Walk Tall!

Interview with Cornie Huizenga

Joint Convener of Partnership on Sustainable, Low Carbon Transport (SLoCaT), a multi-stakeholder partnership for promoting integration on sustainable transport in global policies on sustainable development and climate change, based Shanghai, China, Cornie Huizenga is a leading global voice of non-motorised transport in sustainable urban transport . Huizenga, who has led several organizations working towards achieving sustainable transport like Clean Air Asia, talks to Parthaa Bosu and Faizal Khan of NMT Times on the significant role of cycling and walking in the present global transport scenario:


Q. Why does a modern world with tremendous technological and mobility prowess need cycling and walking?

I think you assume that cycling is not modern and technologically advanced. If you look at the development in the bicycle industry, it is the same as the car industry. The bicycle industry is also innovating. Moving by cycle is a radically different proposition than moving by car. And the reason to do that 15 years before, is the same as today. It is more sustainable.


Q. In India, cycle is traditionally seen as a poor person’s vehicle. What in your opinion is the economics of non-motorised transport?

 It has to do with visibility. At the moment you could say cyclists are not visible in India in the same way as pedestrians are not visible. There is obviously a class dimension to this question. The perception in India is that if you cycle, either you are poor or a sports fanatic. In Europe, the mainstream cyclist is an eight-year-old girl going to school or a 65-year-old person going to buy groceries or a family that wants to have some quality time going out. How do you give more visibility to cycling, you need people who are proud to be associated with cycling.  Cyclists in India are in a very much defensive position. You have to justify why you are cycling in India. In Euorpe, you have to justify why you are using a car.


Q. There is another chunk, less than one per cent of population in India, which uses cycling as a sporting activity. How can we excite this section of youth, who can become brand ambassadors of non-motorised transport?

 I would not approach them as individuals. I will approach them as a group. If you can create a network of youth clubs across the country, then you can take the discussion forward.


Q. In the Netherlands, there is a role that the country has played in shaping cycling for all sections of the society, whereas in India the mode of cycling is only for the poor.

 This is again going back to the class issue. In India, you have a class of the people, who make the decision and there is another class of the people, who are affected by these decisions. The cyclists belong predominantly to the second group, which is not making the decisions. In the Dutch society, there is a substantial percentage of cyclists among the policy makers. They make decisions on allocation of road space. It is allocated in an equitable manner and also allocated to cyclists. The planners come to their offices by cycles. In many cases, their families go out on weekends on cycles. In India, Mr S K Lohia, a former senior bureaucrat in the federal transport ministry, who was in an influential position as regards transport policy making, started cycling to his office. He then started talking about cycling. There were concepts of non-motorised transport that came out of him. The question is whether his successor also cycles.


Q. Is there also a politics of NMT, because the voice of the cyclists, walkers and cycle rickshaw drivers (pedicab) is almost never heard in a public discourse?

One of the most powerful associations in the Netherlands is the union of cyclists. They have 35,000 members and 150 local branches across the country. The cyclists are very well organized in the Netherlands, which is very important. The cyclists’ union has contacts with political parties. You probably know the European Cyclists’ Federation. They have an office in Brussels and do lobbying in the European Union to ensure that cycling is reflected in the European policy. They are active on Twitter. They are financially supported by the European Commission. This also means that the cyclists’ union is active in political parties. You are having elections in India. In Europe, the cyclists’ union will look at the campaigning and also what the parties are saying about cycling.


Q. After the last global recession, economists said the sign of economic recovery is when someone buys a new car. What is your opinion?

That is definitely true. It is definitely related to new cars. Car buying is a parameter of economic recovery. Buying new sofa sets is related to economic recovery. If you go to Holland and buy a good quality cycle, the average price of a bicycle is about 825 euro (about 69,000 rupees). There are 2,730 shops in Holland where you can buy cycles. In 2012, the Dutch spent about 1.6 billion euro (about 1,332 crore rupees) on bicycles. In a country like Holland, in 2012, where have a population of 50 million, about 1 million new bicycles were sold. One in 50 people bought a new bicycle in the Netherlands in 2012.


Q.  How do you see an individual’s aspirations for a safe space on the roads to walk and pedal as part of a citizen’s right to a good and respectable life in a society?

There needs to be an acknowledgement that road space belongs to all different users. However, only the interests of motorised road users are looked after now. If you go and analyze the budget of municipal corporations, you will be able to find how much is spent on transport, road construction and flyovers. You won’t be able to find how much is spent on bicycles. The records on the different categories of national and state roads are maintained, but not NMT infrastructure.


Q. Is there an awareness and education necessary to spread the role of non-motorised transport in improving the quality of life in any given place?

I would like to emphasize again that in terms of awareness, you could stress on the positive benefits of cycling. A cyclist has the right to road space. Cyclists are entitled to having a safe road space. It is a basic human right.


Q. What is the role of institutions, how important are they in spreading awareness about cycling and influencing policy decisions in favour of NMT?

I talked about the Dutch cyclists’ union. Some NGOs are doing the same function in India. But the problem is you don’t have the capacity of the people in the Netherlands. The size of the problem is also infinitely bigger in India. The question is how can you make the best use of your resources. You have to start working with youth clubs, women clubs… You have to start reaching out.


Q. What is your organization’s agenda for NMT?

It is very simple. We call NMT as ‘active transport’ instead of non-motorised transport. That is very important because you are then putting it at the same level as motorised transport. From our perspective, any country or city needs to have a mix of different transport mode like cars, public transport, cycling and walking. Walking and cycling is 50 per cent of all of the transport. Therefore, institution of capacity building should be given to meeting the quality of the users of ‘active transport’.


Q. Would galvanising international attention help in promoting NMT?

It will work, but ultimately you will need to raise the local profile. Indian transport policies are made by Indian transport professionals and implemented by Indian government agencies.


Q. Where does NMT figure in the global strategy to reduce emissions in the wake of the new report by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change?

We are very happy with the new report. There is a much stronger acknowledgement of walking and cycling in the report compared to earlier. This is what we had expected.


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