Sunday, 25 November 2012

Love Cycling Go Dutch - Manchester

Last Tuesday, 20th November, I took the day off work to attend the Love Cycling Go Dutch Conference in Manchester. It was the last of four such conferences organised by the Netherlands Business Support Office and the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The conference was aimed, primarily at council officers and other professionals involved in cycling, but I was fortunate enough to have received an invitation as a local cycle campaigner.

It is worth noting that there was a very significant commercial interest in this for the Netherlands. They are looking to sell their expertise in cycling and cycle provision around the world. However, their approach was not the hard sell you might expect. It didn't need to be. Dutch and UK speakers simply laid out the massive benefits of cycling to their economy, and their people and how it has been achieved. The results speak for themselves. It isn't just about Dutch cycle infrastructure, it is a complete package which has taken many years to get right, and they are still making improvements. The most amasing message of the day is that the Dutch still want to increase levels of cycling in the Netherlands.

The day was chaired by Philip Darnton, President of Cyclenation who did a good job of keeping every one to time. The conference kicked off with a welcome from the deputy Dutch ambassador before diving straight into a session on the costs and benefits of cycling.

Kees van Ommeren from consultants Decisio went though some impressive case studies of the way social cost benefits can justify expensive cycle infrastructure, justifying a new bridge project and demonstrating the folly of charging for cycle parking in Utrecht. Nick Carvill then followed on with a stunning presentation on the massive cost benefits of cycling in the area of health. His presentation contains some really impressive reference to research showing how much more effective cycling is as a treatment for health conditions than drugs like statins. His presentation starts with some photos of people cycling and asked where we thought the photos were taken, his comment to one dressed in HiViz, helmet and helmet camera was, he's not going cycling, he's going into battle!

The second session was a review of the previous day's workshop presented by Marjolein de Lange where Manchester planners and and Dutch experts had reviewed two locations in Manchester. The first part was a rather disappointing review of the mess of half-baked segregated cycle tracks around the A56 Chester Road roundabout. The Dutch team didn't suggest anything more than minor changes where local residents knows the area well can see that the road needs narrowing further to reduce traffic flows heading for Deansgate. However, the second example was far more exciting. The team had looked at the opportunities for improving the dreadful situation on Wilmslow Road, otherwise known as Curry Mile. Here the Dutch team came up with a stunning solution which separates the buses from cycles completely and removes all the on-street parking. During the break for coffee, I found the councillor who's ward includes Curry Mile talking enthusiastically about how good this plan would be for the area and how it would fit in well with the wishes of the local traders. With the planned improvements to cycling in the Bus Priority on Oxford Road to the north there is a possibility that something very significant is achievable here.

Next up was Vim Bot of the Dutch Cycling Union who started his presentation with a video...

I like Vim, amongst the tall Dutchmen he was the shorter man. A cycle campaigner, like myself he was less of a sales pitch for the infrastructure and consultancy and more the man who talked about the ethics and culture of the Netherlands and how cycling fits in with all of that.

Partnering Vim was the wonderful John Whitelegg. A former Green Party councillor in Lancaster who has now given up politics he opened his presentation with a slide titled "202020". I am a huge fan of John Whitelegg, I have followed his work on & off over the past quarter of a century, but he still doesn't fail to inspire. His opening message was that there is no reason why Manchester, or any other city for that matter, cannot achieve a 20% modal share for cycling by 2020. This was a stunning challenge to the officers and politicians from Manchester City Council and Transport for Greater Manchester who were sitting in the audience. He commented that choices have to be made about the quality of life in our cities and that we have not created civilised public spaces, even in York. This change requires a great deal of restraint on the car, the enforcement of speed limits and the removal of parking. His talk was followed by questions to a panel which just served to highlight how far Manchester is from providing adequate facilities for cycling.

