Love cycling? So Going Dutch it is!

The long-awaited Love Cycling Go Dutch conference took place in Newcastle on 5 November and it was a great success. More than 130 policy makers, decision takers and designers (those who can and want to make a difference) attended and whilst we would have liked the higher ranks to turn up, the mix of practitioners from across the region, campaigners and cycling organisations was excellent and led to a good debate.

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Image 1 – Not an empty seat on sight at the kick off!

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Image 2 – Christian Wolmar, Chair of the Conference and Paul Goldsmith, co-founder of Cycling Tynedale

Let’s start with our guest stars, the Dutch. Newcycling has always pointed towards our European neighbours including the Netherlands for inspiration and best practice. But we are often being told that it is because it’s flat over there and the Dutch have a cycling gene. So it was astonishing to learn that the Netherlands hadn’t always been this bicycle heaven and that in the 1950s-70s, their neighbourhoods, roads and cities were clogged with cars. Sounds familiar? The Dutch Cycling Embassy tells the story here, worth watching this 7-min clip. More and more space was given to motorised traffic, levels of cycling dramatically fell and casualties increased.

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Image 3 – The Dutch story – diagram from the Dutch Cycling Embassy

Of course, it’s not all about the bike and Cllr Nick Forbes who opened the conference with a truly inspiring speech, made it clear that “…our challenge is to reshape Newcastle’s economy as well as the physical infrastructure of our city to make sure we have a sustainable economy. To make sure we have a fair economy where everybody is seen to be able to benefit from it. And an economy, a political economy, which respects people and the environment.”

Our politicians were indeed keen to talk about the economy and that’s why we had approached Philippe Crist from the renowned OECD to talk about the economic value of cycling, with a focus on everyday cycling and people mobility. Packed with facts and figures, and catchy remarks (“cars don’t buy stuff, people do”), the key message was that modern successful cities which attract cutting edge businesses, invest in people-friendly built environment. And cycling infrastructure is a key ingredient, and indicator, for a city to be successful.

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Image 4 – Evidence speaks for itself – and should give cities confidence for policy and action

But what kind of cycling infrastructure are we talking about? Well, it looks like the Department for Transport, represented by Shane Snow is very much up for the UK cities and highways going Dutch; cycle-proofing roads is definitely on the agenda and the Cycle City Ambition Fund (CCAF) provides the resources to do some radical stuff – it was refreshing and justifying to hear the input and importance of local cycling campaigns being recognised. Will local authorities, in particular those in receipt of CCAF monies be up to the challenge, work in true partnership spirit? Are they able to deliver the improvements we all want?

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Image 5 – Cycling networks & cyclepaths – From the Netherlands to the UK and the US

Let’s finish with the world experts in cycling infrastructure, the Dutch. Marjolein de Lange and Bas Govers were in Newcastle the day before the conference to facilitate a design workshop looking at a specific intersection in Newcastle. Not surprisingly, their thoughts were more radical and wide-ranging than the local practitioners’. The Dutch experts did raise some important questions about Newcastle urban fabric and the very limited, and sometimes not so coherent, attempts to make space for cycling. When asked what the next steps were for Newcastle, Marjolein suggested that an an iconic cycle route be created, something bold and visible, of best quality which can be recognised and used by all.

Rendez-vous in a year time? The commitment and resources are there to set Newcastle on the same tracks as other successful European cities which have gone Dutch such as Sevilla – it is now time to deliver.

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Image 6 – In 6 years, cycling increased from 0.2 to 7% in Sevilla (Lynn Sloman’s keynote address)

We will keep reporting from the conference. There is much thought, imagination and material still to be uploaded, downloaded and disseminated; presentations and videos are / will be all here. It’ll keep us busy, amused and inspired over the dark winter months.

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Image 7 – Not to forget all the materials from the workshops, here with Lucy Saunders, Public Health Specialist from Transport from London