Posts Tagged ‘cycling


Cycles for a richer society

When it comes to promoting cycling Sweden ranks fourth best in the world. Is this something to be proud of? Maybe, but its not very ambitious. Fourth best might be OK. I mean we’re not the worst, yet.

The annoying thing is that the knowledge base needed to be the best or as good as the best exists in Sweden, both among some politicians and many planners. Examples of how the urban environment can be improved for both pedestrians and cyclists is close at hand in those countries that are better than us. Investments to promote walking and cycling are not expensive. They provide great value for money when compared with other infrastructure investments. The missing ingredient, the one that means that Sweden doesn’t quite achieve the same high standards as lets say Holland for cyclists is lack of political will. The right noises are made but not implemented.

The main difference between cycling policy in Sweden and the Netherlands is quite simple. In Sweden you can easily and safely cycle around the cities. In Holland urban planning in recent decades, has made the bicycle quite simply the easiest way to get around in cities. Although it is easy to get around by bike in Sweden the easiest way to get about is often by car. For some reason, people choose to travel by car more often than necessary probably just because it is so simple. In Holland city planners have worked actively for years to give cycling a comparative advantage.

Why is this important? Is not it enough with the attitude we have now? The answer is no. for several reasons, but here there is only place to name a few of them. Each journey by bike gives an economic gain to society. Where as every trip by car is subsidized, heavily subsidized if it occurs within an urban area. Congestion charging at the levels presently discussed hardly affects this. If we want people to use one mode of transport over another, subsidies are a policy tool that demonstrably work. Although its important to subsidize the modes that you want to promote. Climate change, poor urban air, noise and insecurity are all external costs that are wholly or partially incurred by car traffic in cities. It is through taking care of the car’s victims that society subsidizes cars.

Most of the problems facing cyclists in Sweden are caused by cars. Cars travelling at unacceptably high speeds in urban areas and cars parked on narrow streets. On urban streets where people live and go about there business, the maximum speed should never exceed 30 kilometres per hour. Today many of our streets are empty, so why reduce the speed on a deserted street? Simple, when the speed of the traffic is lower, people start using street spaces again.

There is a much livelier street life in Holland than there is in Sweden. The Dutch initiative where cyclists are given a comparative advantage over motorists have benefited everyone, including the small minority who do not cycle. Dutch cities are pleasanter places to be in. And because it’s pleasant, people spend more on the street. They’ve managed to put life back into the cities, which among other thing increases personal security. Dutch cycling policy has had a variety of positive social feedback.

This said Holland has not declared war on motorists. The number of cars per thousand inhabitants is only marginally lower in the Netherlands than in Sweden (457/475). The difference is that in Holland motorists are also cyclists. Dutch motorists take the bike in the city because it is the fastest and easiest way to travel. All places are still accessible by car if you have to unload something. But its not that simple. Cyclists and pedestrians have the space they need in Dutch cities, cars get the space that’s over, and not vice versa as in Sweden.

Fourth best is pretty good but not good enough.

Ian Fiddies
Friends of the Earth, Transport Committee

This is a translation of the original article first published in Swedish in Göteborgs Fria Tidning


“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


The Dangers of Cycle Paths

First published in Bicycle fixation August 2008

by Ian Fiddies (August 2008)

Cycle paths are something that have bothered me for many years. Are cycle paths the best way to promote cycling? I’ve lived and cycled in European cities that had almost no cycle infrastructure at all and in cities with a comprehensive network of cycle paths where the cyclist hardly ever needs to cycle on the road. When I moved from London, UK to Gothenburg, Sweden in 1990 I remember feeling extremely frustrated by the cycle paths. I was used to what could be called vehicular cycling. In London I had been the fastest thing on the road but in Gothenburg I wasn’t. And that’s a hard blow for a young man in his early twenties. Although not quite a hard enough blow to stop me cycling. Later the same year 1990 I was visiting London together with my Swedish partner, who was a regular cyclist in Gothenburg. Try as I might I never managed to persuade her to take to the streets of London on a bike a second time. The first time was enough. Continue reading ‘The Dangers of Cycle Paths’

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