What We Can Learn from the Society for the Construction of Cycle Paths

By Megan Flottorp

On 4th March 2023, it was precisely 108 years that the Society for the Construction of Cycle Paths in the Gooi and Eemland region of the Netherlands was founded. Impressively, it is the last private “Cycle Path Society” and still exists today. So, you might ask, were people really campaigning for the safety of cyclists over a century ago? You bet they were!

In the early 20th century, concerned citizens began to notice that, with the increasing amount of motor traffic, people cycling had become exposed to added danger. This was especially true for those who rode as a leisure activity and were looking to find peace of mind on their bike.

As such, residents came together to express that they wanted separate cycling infrastructure to be built so everyone could enjoy their chosen mode of transport free from stress. The routes the society advocated for would be solitary, too, not connected to a road for motor traffic and mainly for recreation. In other words, they were not necessarily the shortest routes, but certainly the nicest.

The woman behind the operation

The driving force behind this initiative was 44-year-old Mrs J. Pos-Greidanus, who, together with the Society’s members, wanted to enjoy riding her bike free from noise and traffic. Mrs J. Pos-Greidanus was herself an avid cyclist and, thankfully, for the time, was married to a local union member. Her husband was a board member of ANWB, a union intended to promote tourism in the area.

Since women were not allowed to perform legal actions in the Netherlands at the time, Mrs Pos’ husband founded the society on behalf of his wife. Once things were up and running, though, it was apparent to all those in the know who was really the cycling-lane champion.

The first protected route the society chose to build was in the Gooi Region, a stretch Mrs Pos herself particularly liked to cycle. The path followed a scenic journey from her hometown Baarn through a varied landscape of heath, meadows and forests to the village of Laren. From there, the society really took off, and with the help of one full-time employee and many more contractors, no less than 30 kilometres of cycle paths were constructed in just the first year. By 1919,the society employed three people in full-time service. And when the 12th anniversary was celebrated in 1922, 75 kilometres of cycle paths had already been built.

A lasting legacy of community organisation

In the rest of the 100-year history, the length of the combined cycle paths grew to about 110 kilometres. Today, the society is the last remaining private society for the building and maintenance of cycle paths in the Netherlands (although the care was taken over by a larger society for nature preservation in the region). The members are small in number and ageing but the society is alive and well, and still campaigning for new projects to be built.

With over a hundred years of service, this society (and the other societies like it that existed all over the country) have indeed laid the foundation for a way of thinking that promotes separating motor traffic from cycling in the Netherlands.

Why local organisations can still make a big difference in supporting cycling in your city

As the story of Mrs Pos and the Society for the Construction of Cycling Paths reminds us, local grassroots organisations have a crucial role to play in improving cycling safety and accessibility in cities. While government officials and urban planners may have the power to make large-scale changes to cycling infrastructure, the small actions taken by residents can help direct and inspire their decisions and ultimately make a big difference.

As they are part of the communities they operate in, grassroots organisations often have a deeper understanding of the unique needs of the area and are better equipped to identify specific hazardous areas for cyclists and propose solutions tailored to those locations. For example, a group might notice that an intersection is particularly dangerous for cyclists and work to install traffic-calming measures such as a roundabout or speed bumps to slow down vehicles and make it safer for cyclists to cross.

Perhaps most importantly, though, grassroots organisations can remind us all that when we care about something deeply, we do have the power to make a difference in our communities. Whether that means organising events such as community bike rides, bike repair workshops, and educational sessions on cycling safety or putting pressure on local government to provide funding for the infrastructure we need to ride safely.

By encouraging more people to bike and providing them with the tools and knowledge they need to do so safely, we can all help create a culture that values cycling and prioritises the needs of cyclists on the road.

So, if you’re passionate about cycling and want to make a difference in your city, take a page from the book of Mrs Pos and consider getting involved with a local grassroots organisation today!