How biking began

 Read in OEK – Op eigen kracht nr. 90, May 2013:

Last week, planning students had to anwer my question what must have caused the successful rise of biking in the modal split of Amsterdam over de last three decades. They all said: biking lanes, the geographic condition of flatness, the introduction of high parking tariffs, bad public transport,  it all started with banning the cars, it must have been the introduction of fashionable family-bikes for bringing young kids to school, etcetera. No one remembered how it really started, with citizens asking for more livability. In Amsterdam, on 5 June 1977, some 9.000 young citizens protested against the dominant car infrastructure in the city centre by lying down in the street, thus symbolizing the 3.000 victims of car accidents in the Netherlands every year. After raising up, they all rang their bells, it was a very peaceful, well organized biking march, but a very effective one too. Next year, in 1978, there were more than 10.000 people obstructing car traffic on the Museumplein again with their bikes.  After the four editions, the last one with more than 15.000 participants, Amsterdam politics responded. This is how a new policy for more bike-friendly traffic management in my city got started. Twenty years later the road on the Museumplein was skipped. A green park was built on top of a huge underground car park. How ironic.

What do we learn from this?, I asked my students. Citizens fight, planners fail, politicians respond. Sure. Is protesting a necessary ingredient of planning? If the planning is closed, yes, if it would be open, no. But that would mean planners and politicians agree on the fact that citizens are the true experts in urbanity and livability, that these amateur-planners who live in their neighborhoods and raise their kids, know best how to create a livable urban environment. So politicians should listen to their voters, and planners should be more humble. Starting an open planning process would mean they chose for an endless process of co-creation by serving and helping the people to build their own great city. This means: listening, interacting, not being too tough, relaxing, letting it grow, waiting for the tipping point. So great city planning is easy. If your intention is to build a better city, do practice open planning. If not, do become an ideological advocacy planner. Never become a bureaucrat.






One response to “How biking began”

  1. Carlton Reid Avatar

    This 1977 event wasn’t the first. The annual demo started in 1974 with a few hundred demonstrators. There were 3,000 participants in 1975, and 4,000 in 1976.

    It’s interesting that the 1997 “die-in” – which spawned others, in Montreal especially – shows lots of 10-speed road bikes rather than the standard Dutch bikes.

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