Dutch Ambassador to the United Kingdom, Laetitia van den Assum, explains why she's supporting our Space for Cycling campaign

Laetitia van Assum (pictured below), Dutch Ambassador to the UK, explains why the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands is such an enthusiastic supporter of our Space for Cycling campaign

Dutch Ambassador to the UK

Everyone knows the Netherlands is a nation of cycling, but it was not always thus: for years after the Second World War, car use went through the roof while cycling stagnated.

This was because little consideration was being made for cycling on streets that had become clogged up with motor traffic.

By the 1960s, cities in particular had grown ever more congested with motor traffic, and the number of collisions involving cars increased, including fatal crashes.

It was a significant rise in the number of child fatalities on the roads that was the straw that broke the camel's back.

Massive demonstrations ensued organised by campaign groups, often by mothers, called to 'Stop the Murder of our Children' (see below). People demanded space was made for cycling on Dutch streets, in cities for Dutch men, women and children.

What happened next took a good 40 years, but the Netherlands took steps to design streets that separated cyclists from fast motor traffic, gradually changing the street designs across the country to encourage bicycle travel.

We built bicycle highways between towns and cities, and took measures to reduce car use, particularly in inner cities (see below).

Stop der Kindermoord

Street without through motor traffic

We also invested heavily in huge bicycle parking facilities near railway stations to link up various forms of public transport with cycling.

Cycling infrastructure has, however, not been the entire solution. An adapted legislative framework (a tailored 'Highway Code') and sustained funding also made this progress possible.

Equally, the Dutch consider the training of all road users - cyclists, motorists and pedestrians alike - vital in increasing the awareness of each other's needs and rights.

The result of 40 years of investment, planning and legislation has been to enable millions of efficient, clean, healthy and sustainable journeys in the Netherlands every day.

protected cycle lanes

The Dutch use cycling for travel, commuting, sport, and leisure - what's better than lovely bike ride on a beautiful day?

Designing streets for cycling is now deeply ingrained in the Dutch psyche, to the point where the national government no longer has to enforce guidelines for cycling.

Our local authorities and planners that commission and building infrastructure have already reached a high level of cycling awareness.

We have created space for cycling not only on our roads, but in our legal system, at our stations, at our workplaces, in our attitudes to building and planning.

We have tried to create space for cycling in our daily lives to the point that it is as natural as walking.

deliveries by bicycle

It took us many years to get there and we had to learn a lot of lessons along the way, which is why we are keen to share these lessons with others who are trying to find their own way forward.

Dutch embassies around the world help to share and promote Dutch knowledge and expertise, which includes our experience with cycling.

We realise the British situation is somewhat different from ours in the Netherlands, but there are plenty of our lessons you can apply to your specific situation.

When we were asked by the London Cycling Campaign to support its fantastic Love London, Go Dutch campaign in 2012, it was a perfect opportunity for us to share these lessons with you.

That campaign was a great success, with each of the five mayoral candidates acknowledging that something needed to change, supporting the campaign publicly, and 10,000 people joining the Big Ride (see below).

Big Ride crowd

We are delighted with the progress made towards the outer London mini-Holland projects, and hope these will be useful examples of workable local applications of Dutch-style design solutions that could be an example for other parts of the country.

On the back of this success in London, we were approached by various other councils and cycling organisations across the UK to provide our expertise, co-organising conferences in London, Bristol, Manchester, Birmingham, Newcastle and Edinburgh.

We brought in Dutch specialists to run technical workshops for British planners and engineers and brought a group of UK cycling experts to the Netherlands for a fact-finding mission, including the London's Cycling Commissioner Andrew Gilligan.

We also hosted the opening of Bike Week at the Dutch Embassy last June, and will do so again for the 2014 edition.

So when LCC approached us to support their Space for Cycling campaign, it seemed to us a natural progression on previous efforts to create public and political awareness around cycling.

Space for Cycling is exactly what we created in the Netherlands over those 40 years and we are, as ever, very ready to provide the knowledge and expertise where needed to help local councils create this space as well.

Laetitia van den Assum
Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands

Take action

Please write to your council election candidates calling for Space for Cycling at www.space4cycling.org/action.