As kids, you and I caused our mums the same heartache. All of your mothers in the Netherlands, and our mums in Australia, were terrified their kids would be hit by cars on their bikes. Both of our countries had the same deadly mix, caused by increasing numbers of cars on the road. It’s what your mums and our mums did differently, to protect us, that makes yours now a nation of cyclists and mine a nation of drivers.
Your mums joined rallies to end the murder of children on bikes, demanding protected bike infrastructure, and traffic calming in residential streets. Our mums learned how to drive, so they could drive us around instead of letting us ride. Another factor was that driving was being sold to our mums as a rite, in attaining independence from men. Advertisements for cars in the 70s, targeting women, show how car makers used womens-lib rhetoric to trap women, by making them work to pay for 2nd cars, that would cause them even more work, ferrying my friends and I off to soccer.
In the mid seventies most Aussie kids were still cycling to school. By the 80s, I was one of a handful still riding, the result of my own mum being one of the rare mums who did not learn to drive.
Remaining a cyclist meant my adolescent and teen years were somewhat more fraught (I have scars to prove this). From age 9 I’ve been cycling with cars, hand signalling and trusting drivers to see me, even though accident statistics prove they are prone to see through me. Instead of safe cycling infrastructure, my government gave me rider training when I was 10, underpinned by John Forester’s dangerous generalisation that “Cyclists fare best when they act, and are treated in return, as drivers of vehicles“.
In your country, the Netherlands, road engineers were giving you a protected space to ride on each street. Your bike modal share crept up to one quarter of all kinds of trips. In my country, Australia, it was just kids like me, whose mums didn’t drive, left riding bikes. Consequently our bike modal share dropped to one trip in every hundred. It dropped even further when my government introduced mandatory helmet laws, thinking these would reduce the horrible probability of death that still faces the handful of cyclists remaining.
Four decades later, it’s obvious whose mums did the best thing for their children. Your generation in the Netherlands can expect to live longer, in cities with passive surveillance provided by bikes, where you all get to work quicker. The only question is: How can you now sell us your expertise? (And now for Part 2).