Archive for August, 2010


“Sustainable” Swedish city bans Mobility Week cycle demo

It seems a bit strange to be commenting on a Swedish newspaper article in English but here goes just because I find this in some weird way comically fascinating. If you can’t read the article let google do the job for you but for the lazy reader I’ll summarise.

In April, talk about being out in good time, a group comprising of a broad coalition of Gothenburgs NGOs notified the police of a planned cycle demonstration on the 18th of September. The planned protest has just been refused permission (I hate the word permission, do I need permission to get angry?) on the grounds that it would disrupt the traffic.

This gets a place in the local paper, as it should, but what strikes me is that nobody involved seems to remember that what has just happened is that a peaceful organised cycle parade with bands playing along the route during “The European Mobility Week” has been banned by the police.

European Mobility Week happens every year between the 16th and 23rd of September. It coincides with the international Car Free Day on the 22nd. Cities all around the world turn off the cars for a day and rediscover themselves. Gothenburg plays lip-service to Mobility Week but have stopped doing anything to give us a chance to see what a difference the cars make when they’re not there.

In Brussels the city will close all it’s roads for all cars. In Budapest we can expect a new world record for most riders in a Critical Mass. In Gothenburg a fluffy cycle demonstration up and down one street. The famous Avenue has been banned by the local police. Makes my blood boil!

But lets remember that every cloud has a silver lining. Gothenburg’s willingness to hang themselves out on the international stage for repressing the European Mobility Week might just draw attention to the plans in the city for a nice new urban motorway next to the other urban motorway that gets a bit full sometimes. This international recognition might just have more effect than a fluffy cycle demo. One never knows.

Ian Fiddies


27th September 2010


How to kill initiative

We all live on the same planet, one world but one world with an infinite number of ways to look at things, and at each other. Some times it can be extremely frustrating when the people who could easily help me don’t. Not because they disapprove of what I’m doing in any way, quite the opposite is true. The people who could help me most definitely approve of what I’m doing. The reason they won’t help me is that they perceive that what I’m doing is impossible.

How can something that is in fact very easy be perceived as impossible? Simple, it just doesn’t fit into their perception of what is possible and therefore it must be impossible. I feel like screaming.

You must be wondering by now what this impossible thing I’m trying to do is. I want to teach people who don’t know how to ride a bike the skill of cycling. The people in Swedish society who can’t cycle are usually women who grew up outside of Europe and migrated here. My experience tells me that given the chance many of these women jump at the chance of free bike lessons. The last time I set up a class it took just two hours from finding just one woman who wanted to learn cycling until I held the first lesson for a full group. And it was even raining. All I need to do is to find just one woman who is interested and Bob’s your uncle we have a group of learner cyclists. I have the bikes, I have the teachers and the financing. All I need is one keen woman. But this is perceived as impossible.

The problem as I see it is a falsely based attitude to immigrants. People who have on their own initiative migrated long distances arriving at a destination after a journey that in many instances is about as close to impossible as you can get. People in other words with initiative and lots of it.

The problems start when the migrant comes into contact with other people who mainly by luck of birthplace have never been forced to drastically take full control over their lives and pull up all their roots. There is a conflict of perspectives. Conflicts rarely benefit anyone involved but usually one side loses more than the other.

We tend to judge other people by outward signs such as language. Anyone who can’t speak the local language fluently will many times be perceived as somehow lacking, no matter how many other languages that person might be fluent in. The help available in Sweden is of the highest quality and given by teachers with both empathy and skills, it’s not the teachers it’s the system. A migrant entering this system will receive a great education but at a cost and that cost is usually the loss of their wonderful initiative. The result is a dependence on a system designed by people who however willing have a hard time understanding the migrants perspective. Anything that isn’t part of the system doesn’t have a place in the system and is in other words impossible.

Maybe I’m writing this whilst frustrated after a brush with an unhelpful receptionist, probably one with too much work on their plate to have the time to be able to think in different perspectives but my frustration is real. Even if it’s based on my own “migrants perceptive”.

I’m going to find my group of learner cyclists with or without the help of the local establishment. And then I’m going to hold the first lessons right outside of the town hall. Let see what is or is not possible. Wish me luck!

Ian Fiddies, 12th August, but this time I won’t say where

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