Building the Cycling City:
The Dutch Blueprint for Urban Vitality

Melissa Bruntlett + Chris Bruntlett

Island Press 2018
A book review by Danny Yee © 2020
Each of the ten chapters in Building the Cycling City focuses on one theme, presenting key Dutch examples and then exploring how ideas from them have been, or could be, applied in North American cities.

Rotterdam, badly damaged in the Second World War and rebuilt according to modernist car-first planning, has shifted away from that, with "three decades of retrofitting streets to a more human scale". One local idea is a focus on the "plinth", the lowest part of buildings that has the largest influence on the urban environment. This is connected to Janette Sadik-Khan and her role in reclaiming space in New York for walking and cycling.

Looking at the bicycles people use, the simple and practical "Dutch" bicycle — actually English in origin — is fully kitted out for transport rather than sport. The manufacturer WorkCycles and a Philadelphia bicycle shop are among those that have attempted to bring this kind of bicycle to the United States. This chapter also explores the role of e-bikes in making cycling more accessible.

Groningen features as an example of bold political action, with its implementation in 1974 of a "Traffic Circulation Plan" that prevented motor traffic crossing the city centre. The parallel is with Vancouver, where mayor Robertson pushed through separated bike lanes on a key bridge, alongside other infrastructure.

A key part of cycling safety in the Netherlands comes from its principles of Sustainable Safety and its street design, which includes a clear hierarchical classification of roads. The Dutch Cycling Embassy works to transfer these and other ideas around the world: one example has been in Austin, Texas. Also covered in this chapter are Dutch fast inter-city cycling routes such as Arnhem-Nijmegen.

Amsterdam was central to the Dutch "Stop Child Murder" campaign in the early 1970s, which led to the rejection of urban motorways and a steady improvement in cycling infrastructure ever since. Planners there are now using behavior-based planning to improve junctions, where cycle-intense transport poses novel problems. The parallel is with how tactical urbanism was used to push Boston to take street safety seriously.

There has been a revival of interest in cargo biking, with an International Festival of the Cargo Bike and innovation by companies such as Urban Arrow in the Netherlands and Clever Cycles and B-Line in Portland. And DHL has been trialling cargo bike delivery at scale, with consolidation and standardised containers.

Utrecht, constrained by geography and history, has been progressively redesigning itself to work "at a human scale", doing everything from expanding bike parking to turning a major road back into a canal and constructing new housing with no provision for private cars. The parallel here is with San Francisco's plans to rebuild Market St.

In the Netherlands, cycling has been tightly integrated with the railway system, typically with bike parking at one end — in some cases with huge parking stations — and bike-hire at the other. Atlanta's "Bike to Ride" campaign, in contrast, emphasizes taking bikes on trains or buses.

As examples of high profile projects, symbolic and attention-getting, the Bruntletts look at Eindhoven's "hover ring" and Calgary's Peace Bridge. They also consider Steven Fleming's ideas for Velotopia, imagining what a city designed from the ground-up for cycling would be like.

And finally there's an explanation of how the Dutch teach cycling to children and migrants, followed by a look at efforts in Seattle to reach marginalised communities and a glance at cycling in Auckland.

Sometimes the coupling of Dutch and North American examples seems a little artificial. And the stories are all extremely upbeat, with no consideration of plans that didn't work and cities where things have gone wrong. But Building the Cycling City is designed to inspire rather than to explain the nitty-gritty of either town planning or political action. And it does a great job of that, and will hopefully motivate activists and politicians and engineers around the world, letting them know what is being done in other cities and giving them a feel for the possibilities of urban cycling.

September 2020

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%T Building the Cycling City
%S The Dutch Blueprint for Urban Vitality
%A Bruntlett, Melissa
%A Bruntlett, Chris
%I Island Press
%D 2018
%O paperback, b&w illustrations, bibliography, index
%G ISBN-13 9781610918794
%P 223pp