We were lucky enough to take a ride and have a coffee with esteemed Professor, lecturer, and researcher Ruth Oldenziel, co-author of the latest and greatest book “Cycling Cities: The European Experience.” It’s 200 pages are carefully researched and thoughtfully describe how cycling came to be (or not so much) in several European cities – with Dutch cities as a backbone story of cycling decline, automobility, then incremental change towards what are now urban cycling “success stories.” Of course every city has its own story, culture, and responses to change, and this work delves into those stories from 14 cities in 9 countries. From Budapest’s bicycling revival to Manchester’s “standstill”; Lyon’s corporate enterprise to innovations in Malmö – we can read about diverse trajectories in urban cycling but all with the same goal: to get more people on bikes. Ruth tells us more…
RO: I was in NYC in 2009 – the year that marked the 400-year anniversary between New York and Amsterdam. I was going to give a speech and then take a group ride down the Hudson. I rode up to the venue on my Batavus granny bike with high heels and they just looked at me like, what are you thinking? Everyone was wearing Lycra and riding fancy bikes with helmets. I didn’t have any of that stuff, so they didn’t let me go on the ride! I was shocked. But what was interesting was that we were both shocked – at each other’s cycling cultures. I couldn’t explain it to them; I couldn’t explain why I was on this type of bike and why it was ok that I was wearing everyday clothes and high-heels while biking. I couldn’t explain Dutch culture around cycling. That was when the first thoughts about this book started.
ACC: Are there other books like this?
RO: Not really, no. In 1999 a book [by the co-authors] was published in Dutch, called “Fietsverkeer” (or bicycle traffic). And in it was a graph showing cycling levels across several European cities. The graph became quite famous, but because the book was only in Dutch it didn’t take off in the same way. So one of our goals was to translate the book and incorporate the most relevant research in the new book – and update the graph. The other main goal was to create a narrative through lots of images and graphics in order to make is as accessible as possible to everyone – policymakers, advocates, the everyday reader.
ACC: What surprised you most during the research for this book?
RO: When we looked at the cycling data – the numbers – it varied so much. Especially within the Netherlands. Variety suggests that the Dutch are not special people when it comes to cycling – really, it was just a perfect storm of events that lead to this “success story” – if you can call it that. Factors like the car coming a bit later, mediocre public transport systems, the oil crisis, and the social movements of the 70s – all these events came together and created a perfect storm for cycling.
ACC: Is there another city’s story that sticks out in your mind?
RO: Basel is an interesting case. The percentage of trips by bike hasn’t changed in decades. Everything is done so well there – the highways are pristine, the historic city centre is car-free and walking is a high priority, public transit is flawless, efficient and affordable, and bicycle infrastructure is also good. All these modes compete, so one is not really better than another. That makes it difficult for the city to push forward the bicycle share. Biking there is nice, but no where near as fun as in Amsterdam.
ACC: What’s your favourite thing about cycling in Amsterdam?
RO: I love the Weesperzijde (where we are now). Not only have I lived here a long time – I was born and raised in Amsterdam – but I love that this street has no cycling infrastructure and yet it’s a preferred route to and from the city centre. And of course it is – look around, it’s just beautiful.
ACC: Tell me about this bike of yours.
RO: I’ve always had 2nd-hand bikes, but this is my lucky bike. I’m a klutz with bike keys, always losing them. I can’t even tell you how many bike keys I’ve lost – it’s pathetic. I’ve had this bike for six years and never lost the keys!
For more information and to purchase her book, see the website: www.cyclingcities.info
This guy is 100% Amsterdam. Riding one-handed along the beautiful Amstel, cruising with the dog, black panniers flapping in the breeze, and sporting the tweed and the slicked-back silver hair.
Seriously Amsterdam. Seriously cool.
The title says it all, and for the ones that are too Dutch to get it: WOODEN SHOES! And wood on the bike luggage rack..looks like Dutch countryside in the middle of the city!
This is how a hipster looks like after getting a kid! Remaining cool while riding on a big ‘mamabike’!
Loving this chick’s style. Black on gray on white, with the black Nike Frees — on a classic black Omafiets. Plus the big bun on top. And Ray-Bans to make it stick. Nice.
On gorgeous spring days like today, sometimes you just have to stop and enjoy the views of the Amstel, the sunshine…and the cute boys in the rowing boats!
Please join me for a cycle on a sunny day in August along the river Amstel.
I just loved these blues-brother-like guys, appearing on the borders of the Amstel river. It made me wonder, though: are they just colleagues on their way to have a drink or is this a smart dressed entrepreneur, taking his client out for lunch to one of the nicer restaurants on the borders of the Amstel. In any case, you must have a good deal of self-confidence to sit on the front seat of a bike like this, because a clumsy fall of the bike in front of a fully occupied terrace does not really match with this cool image!
In one week we had many festivities in Amsterdam; on the 30th of April Queensday and the coronation of the new king; on the 4th of May the Remembrance of the Death at Dam square and on the 5th of May both Liberation Day and the championship celebrations of Amsterdam’s football club Ajax.
After all these celebrations, with many people in the streets from all over the world, we are now taking it easy. Just enjoying the city and reliving about all the beautiful festivities.
Paddy and Philip from the blog Cycling with… went for a cycle with Job Cohen, former mayor of Amsterdam. On a sunny day, Job told them a lot about the history of Amsterdam, about living cities and about interesting things that happened during his time as mayor.
Job Cohen was Amsterdam’s mayor for more than 8 years, he was the first to wed a same sex couple and he was awarded with the title European Hero by Time Magazine.