In the spring of 2010 I had the pleasure of interviewing Govert de With from the Fietsersbond (Cyclist’s Union) Amsterdam. The Cyclist’s Union is a nation-wide bicycle advocacy organization in the Netherlands which got its start in the mid 70’s (if I’m reading my notes from almost three years ago correctly), growing out of the car-free Sundays which were mandated during the oil crisis. According to their website there are currently about 35,000 members nation-wide and, at the time of my interview, about 4,500 in Amsterdam. Member recruiting is taken care of by the national office using TV commercials and tabling at fairs and events. Fietsersbond Amsterdam has a group of 15-20 active volunteers in various working groups such as the newsletter, general principles or traffic working group, the last of which meets every two weeks and is responsible for writing position statements among other things.
Some of the main focus areas of the Cyclist’s Union include traffic safety, prioritizing bike routes and deincentivizing driving. In the beginning they even helped design infrastructure, with all research and lobbying being completed by the national office. Currently on the agenda at the Fietsersbond are the many mopeds on bike paths. The blog Bicycle Dutch, which is a good all-round blog about cycling in the Netherlands, explains the situation in detail.
When I asked about what opposition the Fietsersbond faces I got the quite surprising answer that there isn’t really any opposition, that “cycling has always been quite normal”. This, of course, doesn’t mean that advocacy in Amsterdam is without its challenges. In fact, much of their advocacy seems to be among cyclists, themselves, making sure, for example, that parked bicycles don’t hinder pedestrians and, in particular, the disabled. One campaign that was current at the time of the interview was a poster campaign aimed at cyclists showing two pictures of the front of a store. The one showed the front of the store full of chaotically parked bicycles so that there was no room for a wheelchair to get by. The contrasting picture showed the same storefront with the sidewalk clear of bicycles so that wheelchairs had plenty of space to pass (the bikes were parked in an orderly fashion at the available racks). Such visual campaigns are easy to understand and I really like the simplicity (similar to the photo, above with captions like “not this! more of this!”). You can see that campaign and other action posters here.
The Fietsersbond, therefore, works closely with pedestrian and disabled groups and they maintain a good relationship to the police. They foster connections with local stakeholders, such as schools, and come to the table with plans or alternatives, all of which involves listening to the community.
The advocacy work of the Cyclist’s Union seems to have a very positive tone and they have a good sense of humor. Copenhagenize praised their 2011 advertisement for recruiting members, which demonstrates in particular their sense of humor. I think their recent campaign creating awareness for cycling with bike lights (“Ik wil je zien” – roughly translated, by me, to “I want to see you”) highlights both elements. There’s a really short video (no Dutch skills required) on the campaign’s website. But the Fietsersbond doesn’t just advocate among cyclists and I think their hard work can be seen and experienced on a daily basis on the extensive bicycle network in Amsterdam.