All about cycling in the Netherlands
On the 4th of March it was exactly 100 years ago that the society for the construction of cycle paths in the Gooi and Eemland region was founded. It is the last private “Cycle Path Society” that still exists today. Some people thought the increasing amount of motor traffic in the early 20th century was so dangerous for people cycling, especially those who rode as a leisure activity, that they wanted separated cycling infrastructure to be built. The routes would also be solitary; not connected to a route for motor traffic and mainly for recreation. So not the shortest routes, but the nicest routes.
One of the driving forces was Mrs J. Pos-Greidanus, a 44 year-old lady who had been cycling for a long time already and who was the wife of an ANWB board member. ANWB had at the time already transformed from a Cyclists’ Union that it was in the 1880s, into a union to promote tourism in a much broader sense, and it was therefore also acting as advocate for the interests of motorists. ANWB promoted the founding of these bicycle path building associations because the existing infrastructure was not suitable enough for cycling. After supporting local clubs organising touring and bicycle racing these new societies for the actual construction of infrastructure were a logical next step. The idea was that better infrastructure would lead to more tourists cycling, who would also be spending more money in the municipalities these cycle paths ran through.
Because women were not allowed to perform legal actions in the Netherlands at the time, Mrs Pos’ husband Mr G.A. Pos founded the society and because he was also in the board of ANWB it became hard to really distinguish the two organisations.
The first route the society in the Gooi Region chose to build was one Mrs Pos particularly liked to cycle herself. From her home town Baarn through a varied landscape of heath, meadows and forests to the village of Laren. And the society really flourished in the early years. In 1914 there was one full-time employee and many people were contracted to construct no less than 30 kilometres of cycle paths in just the first year. The Netherlands was neutral in World War I so the work could continue. By 1919 the society employed 3 people in full-time service. And when the 12.5 year anniversary was celebrated in 1922, it was commemorated that 75 kilometres of cycle paths had already been built.
In the reports of the festivities the real role of Mrs Pos becomes clear also. She was appointed honourable member and in her thank you speech she reminded the audience that “the saying goes: ‘the woman about whom is spoken least, is the best house wife’, and here I am; at the centre of everyone’s attention, after all my efforts to be a good house wife!” From the minutes it doesn’t become clear whether she was being ironic or not…
In the rest of the 100 year’s history the length of the combined cycle paths grew to about 110 kilometres. Initially the surface of the cycle paths was a loam gravel mixture, but when that ran out the society had to switch to crushed shells from the Wadden Sea. Not everybody was happy with that. Those sea shells were calcareous while the heath is acidiferous and this led to the curious phenomenon that sea holly could be seen blooming on the heath sometimes! Nowadays a material called greywacke is used, because the society does not want to use asphalt in the fragile nature reserves its paths run through.
Because of the close ties with ANWB it is confusing who thought up the “mushroom-shaped” way finding signs. If you read ANWB history it seems they were the organisation that thought up these “mushrooms”. But if you look at contemporary sources and also the history of the Cycle Path Society, it becomes clear it was the society, and to be more precise, the chairman Mr P.A. Astro, a general practitioner, who had the initial idea for specific way finding signs for people cycling. However, the design was from Mr J.H.W. Leliman also from Baarn, who worked for ANWB. A committee, which included some ANWB officials, one of whom was Mr Pos, choose the final design. On the other hand the first mushrooms were all placed on the routes of the society (and only there initially) and ANWB had their own tall way finding signs, which were also for motor traffic. But right from the start the “mushrooms” were adopted and further developed by ANWB and later also placed in the rest of the country. They can still be found all over the Netherlands now. That you don’t have to look up for them, but rather can look down on them, is especially useful when you are cycling. The “mushrooms” are at the same time not intrusive in the landscape.
Today the society is the last remaining private society for the building and maintenance of cycle paths in the Netherlands (although the maintenance was taken over by a larger society for nature preservation in the region). The members are small in number and ageing, but the society is healthy enough and also has an information leaflet on the internet. From the budget for 2014 it becomes clear there are even plans for a new path to connect to an also new bridge! For this new construction and for maintenance, the budget for 2014 is a moderate € 47.000.
With the construction of solitary cycle routes already one hundred years ago, this society (and the other societies like it, that existed all over the country) may have laid the foundation for the way of thinking about separating motor traffic from cycling in the Netherlands. The society will celebrate its centennial with a party for its members this coming May. As a little advanced celebration I made the following video.
Video about the 100 year history of the cycle path society in the Gooi and Eemland Region.