The afternoon was divided up into Workshop sessions, some of which ran twice

▪ Dutch Design Techniques for Safer Roads and Junctions
Speakers: Wim van der Wijk - Royal Haskoning
Adrian Lord – Chartered institute of logistics and transport

▪ Residential Street Design – Safer Communities and Retail Areas
Speakers: Rod King – 20’s Plenty for Us
Marjolein de Lange - Dutch cycling embassy

▪ Health Benefits of Cycling to the Economy
Speakers: Wim Bot - Dutch Cyclists Union
Nick Cavill – Public Health Consultant

▪ Connected Journeys & Integration at Transport Interchanges
Speakers: Margriet Cuypers – Abellio
Paul Salveson MBE - Founder Northern Rail Cycle Forum

▪ Bicycle Parking
Speakers: Martin Reuvekamp – Falco
Patrick Babb – Greater Manchester Police Design for Security

▪ Creating a Cycling Culture & Highlighting the Social Cohesion Benefits
Speakers: Wim Bot – Dutch Cyclists Union

I attended both of Vim Bot's sessions, but also found, by accident, that Adrian Lord had used a couple of my photographs for his slide presentations and recommended this blog in his presentation. It is nice to find that I have been influential in such a high powered cycling conference.

I left with my head spinning with ideas of how we could move forward cycling in Manchester. TfGM and Manchester City Council have failed to get close to the aspirations of the conference. One PR woman from British Cycling spouted the rubbish "one million new cyclists" nonsense in one of the sessions as if she had to get it out of her system. Her body language displayed her lack of belief in what she was saying. Behind the scenes, some people from British Cycling are starting to understand the enormity of the task in hand and a comprehension of what happens next. After all British Cycling have signed a secret Memorandum of Understanding with Manchester City Council. So we can blame British Cycling just as much as Manchester City Council and TfGM if they fail to deliver a city fit for cycling.


  1. I did not bother going because I knew it will just be another talking shop and nothing will happen here in Manchester to improve the cyclist lot, till we have got rid of the present regime.

    1. patricktsudlow: Might I ask what form of "regime change" you would like? A benevolent dictatorship?

      If you ask the vast majority of people in the UK where they want their taxes spent, better cycling facilities won't feature very highly. No level of government in the UK is going to wake up one morning and say "we're going to spend £30 per head, per year on cycling", because to do so would be unjustifiable to the vast majority of the electorate.

      Events such as "Love Cycling, Go Dutch" are currently the best hope we have of getting the little money that is available for cycling facilities spent in the most effective manner. Maybe events such as this help to give those responsible for investing in cycling the evidence they need to secure more funds to set us on our way to the kind of infrastructure we need. Maybe it will strike a chord with an engineer or an architect who is designing a bus lane - perhaps it will cause them to think "Hey, cyclists and ten-tonne buses don't mix. Perhaps there's a better way of accommodating both that's within my budget?"

      Or we could take your approach; bitch, whinge and (having read your blog post on this subject) make derogatory and demonstrably false statements about those responsible for spending what little funding we have. Do you really think that is a more promising approach than "Love Cycling, Go Dutch"?

  2. I was also fortunate enough to attend, and went out with the Wilmslow Road site visit on the Monday. It did feel like a real light-bulb-moment when we did the maths, adding up the profile widths and discovered there would be space for the (2 metre high quality) cycle paths in each direction and room to spare, even at the narrowest point (as long as you could get rid of the parking of course). As a Rusholme resident the thought was genuinely exciting, but I won't hold my breath.

    There were a couple of thoughts I had about the talks.

    Even Margriet Leemhuis (Deputy Ambassador) over-egged the strict liability point. Marjolein de Lange later confirmed to me that my understanding of the situation (mostly gained from the good Mr Hembrow here: ) was broadly correct, and Margriet Leemhuis was wrong.

    Also, it seemed that much was made of the various benefits of cycling, both personal and social, and the evidence for those benefits. Then we learned about how the Dutch do things in practice. But not so much was said about the link. So often people ask why the Dutch cycle - history, culture - rather than why the British don't, despite obviously wanting to. The answer to the latter (and the justification for all that infrastructure and slower speeds) being that cycling in the UK is too scary for most people.

    Subjective safety (or perceived safety) was mentioned briefly, but I really felt it should have been hammered home. Maybe it's not an issue for the Dutch - they solved this years ago and hardly think about it now. Even Wim Bot seemed non-committal about the significance of the infrastructure? So instead, they talked about their more pressing problems like not having enough bike parking spaces at stations. While better parking is always welcome, we can only dream of having bike parking problems of that scale!

    It seems we have this weird issue of cycle-campaigners trying to argue that on balance, cycling is actually hugely beneficial to health even in the UK, especially considering long term benefits. But then saying we need better infrastructure because it's too dangerous. This is all correct, but it's not obvious to everyone. And now I'm waffling on again!

    Thanks for sharing your review of the day.