All about cycling in the Netherlands
If you follow me on Twitter you know that I was in Budapest last weekend. The Hungarian Cyclists’ Club (Magyar Kerékpárosklub) invited four Dutch experts from different fields of expertise for four bike events, organized in the European Mobility Week. The Netherlands Embassy in Hungary helped out with the organization and by making our participation financially possible. All the contacts ran via the network of the Dutch Cycling Embassy.
The main event for us was a Forum discussion on Friday afternoon. It started with a presentation of all four experts: Marjolein de Lange, independent cycling consultant who has long been involved with the Amsterdam branch of the Cyclists’ Union (Fietsersbond); Herbert Tiemens, traffic expert for the Region Utrecht Council of Governments (BRU) and former traffic planner of Houten; Marc van Woudenberg (“Amsterdamize” ) who needs little introduction and who is a mobility consultant; and finally I was there as a blogger and video maker about the many aspects of Dutch cycling.
I took care of the opening presentation with a short look into Dutch cycling history. The focus of the invitation for the afternoon was on “the mind-shift that took place in the Netherlands in the 1970s”. I tried to make clear that although this phenomenon did indeed take place in the Netherlands, it is no prerequisite for having livable cities today. You shouldn’t only look at what the Dutch did then, but much more at what is working today. And not only in the towns and cities of the Netherlands, but in other cities around the world. In their presentations the others then focused on their own field of expertise. Our overall conclusion is that if you want a better cycling climate you cannot get that without good bicycle infrastructure. Which, in turn, you can only get with an involvement of a very broad spectrum of society. Planners, politicians, civilians and special interest groups (not only for cyclists and pedestrians, but also including groups working for the interests of children, the elderly and handicapped, and even shop keepers etc.) as many as possible need to work together for a more livable city.
We spent Friday evening at an exhibition of Dutch bike design. A representative of the Netherlands Embassy opened this traveling exposition with Dutch designed bikes and related objects. Unexpectedly, I found familiar bags and key cords made from recycled inner tubes. I know them because they are made by a friend of mine. But I didn’t know they were part of this traveling exhibition.
Saturday night we were present at the “Cycle Chic ride the catwalk” fashion event. Some beautiful people and their bikes (fortunately not only girls but also some guys and couples and an older lady) were judged by a jury. I have no idea who eventually won because several people were called out in the end and all was in Hungarian. Some people got a book from the hands of Mr Cycle Chic Mikael Colville-Andersen and one of them must have been the overall winner. I am sure you that if you want you could soon find all about it on one or more of the Cycle Chic websites.
Originally on Saturday during the day there would be a Critical Mass Event. Budapest is one of the leading critical masses in the world, but it was cancelled and no new dates will be planned! The Hungarian Cyclists’ Club wants to focus on the work to change policies. You can only use your resources once and they feel there already is a critical mass of cyclists on the streets of Budapest at the moment. There was still a lot of discussion about this decision and we must wait and see if the already planned gathering in Spring 2013 is really the last time Budapest sees a critical mass demonstration.
To compensate, we were invited by the HCC for a very nice cycle ride of Budapest. Tour guide Zsolt Kilián showed us much of the city and asked us our opinion on a number of traffic situations. We were in agreement on many things. There was an awkwardly placed electric power transformer unit in the middle of an existing cycle route: bad! On a square we saw two rows of posts that were only there to guide public buses: unnecessary!
But we agreed to disagree on other things like sharrows on a narrow lane next to an even narrower cycle path on the side walk. Two bad things don’t make one good, but some in the HCC really believe it is better to have the choice between two not so good options than to have nothing at all. From our Dutch perspective we did not quite follow that line of thinking. We were also not so pleased with the combined bus/bike lanes we encountered, but the HCC think they are a quick solution to the lack of bicycle specific infrastructure. The Dutch would never combine buses and bicycles because of the huge speed and mass differences.
The general traffic atmosphere in Budapest is not bad at all. Cars wait for pedestrians even when there is only a zebra crossing without traffic lights. They also wait when they turn and people on bicycles or pedestrians continue straight on, crossing a side street. We didn’t experience any honking or cutting off. That is similar to what we experience in the Netherlands, but there are cities in the world where this is very different! We found closed streets where only residents may enter with their cars, regulated with hydraulic bollards. There are beautiful pedestrianized areas that have been built with very high quality materials and street furniture. It is obvious that people find it much nicer to be in those areas than in the car filled streets; lively café terraces prove it.
Unfortunately the good cycle paths we saw are not connected to any of these areas. A missed opportunity. It would be very helpful if there was one good example-cycle-route with also well designed junctions, so it would not have missing or dangerous links. It would have to be a useful route for a popular destination so it could be used by many people. With such a route people could see how that would be and the city could work from there by expanding the routes. Of course this would take a lot of courage from politicians and planners alike and we don’t see it happening any time soon. Today, the one junction that was designed best (and with funds from the European Union), is completely unusable. Working bicycle traffic lights, but a fence and an official car parking place obstruct the otherwise perfectly designed and built cycle path. An unbelievable situation, fit for the ‘Cycling Facility of the month’ website!
There is quite a number of cyclists on the streets of Budapest. However, most cyclists we saw were young and fit. Men and women, so that is promising, but the demography is not complete: outside the safest areas there were not many children or older cyclists. Budapest has plans for a bike share program “Bubi” which was postponed by two years. But in Autumn 2013 there should be 1002 bikes in 72 stations. That might change the way cycling looks a bit too. All in all, the situation in Budapest is promising, but there still is a lot of work to do before cycling can be a real transport option for a wide range of people. It is a good thing the people of the Hungarian Cyclists’ Club are able and willing to take up the task to turn the potential of Budapest into a real good cycling climate.
Budapest Bike Weekend video, get a feeling of the way cycling was celebrated!
I did part of the trip to Budapest by bicycle: cycling to the airport and back.