Cycling in Vikingland

(This is a probably evolved version of this post, stuck here as an introduction for non-spanish-speaking readers. You may want to check the comment threads in the original post, though, as some interesting stuff came up there as well. If you want to comment, please do it there.)

Work keeps piling up. A guy in twitter, who started out the discussion trying some faux-zen unintelligible lines, went on to repeating the usual bikelaneist platitudes (complete with the obligatory go at cheap sentimentality with the “kids and grannies” argument) and then did some lovely effort to be sarcastic, managed for just a moment (before quickly moving on with some good old-fashioned straw man fallacies) to ask an apparently genuine question:

@bicilibre so, lost a bit here…what was your argument and backing again? And can we cut the hostilities?

Oh. So this guy wants to know “my argument and backing”. And apparently he wants it in 140 characters. Oh là là. Not unusual, though: the world is full of people who are willing to give you a 140-character (or ten-minute) “opportunity” to explain yourself. That is, of course, because they think they know what they are talking about and because they think what they “know” is all there is to the question at hand. Such sweet souls.

Well, my friend: I have five years’ worth of “argument and backing” right here in my blog, although most of it happens to be, unfortunately, in a language you probably are not familiar with. So I will make a short statement about my position, in English. The “arguments and backings” are all over the place, in Internet and in the real world, in plain view for anybody who cares to read the writing on the wall: you can find them and join the dots just as I have, and one excellent way to begin would be just to actually start looking at what happens in the streets: you would be amazed by the things you can learn.

So here it is. Beware: as I am writing this in a bit of a hurry, this statement is likely to be retouched and refined as I find the opportunity or the need:

Cycling in the Netherlands – a quick and dirty summary v.0.1.

My position is that the high level of bicycle use in the Netherlands and Denmark is due to historical, social, political, economic and cultural reasons that have no relation whatsoever (repeat after me: no relation whatsoever) with the segregation paradigm or with the abundance of cycle lanes.

My position, furthermore, is that the segregation paradigm is in fact a car-centric policy launched in a historical moment when the motorized vehicle was deemed to be “the future of modern cities” (ha ha ha!!!) with the explicit goal (repeat after me: explicit goal) to accommodate the existing huge levels of bicycle traffic in the least bothersome possible manner to give way to the new city star (the motorized car) with the assumption that bicycle traffic would eventually die out as the demographic replacement occurred (which is in fact exactly what was happening in Denmark and the Netherlands until the 1973 oil crisis).

My position, therefore, is that the high levels of safety enjoyed by the Dutch and Danish cyclists have no relation whatsoever with the segregated structures, and are instead due to the driving culture in the country (which is, also and itself, due to historical, social, political, economic and cultural reasons that run parallel to the ones that underpin the high level of cycling). Putting it in other words: it is not, despite what you and your bikelaneist friends have chosen to believe and propagate, that the bike lanes “protect” you-cyclists from you-drivers. Much to the contrary, is is the you-drivers (and the care you exercise) that is silently protecting you-cyclists from the traps and dangers awaiting you in the bike lanes.

My position, also, is that the segregationist policies have pushed the Dutch cyclists into a very specific social and urban niche: the niche that in other societies (such as Spain) is occupied by the pedestrians. The data show that applying segregationist policies in those other countries will probably get more pedestrians to cycle, but is extremely unlikely (repeat after me: extremely unlikely) to take any number of car drivers out of their cars and on their bikes (in fact that is exactly what is already happening in cities such as Sevilla, although it is a fact that bikelaneists are not very happy to see talked about). Since we already have a very healthy pedestrian culture (much healthier than yours, in fact), I don’t see any reason why we should jeopardize that pedestrian culture following the segregationist model to get people (i.e. pedestrians, but not car drivers) on bikes, and see, instead, every reason to resist and fight the mindless creation of segregated bike lanes that is plaguing our cities.

In conclusion, my position is that the factors that make cycle lanes relatively harmless (?) in the Netherlands are absent and cannot be reproduced anywhere else, and that the brainless effort to copycat segregationist policies elsewhere is not only born dead, but is doomed to result in a huge increase in artificial conflicts (both with pedestrians and with car drivers), accidents, injuries and deaths. Which is, in act, what is already happening in the cities that have taken the “avant-garde” position in the bike-lane-building madness (although, again, this is not a very politically correct subject to talk about). And all that, as I wrote above, to get somewhere we don’t want to be in the first place, which is putting pedestrians on wheels (what we pejoratively call here “cyclestrians”).

Because, face it, that is what you have in Denmark and the Netherlands: not a “cycling culture” as you like to boast, but a cyclestrian culture: a culture of wheeled pedestrians. The fact (this will shock you, I know) is that the segregationist policies have crippled the ability of Dutch cyclists to a point in which you need to re-learn to use your bikes in natural streets of any difficulty just to get out of the bike-lane-theme-park in which you have transformed your countries.

And my position is, to round it up, that the often repeated line that Copenhagen or Amsterdam are “the cycling capitals of the world” is a stinking heap of western-centric, navel-gazing, hyper-opulent, smugly decadent, worthless political propagandistic horsecrap. There are a number of societies (including the Danish and Dutch societies of just a few decades ago) that have much better ratios of cyclists/pedestrians and bikes/cars, in much more natural conditions and without so much fuss about “dedicated cycle infrastructures”, than Copenhagen or Amsterdam have now and can hope to have in the foreseeable future. Of course, as we all know, if we are to believe the rampant bikelaneist idiocy oozing from your side of the wide World, those societies apparently don’t count because “if they could, they would use cars”.

So, in short, you can keep your bike lanes to yourselves, thank you very much: we’ll have to put a sanitary belt around your countries (which some of us jokingly label “Vikingland”) to make sure the bike lane madness doesn’t spread too much, and in a few years (certainly by the next generation) your cycling-in-bike-lanes culture will be just like (or rather more strange than) the British’ driving-on-the-left traffic: a cute and quaint feature of Dutch and Danish national culture, part of the charm of visiting those countries. Because everywhere else in the world cyclists will ride naturally in the streets, happily mingling with whatever urban motor traffic is left.

Cheers.

Txarli

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More texts in English here, here, here, here, or here.

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