National Policies to Promote Cycling
OECD Observer

“Cyclists must adopt a moderate pace when passing through streets, crossways or turnings. In Paris, even in the least populous quarters, a rate of 16km an hour is considered excessive. Cyclists must stop if at their approach a horse becomes frightened.” This advice, from Cook’s Guide to Paris, 1908, is as appropriate today as it was a hundred years ago, when the French dubbed the bicycle “la petite reine” (little queen).

Cyclists still make drivers nervous, and furious, as an article in a British newspaper recently argued, claiming that cyclists are dangerously unpredictable, don’t respect traffic stoplights, and veer from road to footpath at will.

Yet as city planners try to rid cities of pollution and congestion, they are siding with cyclists. A Dutch engineer, Hans Monderman, argues that it is not a matter of drivers versus cyclists, but rather about taking individual responsibility for shared space. He has redesigned urban traffic flows by stripping the roads of their traditional paraphernalia – traffic lights, speed signs, pedestrian crossings, lane-stripes, and even bicycle lanes and footpaths. Traffic habits and conventions driven by signs may dull drivers’ preparedness for dealing with unpredictable situations. In Monderman’s view, everyone on the road needs to wake up by paying attention to other people, rather than signs.

The Netherlands, where 27% of all urban travel is by bicycle, is not the only country where cyclists are being encouraged back to the streets. Major cities like London and Paris are investing in bike lanes, secure public parking and rail/bike commuter services, as well as penalising car travel, sometimes provoking protest from car lobbies.

National Policies to Promote Cycling argues that it is not legislation that is needed, but a national approach to both policies and funding that encourages cities to promote biking. Apart from the environmental benefits, it could decrease health costs as well. The World Health Organization highlighted cycling as one form of physical activity that can help cut down on heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes and stress. Long live the queen.

©OECD Observer No 246/247, December 2004-January 2005

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