Embassies and organisations that keep the world spinning
Cycling embassies and organisations co-ordinate cycling initiatives within countries or cities. This article presents a cross-section of nations and their respective organisations.
It is important to note the countless organisation left out are actively chasing greater safeguards and acceptance of cycling. The focus of the selected nations within each region gives us an idea of the current and future direction that cycling is taking on a global scale. It also gives an insight into the relative value and practicality of cycling within these different regions.
Arguably one of the most influential and pro-active embassies in the world, the Cycling Embassy of Denmark works on national projects while maintaining an international perspective. The Embassy is the result of collaborative efforts of private companies, government, and non-government organisations. Their mission is to improve cycling around the world and they make their research findings readily available online. Members of the Embassy have been afforded the opportunity to present on policy and planning at international conferences. Their willingness to share information does not stop there. Each year the Embassy hosts in excess of one hundred delegations from around the world in order to showcase the cycling solutions that have succeeded in Denmark. With 90% of Danish citizens owning a bicycle and 20% of commutes being made by bicycle, there is plenty to learn.
The Embassy has campaigns covering everything from the behaviour of cyclists to traffic planning, and projects aimed at increasing the modal share of cycling in school age children. The Embassy is a fine example of what can be achieved by combining private and public sector knowledge while remaining open to the opinions of stakeholders.
On the other side of the globe the world’s largest city, Tokyo, is home to the Japanese Cycling Embassy. The Embassy of Japan was established in 2015 and is currently run by six individuals with a variety of talents. The mission statements on local, domestic, and international levels aim to raise awareness, connect special interest groups with governing bodies and share their research. Their vision is similar to the successful European embassies and they explicitly make reference to learning from the Dutch embassy.
Cycling advocates in Japan operate in a challenging environment. Cycling in Japan is huge. Infrastructure is not. There are an estimated 100 million bike owners in Japan, of which 11 million live in Tokyo. Despite these numbers the total length of all bike lanes in Tokyo amounts to just 8.7 kilometres. Comparable cities such as New York and London have 1500 and 900 kilometres of bike paths respectively. Another issue with cycling in Japan is legislation, which effectively bans commuting to work by bike. Companies must insure their employees against accidents when commuting. Most insurance agencies do not consider cycling a valid method of commuting and will not cover it. Companies legally have to insist that employees take alternate transportation. Coupled with the difficulty of altering infrastructure in a built up mega-city, The Embassy of Japan faces some of the toughest challenges. Hats off to those willing to try.
Cycling infrastructure in the United States of America falls to the US Department of Transportation (USDOT). Most countries have a government branch related to roads and infrastructure. Government departments dedicated to this are primarily involved in funding research and project coordination rather than specialising in advocacy. These departments oversee all roads and vehicles, which makes cycling specific projects a relatively small area of their work. In the case of the USDOT, one of their most widespread advocacy initiatives has been the Mayors Challenge. This challenges local mayors to improve cycling safety in seven areas. Critics of the program cite the fact that participation and idea implementation does not secure funding from USDOT. Despite this the challenge attracted participation from two hundred municipalities in its first year (2015). As part of the 2016 edition Austin, Texas increased active transportation by 11.8% in a specified neighbourhood. While dedicated funding would be a massive boost to the Mayors Challenge the initiative is creating results.
The US may not have an embassy but there are well-organised groups operating in a number of cities. The Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia is a particularly good example. The coalition was formed in 1972 and currently has twelve different campaigns and numerous online petitions being actively managed. The Hub and Spoke is a regularly updated guide to government-planned projects. It connects citizens with the information they need in order to check on the progress of promised cycling projects – or lack thereof. Also connecting bike users to government is the Bike Lane Toolkit. This breaks Philadelphia into districts and shows streets that have been earmarked with potential to benefit from a bike lane. The campaign encourages bike users to contact their districts council member through the sites online platform, and outline streets they have missed or stress the importance of those identified. The Safe Routes Philly initiative is a hands-on campaign that targets schools and has involved 90 000 students since its inception in 2010. They also address gender inequality through Women Bike PHL. Participation is encouraged through involvement with the Girl Guides, classes, and social events. This coalition is improving cycling on all fronts.
The Australian Cycling Council (ACC) is a subset of Austroads dedicated to cycling. The ACC secures funding for cycling projects within Australia. While it does play a role in advocacy, the privately run Australian Bicycle Network (ABN), with 50 000 members has the sole purpose of promoting cycling. The core areas of interest for the ABN are campaigns, adviced events. The latest campaigns focus on protesting existing legislature and calling for reforms. Only the Light Up campaign involves physically engaging with cyclists.
Where other organisations campaigns revolve around interacting with and educating their stakeholders the ABN presents this information online. Reams of advice on maintenance, legal rights, and health benefits are clearly presented on their webpage. The nature of ABN’s events are also a little different. They successfully co-ordinate Ride2School and Ride2Work which are in line with the work of other organisations globally. However, many of their events target recreational road cyclists. The Great Victorian Ride and the Peaks Challenge are two examples of events usually run by private enterprise. As with the other organisations in this article, the goal is to make cycling part of everyone’s day. The ways in which the ABN achieves this shows that a different approach and focus to the same problem may be beneficial.
By and large organisations around the world are working towards common goals. Improving infrastructure and increasing participation are at the heart of these goals. The Danish Cycling Embassy is frequently referenced for their position as world leaders in this area. Many nations around the world have adopted similar policies in order to emulate their success. Difficulties lie in the applicability of their policies. European nations operating in a similar economic and political climate are great matches for the Danish blueprint. North American and Australian attitudes towards cyclists are different and as a response, so are their focuses. Asian nations operate in environments where Danish policies and campaigns are unrealistic. The challenge these organisations face is determining the best practice for their nation or city. A universal approach is unlikely to work, yet the work done by these organisations contributes positively to the culture of cycling.