Lessons from the Dutch – @Cycling_Embassy Take 2

Three years ago, Christchurch was graced by the visit of two Dutch cycling experts, courtesy of the Dutch Cycling Embassy, who provided lots of useful advice regarding our (then) planning for the Major Cycleway network. Last week, another two visitors from the Cycling Embassy returned to New Zealand to see what we’ve been up to lately. Mirjam Borsboom and Edward Douma first spent time in Auckland (where the “pink path” made quite an impression on them) before travelling to Christchurch (with a quick detour to Wellington on Canterbury Anniversary Day).

Edward and Mirjam check out the Matai St cycleway with some of the City Council Major Cycleway tea

As reported earlier, Mirjam and Edward were greeted at Christchurch Airport with a “cycle limousine” service from Steven Muir who escorted them (and their luggage) to their central city hotel. The next morning (Thu 10th), the duo met with City Council staff, councillors and other industry practitioners for a series of meetings and site visits discussing how Christchurch was developing its Major Cycleway network.

Mirjam leads a lunchtime discussion with local practitioners

That evening, it was the public’s opportunity to hear from the Cycling Embassy, with a seminar at Ara Instuitute (on our way there, our Dutch friends also got to try out some Spark Bikes to get across town). The start of the long holiday weekend unfortunately limited the numbers on hand, but over 30 people were kept informed for nearly 90 minutes about what the Dutch have learnt about cycling from both their own country and the rest of the world.

Lots of interest at the public seminar

Unfortunately their brief diversion to Wellington nearly saw them stranded there due to airplane mechanical issues. So a midnight return to Chch resulted in a later-than-planned start with local cycling community groups on Saturday 12th, and even then it was left to Edward to take up the reins while Mirjam tried to recover from too much recent globe-trotting. Starting at Action Bicycle Club (the newest everyday bike shop in town), a group rode up the planned Northern Line Cycleway route from Riccarton to Redwood as a consultation ride with Spokes Canterbury. Edward then got to experience using our bike racks on buses to get over to Ilam before riding the Uni-Cycle route back into town. Finally it was into the car to have a look over the routes of the Rapanui/Shag-Rock Cycleway and Coastal Pathway (and sneak a peek of the earthquake red zone) before paying a quick visit to the ICEcycles workshop in Phillipstown. Whew!

Edward borrows a nice city bike from Action Bicycle Club

So what key learnings can we take from the Cycling Embassy visit? Here are some key points noted:

  • They were at pains to point out that the best solution for places was not always the Dutch way (indeed, they were always keen to learn from places they visited). Because of physical, cultural, regulatory or other reasons, it might make more sense to look at other places for more appropriate models that could be implemented (or adapt to suit). You can’t always just “copy and paste” from somewhere else.
  • It is important to have three main ingredients for a cycle-friendly system: “hardware” (i.e. the physical cycling infrastructure), “software” (behavioural change and promotion programmes to encourage cycling), and “orgware” (the institutional systems, like laws/policies and funding, to ensure that pro-cycling things got done). A cycling strategy that is missing any of these parts is not likely to succeed fully.
  • Cycling is more than just a means of transport; it has the potential to open up social and community opportunities as well. A good example cited of this was the short film “Mama Agatha”, about a woman who starts teaching migrant women in the Netherlands how to ride a bike.
  • The Cycling Embassy suggest three key steps to making cycling happen: “Experience” (e.g. visit the Netherlands to see how cycling can be for everyone), “Think” (how can you make cycling possible in your community?), then “Act” (get on and implement your programmes). The Embassy can help places with all three steps, e.g. putting them in touch with suitable partners from the Netherlands.
  • There is a growing use of e-bikes world-wide, which is proving quite the game-changer; this is particularly so when tackling the perennial biking problems of hills and long distances.
  • They liked what we have done so far with our bike share scheme and noted that bike share was really needed in the Netherlands (which either relied on people already having a bike or locals signing up for the bike-hire system at railway stations).
  • Don’t do intermediate steps to cycling “perfection” if you can avoid them. But sometimes it’s a pragmatic way to make some progress.

Thanks again so much to Mirjam and Edward for your time in Christchurch; we hope you enjoyed it (despite the pressing schedules!). And we look forward to seeing you back some time when we have a few more Major Cycleways ready to be ridden…

What was the best takeaway lesson from the Dutch Cycling Embassy?

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