Cycling Cities: a historical comparison of urban cycling throughout Europe
On 14 April 2016 the Dutch Minister of Infrastructure and the Environment Melanie Schultz van Haegen (right) presented the first copy of an international comparative historical study of urban cycling in Europe to the EU Commissioner for Transport, Violeta Bulc (far left in the picture). The presentation of Cycling Cities: the European Experience took place at the occasion of an informal meeting of EU transport ministers in Amsterdam. While the book presentation was a minor event compared to the Dutch Minister’s well-publicised endorsement of self-driving cars, this volume deserves wide attention from both cycling researchers and policy makers because of its international, historical and comparative approach.
Cycling Cities presents a comparative analysis of the historical development of everyday bicycle use and bicycle policies in 14 European cities during the long twentieth century. The book is a revised, extended and updated English version of a Dutch research report that was commissioned by the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure back in the 1990s. As a long-time admirer of the Dutch report – that was unique in its broad-ranging set-up – I happily agreed to be involved in the recent English update. Originally restricted to four Dutch and five non-Dutch European cities, the update not only extends the coverage to the two decades after 1995, but also traces the historical development of bicycle use in five more cities. Except for the Dutch cities of Amsterdam, Utrecht, Enschede, Eindhoven, and Heerlen/Kerkrade (Southeast-Limburg), the international team of historians has covered Antwerp, Copenhagen, Hannover, Stockholm, Malmö, Basel, Manchester, Budapest and Lyon.
My own contribution concerns the update of the chapter on Southeast-Limburg, a former Dutch mining district where bicycle use, unlike in other Dutch cities, never recovered after the strong decline of the 1960s. As in the other chapters, the analysis of this case highlights the historical path dependence and complicated multi-causal background of the development of bicycle use. It also demonstrates that bicycle friendly political statements and sympathetic policy plans are in themselves not sufficient to reverse a trend determined by previous policy decisions and broader societal and cultural developments.