Windsor urged to follow Dutch cycling path to become healthier, wealthier city

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Cities that used the global pandemic to experiment with non-automotive uses for their streets — converting that asphalt to pop-up cycling paths or commercial outdoor dining spaces — discovered such alternatives can make for healthier, more equitable and economically successful urban places.

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COVID-19 “has really challenged cities to look at their allocation of road space … we’ve seen decades of use changed in weeks,” Melissa Bruntlett, a mobility advocate currently based in the Netherlands, said during a virtual lecture and discussion hosted Tuesday by the Windsor Law Center for Cities.

Cycling, added her husband Chris, is “a great economic tool to create attractive areas” and has played “a central role in the economic recovery” of some cities.

Melissa and Chris Bruntlett, with the consulting firm Modacity, are Canadian authors and urban mobility advocates currently based in Delft, the Netherlands, who “strive to communicate the benefits of sustainable transport and inspire happier, healthier, human-scale cities.”

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The Bruntletts said the first step is citizen advocacy and “political bravery… (by) politicians willing to put their necks out.” They cited Vancouver and Calgary, but also a growing number of Ontario cities, moving in the direction of encouraging and offering more transportation opportunities for residents.

Mobility experts Melissa and Chris Bruntlett, of consulting firm Modacity, are shown cycling along a path in the Dutch city of Delft in 2019.
Mobility experts Melissa and Chris Bruntlett, of consulting firm Modacity, are shown cycling along a path in the Dutch city of Delft in 2019. Photo by Melissa and Chris Bruntlett /Windsor Star

It’s not about replacing automobiles with bikes, the approximately 150 lecture participants heard, but about making it more attractive to gradually shift some of those daily trips, like going to the grocery store or to school, to alternative means, like cycling. “So you don’t have to rely on a car to get everywhere,” said Melissa.

Tuesday’s Center for Cities virtual event with the Bruntletts was held in collaboration with the Windsor Essex County Environment Committee, and with the support of the Dutch Cycling Embassy, WE-SPARK Health Institute, the City of Windsor and ward funds from Ward 4 Coun. Chris Holt. The pair is also agreeing to a three-hour workshop on ‘Building the Mid-Sized Cycling City’ with local municipal officials in May.

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Italy commissioned a study on the “bikenomics” of changing some city street uses and discovered that active transportation scenarios could unlock billions in national health system savings alone, she said. Over the past two years, European Union countries invested approximately $1.4 billion on active transportation and developed about 2,300 km of new cycling lanes.

Chris Bruntlett said cycling is not the end goal in the Netherlands or abroad — the Dutch Cycling Embassy was established by the Dutch government to export its multi-modal transportation ideas — but rather as a tool to help wean urban residents off their car dependence and create “more liveable cities”

By focusing more on building the “cycling city” and prioritizing pedestrians over motorists, for example, Melissa Bruntlett said traffic calming measures have resulted in 80 per cent of all Dutch roads now having speed limits of 50 km/h or less, making every residential road “a de facto cycling street” and safer for pedestrians, children, seniors and the disabled. Dutch road networks are designed to funnel automotive traffic to higher speed “local distributing” and “national” roads.

“The Dutch still use their cars,” said Melissa. She said the Netherlands ranked tops among 38 nations in an international driver satisfaction index.

Asked during a question-and-answer session how to get local citizens engaged, Melissa said most people are supportive once they learn of the benefits, and she urged connecting with health and school groups as a start. Chris said the Netherlands only began developing its reputation as a cycling nation in the 1970s and that support came from both the political left and right.

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