One intervention and one (attempted) subversion

Nijmegen is my current location. Netherlands. Everyone cycles, loads of different bikes, great infrastructure (compared to Newcastle, and Bremen too). I am here on academic business. For a handful of years, the Velo-city conference has been preceded by the Scientists for Cycling colloquium – a one-day gathering of academics, practitioners and advocates. I had submitted two abstracts, one to Velo-city and the other to the colloquium. Shy bairns and all.

Only the colloquium abstract was accepted, so I spoke on Monday about the three policy elements, their interconnections and priorities for high- and low-cycling countries. There were plenty of sessions on the programme. I agreed with a lot of stuff, and was indifferent to some contributions – as can be expect. My intervention happened when a panel of Dutch psychologists discussed behaviour change without mentioning urban design once. I wanted to grab the mic, and I was offered it. I felt better afterwards. In essence I gave a precis of my earlier presentation. A plea to acknowledge the situation of low-cyling countries. We really do need the urban design to catch up a tick before it makes any sense to chat people onto bikes.

But Monday gone… I am still hanging around in Nijmegen for the rest of the week, essentially turning into a literal lobbyist. I have been cycling around a bit and I am totally sold to the Dutch urban design philosophy. It’s also great meeting up with old and new folks, chewing the fat, discussing funny, wacky fringe ideas. The Velo-city itself is more of a trade-fair silky-smooth affair. And, yes, it could well be the case that my abstract had been rejected as it was a cheeky variation on the conference motto “the freedom of cycling”. Perhaps the message was too challenging, naughty and a bit subversive too. However I got into cycle campaigning when I spotted the huge gulf between council’s “we want everybody to cycle” and the sheer lack of assessment and action to adopt the enabling urban design.

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