, it translates your name with Google as Car Neighbour. At least it is not Bad Neighbour. I also do not believe that a steel bicycle saddle is all that comfortable to sit on, especially for your everyday purposes.

    1. Somehow you when you make narrated videos, your voice sounds very different from when a microphone held several metres away is used rather than one held a few decimetres when you record the audio for your videos.

    1. The six types of transport in this transport corridor

      1. pedestrians
      2. cyclists
      3. motorized traffic
      4. light rail
      5. ships
      6. railway

      It was a still from my presentation to the students in which I argue that the Dutch have always tried to separate traffic as much as possible. At least, between cities, IN the cities it is really only 15 years that cycle tracks have been built in the scale they are built now. But the idea to separate is really very old.

  2. I’m so happy for you, I hope this keeps you motivated and encourages you to continue making videos and writing. You’ve definitely help change the way advocates see bicycle infrastructure, now if only you could reach our engineers who prefer designs you’ve stated a handful of times the Dutch stopped experimenting with a long time ago.

    It seems like a no brainer to me– US standard bike lanes allow for conflict along every inch: drivers can cross it whenever, wherever; people place their trash bins in them every week; cars double park in them; motorcyclists and car drivers use bike lanes to bypass traffic; buses weave in and out of the bike lane, blocking the cyclist’s path frequently; parked car doors can swing open at any moment; motorists can unintentionally weave into bike lane and cause a cyclist to crash, at intersections bike lanes disappear or force cyclists to switch sides with right turning motorists at speeds over 20mph…

    conversely, with cycle tracks designed properly conflicts with motorists are drastically reduced: driveways, intersections and with bus passengers boarding/un-boarding– that’s all! And all these conflicts can be designed around by providing separate phases at intersections and demonstrating priority at driveways (cycle tracks can even force people to pull in/out of driveways slower than they would without the cycle tracks there)

    Anyway, this is all to say I love your videos, they are excellent and of great quality. You definitely keep me inspired and motivated to do what I can to fight for quality infrastructure in LA.

    Thank you for your work!

  3. Congratulations, Mark! Thank you for all the work you do – this is gold!

    Cheers from the Antipodes 🙂


  4. Congratulations, Mark! You have become one of the best, if not the best, advocates for everyday cycling. Your videos are truly inspiring.

  5. Congratulations Mark! I am very glad that by this group at least your work is being taken very seriously. ‘A picture paints a thousand words’ as the saying goes, so I guess al those videos are doing their work. How nice that everything came together with everyone contributing to the occasion. You’re right, the Dutch are often too modest about it, but you seem definitely no exception to that! So again, I’m glad this Spanish group chose to award the efforts you have made, it’s deserved. When’s David’s turn, btw?

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