Utrecht opened the world’s longest rainbow cycle path, just in time for international Pride month. The well over 570 metres long rainbow path runs right through the heart of the university campus as a positive symbol for diversity and inclusion. It’s a dream come true for the student who came up with the idea.
Utrecht wants to be a world class cycling city and it is doing great according to several rankings such as the recent one from People for Bikes and an earlier one by an insurance company in 2019, which both ranked the city at number 1. With most of the basics covered a city can start to do exceptional things like building a cycle path on the roof of a school or having the largest bicycle parking garage in the world. Now, a new thing can be added to the list of exceptional cycling infrastructure in Utrecht: the city opened the world’s longest rainbow cycle path. The path in Utrecht is over 70 metres longer than that of the previous title holder, which is believed to be the rainbow path in Auckland, New Zealand, which also runs near a university campus.
A student at the Utrecht University of Applied Sciences came up with the idea which he presented in an open letter last January. Elias van Mourik (22) asked the University for “A colourful symbol in the Utrecht Science Park to show their endorsement of diversity and inclusion”. The letter was co-signed and supported by a number of institutions, some private people and even a member of the city council. The university was onboard quickly. According to the real estate and campus director Fiona van ‘t Hullenaar because they saw this as an opportunity “To show the world that at Utrecht University you can be whoever you want to be!”
The 570 metres long colourful path starts with an 8 metre long painted progress pride flag. This version of the pride flag incorporates the colours of the transgender flag with added black and brown stripes in a chevron. The latter two colours represent marginalized LGBT communities of colour, community members lost to HIV/AIDS, and those currently living with HIV/AIDS. The rest of the path has the usual six rainbow colours but also the added black and brown bands.
The two universities and the University hospital (UMC) worked together to realise the rainbow cycle path. The rainbow may be a symbol of the LGBT+ community, but the institutions would like the path to stand for inclusion and diversity in the broadest possible sense. In the words of Elena Valbusa, diversity officer at the Utrecht University of Applied Sciences it is to make clear that “Everyone can be themselves and is welcome in the Utrecht Science Park”, to which she added: “Regardless of colour, sexual orientation, cultural background, disability, or your parents’ income. We prefer to look at the human being, with everyone’s own talents and qualities and how we can develop them further.”
The path is part of several initiatives, explains Janneke Plantenga, who is the diversity dean of Utrecht University: “Both within the University of Applied Sciences Utrecht, Utrecht University and the UMC Utrecht there are already several initiatives in the field of diversity and inclusion, but we find this a nice opportunity to also organise a number of activities together. The idea is, for instance, to organise a lecture series. Or to tell the stories that the cycle path stands for in a podcast series. In the coming months, we will start working on the exact details. We are determined to make something beautiful out of it together.”
That may indeed be necessary. The project also provoked some criticism. In an article it was noted that the University of Utrecht is for instance not even able to adjust pronouns in its IT systems, which leads to salutations of either ‘sir’ or ‘madam’. According to the article the university is also not very inclusive for people with disabilities. The situation is supposedly even worse for employees than it is for students.
The colours were painted onto the existing path in just a couple of days. The road builders had to work with rather unusual colours, but they were very enthusiastic. One of them said in a video that he was proud to be part of the project. That shows when he puts his thumb up and exclaims: “This is going to be great!”
The path can be used since last Friday afternoon and it draws a lot of attention. Many people were taking pictures and selfies, much to the delight of initiator Elias. In the Dutch news for children he told the reporter in an interview from the path (while it was not completely cleaned yet) that it felt amazing that the path was finally there. He hopes it will cause people to talk to each other to improve their knowledge about diversity and inclusion. Just cycling on the path made him happy; “It feels like a great success!”
My video portrait of the Utrecht Rainbow Cycle path.
A ride on the path in both directions.
From the Netherlands, where in 2013 93% of the population believed homosexuals should live their lives as they wish, it is stunning to see the differences in acceptance of diversity and inclusion in countries which are geographically so close to us. Just days after Utrecht celebrated the opening of this path, Hungary, also an EU member state, passed an anti-LGBT law. In Poland, another EU member, LGBT rights have been under threat for much longer. Even the Netherlands has slipped to place 12 in the rankings of 49 European countries. The rights for gays and lesbians have been secured well in this country, but that is not yet also true for gender related issues. ILGA Europe recommends the following improvements for the Netherlands. Implement more specific hate crime and hate speech policies, develop a fair, transparent legal framework for legal gender recognition and prohibit medical interventions on intersex minors.