On Monday, the 14th of August, we were given a last-minute invite for CycleWR to send two of their board members to participate in a Dutch Cycling Embassy Think Bike workshop. Which was hosted by the Region of Waterloo planning staff. The two members who were able to attend were two of our newer board members Janice and Patrick. We are glad that they were able to represent CycleWR and our members as they learn and talk with others who were attending the workshop. We start off reflecting on the hour-long documentary that we watched in the first session.
The first thing to stand out in the morning was the Bike Documentary called, Together We Cycle by Nieuw & Verbeterd. You can rent or buy it on Vimeo OnDemand. This was a great hour-long documentary on “the critical events that led to the revival of the Dutch cycling culture.” In the 1960s and 1970s, cycling in Dutch culture was starting to decrease like it was in other parts of the world. However, against the odds and with the help of a few key players, cycling became the obvious choice for the practical and frugal Dutch citizens.
First, for cycling to be seen as a normal form of transportation, children need to adopt it. Heading to school op de fiets, (by bike), was a crucial stage of increasing the chance that a child would use their bicycle for other tasks and even after they reach the age of being able get a driver’s licence. Children and teenagers biking to school is something our board member Patrick experienced in the Netherlands in June 2022.
Getting to and from places wasn’t always safe in the 1970s. Eventually, the idea of brick-laid cycle tracks came into existence. However, some were installed one day and upset citizens tore up the brick and it became a vicious cycle. Even the Dutch fought with fellow motorists to encourage safer streets for their children and themselves. Now, that about three decades have gone by most people have forgotten about the controversy.
Despite the conflicts, the Dutch came to realize that they already had about half of their bicycle infrastructure, and they didn’t need to build cycle tracks and bike lanes everywhere. We believe that this is likely the case in the Region of Waterloo too. As the documentary said, “Infrastructure is important but ultimately you need people to cycle.”
The documentary even noted that it’s easier to get new people moving into the area to cycle more often than to convince others to change. Now some people did change their habits, but the focus was first on people moving to the Netherlands, a new city or region. This often led to immigrants adopting the bicycle as their main form of transportation. At that time in the late 1900s, in the Netherlands, cycling trips were not replacing automobile trips. So, we thought, maybe that doesn’t have to be our focus either at first? Of course, it’s important to encourage existing residents to reconsider their habits, but also focus on encouraging immigrants to use our existing infrastructure and equip them to do so safely.
After the conclusion of the documentary someone asked, “What strategy would be a better approach? Little pockets of cycling infrastructure, or a focus more on overall infrastructure across the region?” The Dutch Cycling Embassy response was that the bicycle infrastructure should be widely built and be consistent across regional responsibilities. This is because “it’s good that the regional government takes a responsibility on regional routes since the level of bicycle infrastructure things could differ among municipalities.” This means the way cycle tracks, signalling, grade separation and more along regional land in between and in Kitchener and Wilmont or Kitchener and Cambridge should be familiar for bicycle users to increase comfort and decrease confusion. We at CycleWR, believe that the Region of Waterloo is doing a good job at that so far and in the future along regional roads. However, the more rural municipalities could use some work, like having a 3-metre-wide cycle tracks along one side of the regional roads outside of Cambridge, Kitchener, and Waterloo like we may see in parts of Denmark and Norway, and throughout the Netherlands.
Check out these short clips of examples of this in the Netherlands.