Bicycle Line: Repeating Mistakes?

As a person who has spent about ten years living in The Netherlands, and as a believer in all the goodness of a bicycle, I got intrigued when an acquaintance posted a link at Twitter to a YouTube video about How The Dutch Got Their Cycle Path.

The video tells the history about how, in the early 70s, The Netherlands was full of cars. Buildings had to be demolished to make ways for cars. A lot of people rode their bikes, but since there’s no proper paths, road accidents bound to happen. It’s similar to our current condition here, where cars and other vehicles are kings, roads and highways are being made and getting wider, with very few considerations toward pedestrians and bicycles.

[Read also the blog: How the Dutch got their cycling infrastructure]

The remarkable lesson from this history is the struggle of the people to fulfill their demand: having proper bicycle lanes, which was also backed by political willingness. Authorities joined in the voice of the people in their demand, and therefore appropriate bicycle lanes could be provided. They started by having car-free days, then gradually changed the road plans (widening the lines for pedestrians and bicycles). As the result, city centers became entirely car-free up to today, and The Netherlands becomes among the most bicycle-friendly countries. Numbers of road accidents have been greatly declining within the decades, and roads become a safe space for children and elderly people.

Watching this video has brought to mind a comment from an exchange student from Germany who currently joins my Design & Sustainability class. We were discussing strategies for eco-design, when he said that Indonesia, as a developing country with a lot of resources, should be able to skip all the mistakes that advanced industrial countries made. The industrial countries are now ‘paying for their mistakes’ by ‘cleaning up the mess they’ve made’ in an expensive way, such as restructuring their infrastructures and facilities to become more humane.

Concerning the bicycle line, cars and roads. We are indeed going to the direction where cars are considered as having more rights to the roads, compared to pedestrians and cyclists. There’s no policy limiting the use and purchase of motored vehicles, not to mention the loose regulations and practices concerning driving licenses. Although people (including children and elderly people) keep using the roads as pedestrians, there’s no guarantee about their safety even in crossing the street or walking at the sidewalk (which, if available at all, are mostly occupied by street vendors). Bicycle paths, if any, are almost impossible to ride on, since they’re merely (fading) blue paints over existing paving block sidewalks, which are lined by electricity poles, etc. – and also are often blocked by parking cars and motorbikes.

Are we really going to repeat the mistakes of the developed countries, or even making worse mistakes? Do we really want to live in a world where human beings worth less than automobiles and motorbikes? Aren’t we concerned about the safety of our young children and our elderly parents?

Whatever the answers are, I’d refer to the lessons from the video: public demands can only be fulfilled if the authorities have the strong political will to change. Like Al Gore once said, during The Climate Project Asia Pacific Summit (January 2011):

“You can always change your light bulbs with the energy-saving ones, but it takes the government’s commitment to change the energy policy, to create significant impacts”




P.S. I should also mention about the availability and improvement of public transportation facilities, since it is among the crucial factors of successful, well-planned mobility, especially within a dense urban area. But I’m sure you’ve got the point.

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