You may not know, but I’m kinda big in the Netherlands (just North of Belgium). I was asked to help launch Europe by People last week in Amsterdam, and also to place the bike stamp on the associated FabCity event running next year there (it’s a city in the Netherlands, quite old, with clogs and legal pot).
I could brag more but that might be counting chickens before they have hatched. Forget chickens. These things will be big. More like pterodactyls, or Monkey, or similarly really big things that hatch out of eggs. They’ll be good for my ego, but also for the future of cycling as a mobility platform for city planning. The profile and very flattering respect I’ve attained in the nation of cyclists has recently led to the formation of a Cycle Space office in Amsterdam, where naturally I’ll be spending more time now.
You might think “lucky you” and career/legacy wise you would be right. I’m a child of the beach and surf lifestyle though, so am emotionally ambivalent about time away from Newcastle East. My only relief is having Rapha models escorting me to the beach, and speaking to huge audiences of enthusiastic young ladies about the greater opportunities for casual sex in a city of millions of cyclists. By the way that’s just a sock in my undies.
The down side is I’m heading to Amsterdam at a time when its future in bicycle transport is far from certain. According to this blog post from last week by one of the city’s leading thinkers on urban planning, Amsterdam’s bicycling days are now over. Sorry folks, but the narrative you say to yourself about cycling being on the up and up, is matched and outweighed by many competing and conflicting stories that others tell. Here are some examples:
I wish more people would read Lyotard’s landmark text on the Postmodern condition and keep a better reign on their self-talk. Blind faith may sound inspiring from the pulpit at VeloCity but there is nothing at all to suggest that cycling is growing, or that research and stats in its favour can generate the “political will” such reports all refer to in their conclusions, or that established advocacy groups aren’t pawns of an establishment they’re supposed to be fighting.
Some of the waves we could ride if we really wanted cycling to flourish would not be the waves you might think of, or agree with on ideological grounds. One is the refugee flood. High density housing projects built to house refugees, if they were near city centres and ultra low paying job opportunities, could swing the balance of power toward walking and cycling, the only modes those poor bastards would be able to use. Coming from the other side is the rise of the luxury goods market, where cycling could figure more strongly. Not petite bourgeoisie thoughts, I’ll admit.
3 weeks of lonely bachelorhood in Amsterdam (albeit it in a very nice house in the centre with its own garden) has given me the time and space I required to let negativity fester. You get to a point though with this when you need to break through. It’s either that or abandoning the quest to bring bikes to forefront of planners’ and architects’ thinking. For me the breakthrough was googling Reinhold Niebuhr’s famous prayer for serenity:
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I can’t change, the courage to change what I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
I have to ask you not to disturb my serenity with your hopeless mission to build cycle tracks in low density cities with lots of garaging. Your intergenerational plan to change hearts and minds is of even less interest. Wise up and work on fronts that might work. A 100K full titanium cargo bike: now there’s something useful.