Cycling was mainstream throughout the industrialised world before WW2, not just in countries like Denmark and the Netherlands. Their rates were undoubtedly higher. Still, cycling would have snowballed in the Anglosphere too, except for one thing. Our countries weren’t occupied by the Nazis (let’s not worry about Jersey). We had less rebuilding and regathering to have to do in the 50s. So while Denmark and the Netherlands had to make do with the bike, our countries could go crazy with new roads and cars.
Thus our reactions were quite different to the gridlock cars started causing in city centres in the 1950s, and to the increasing danger of cycling on roads in the 1960s, and to the oil crisis of the 1970s. In the 1950s while we were demolishing housing in city centres, widening roads, and building car parking stations thus establishing business districts with nobody in them at night, Amsterdam (as a for-instance) was leaving the built fabric largely untouched. Cycling remained the best way to get into town, even if it was becoming more dangerous and even if cars were parked anywhere.
By the time the world wide bicycle advocacy movement began in the wake of the 1970s oil crisis, our respective fates had been sealed. The early advocates in the Netherlands would get network plans and new legal and financial regimes into law. We would get a few cycleways but capitulate to the John Forester led backlash against them. I’m very lucky to have been raised in a city where quite a few cycleways were pushed through in the seventies, before the vehicular cycling philosophy (and all of its bullshit like holding lanes and wearing helmets) put the kibosh on more until now.
Meanwhile cycleway building in the Netherlands snowballed. It has taken me months of independent exploring to appreciate the full gamut. Vehicular carriageways are broken by bike paths, not visa versa. The red asphalt for bikes takes you everywhere. By contrast following the grey asphalt in a car is to enter a torturous maze of no-through roads and one-way streets marked with thousands of bollards and no-entry signs. It’s quite incredible really.
But let’s not get too depressed. Some of the key arterial routes for Dutch cyclists look no different to cycleways anywhere. They follow rail lines and waterways and often lead through industrial wastelands. They’re not second best. Many people choose them as express routes.
We have the same kinds of bike routes in our countries and can leverage from them when it is our time to shine. Let’s not forget that Autodom is always poised to collapse, by its own weight and complexity. Any year could be the year when it fails to deliver either billions of dollars worth of new cars, or infrastructure, or energy. One lost war or burst bubble and down it all comes.
And next time it does conditions in the Anglosphere will more closely resemble conditions in 1970s Holland. Our city centres will have people living within them again. Better still, they’ll be rich. Rich folk who have already shown a propensity for protected bike lanes and mayors like Clover Moore. There will still be people living in car-centric suburbs, but by then they will be impoverished and disempowered (I should provide a link to Strong Towns with every post). The bicycle advocacy community is different now too. It has largely rejected vehicular cycling so is less likely to be partied to an anti cycleway backlash from within its own ranks. Here’s that spiel as a vlog up my nose:
So the next time roads are left to get potholes, or energy prices go through the roof, or car prices double, we ought to be ready to pounce. Here’s why we won’t be:
Your suburban mindset has made you blind to what bicycling is. I don’t mean bicycling as a thing that you do. I mean bicycling as something that everyone else would like to do, but you’ve stopped them. Kids, for example. If related phenomena like eBikes and sprawl—that the bicycle advocacy community seem totally fine with—turn bike traffic into something that kicks along at 25 to 35 km/ph it won’t meet the needs or our children so will stay as is. It will be something that you do. Hooray.