"Every location is different and it's never as simple as copying-and-pasting their methods" is one of the first lines that struck a chord in The Dutch Blueprint for Urban Vitality, Building the Cycling City, a new book by Melissa and Chris Bruntlett. It’s a stark contrast from the sentiment of the book I finished prior to this one. Copenhagenize, the book by Mikael Colville-Anderson who runs a blog and company under the same name, very much advocates that everybody should just “copy/paste” the Copenhagen design.
There’s no doubting that the Copenhagen design works well, but in my experience, trying to fit such cycling infrastructure into constrained urban streets is often not possible, whether because of site constraints, funds, or political will and the risk of upsetting car drivers. The Copenhagen design may be the pinnacle and there’s no doubt it could be cited as such, but if it’s not feasible, whether for valid reasons or not depending on your perspective, other options have to be considered. Maybe the Dutch approach will be more flexible and applicable.
My last two trips back to Europe included stops in Amsterdam and Copenhagen. I left Copenhagen with a very clear image of what their bicycle infrastructure design entails, as it’s abundant and incredibly consistent. Leaving Amsterdam, the image was fuzzier, without one clear facility shining through. We rode all sorts from quiet streets, to bike lanes, one and two-way protected bike lanes, multi-use paths, advisory shoulders, sunken bike lanes, to lanes at the same level and adjacent to the sidewalk.
I was definitely curious what the Dutch blueprint actually is. By the end of the book, I didn’t come away with a blueprint in the traditional sense, as the book does not delve into the fine detail of what a Dutch bike facility is. That early quote should have hinted in this direction, there is no one solution, in the Netherlands at least.
What the book does do is tell some great stories, and explain that the Dutch faced, and in many cases, still do face the same issues that we face in North America today. It’s a book to inspire political will by debunking myths, providing examples of transformations that have improved the livability, and thus the ability of other city's to attract residents, visitors and business. It provides examples of those that objected to cycling infrastructure and later changed their mind on the back of the evidence of its success. The stories will hopefully inspire other civic leaders to also be remembered on the right side of history, inspiring them to take a risk and make a difference, because in every example, at least those cited in the book, building bicycle infrastructure has been a huge success.
Everyone thinks of Dutch or European cities as being incredibly different from North America, but we learn that many, particularly those rebuilt after war, went down the same auto-orientated route, and even they are now having to make the same brave decisions to reverse those past priorities. With the newer Dutch cities, just like those in North America, it took a little longer to reach the breaking point with the automobile that more compact cities reached decades ago. Both now face the same fate, it’s simply not sustainable to continue with the same level of car use in a constrained urban environment with growing population. The incredibly space efficient bicycle is one solution to that, be it for the commute, getting groceries, taking kids to daycare, or even commercial deliveries. The book provides numerous tales of cities in the Netherlands and North America that made those hard decisions and are setting precedents, showing it can be done on both sides of the Atlantic.
All designers of bicycle infrastructure would do well to read the book to better appreciate what isn't explained in the design guidelines, to understand the struggles faced and overcome elsewhere. If they didn't have it already, the book will provide an appreciation of the need to design for all ages and abilities, to view designs and the resultant user experience with users such as the kids below in mind. It’s a book that even many cycling advocates would do well to read, to help them see cycling how many Dutch do, as “just a faster way of walking” and embrace a more relaxed and less urgent style of riding.
Most importantly, it’s a book that should be in the hands of every elected official of every city everywhere. I can't think of many better ways to spend a few tax payer dollars than to inspire city leaders and help them understand the benefits that come from building a cycling city.
The book is officially released August 28, is published by and can be purchased from Island Press, and no doubt all other popular book stores. Island Press link... https://islandpress.org/book/building-the-cycling-city