Monday, August 24, 2009

Ik ben een Amsterdammer -
New Amsterdam Bike Slam – II

World Streets strongly supports this creative, high-profile, positive public event which offers an open collaborative mechanism for helping New York and anybody else who is ready to learn from their experience to move together from old to new mobility.

The Slam approach offers a number of interesting and useful characteristics which those of us who care deeply about the transition to sustainable transportation have not always given sufficient play in the past -- so let's take a moment to note of some of these.

(A "slam", let's recall, has its origins in the poetry slams that got started back in the eighties: free-wheeling poetry recitations, with character, which tuned into lively competitions (think ice-skating or diving) in which the performance of the competitor/poets is marked by a panel of "experts" chosen from the audience. But all in the good spirit of poetry . . . or in our case in 2009, a safe cycling.)

1. The whole venture captures our attention by crossing a line in a surprising way, introducing up front an approach – the idea of a Slam -- which at once jolts and invites.

2. The whole approach is playful, creative and inviting. It based on what we can see thus far looks to us as if it is not going to bore (as is, sadly, all too often the case with standard plain vanilla conferences when you get right down to it.)

3. It is the sort of approach and event which, by dint of its originality and high energy level, is likely to achieve a high profile and excite considerable media and public interest.

4. It has many different parts. The melding of a symposium with leading international personalities and speakers, with a slam, and then in turn with a dance party, poetry, concept and design competition, award ceremony and a two-borough bike ride looks like a great way to maintain the momentum and interest over the four day event.

5. It is a positive event. This is an important point which should be get lost here, since it is in stark contrast to what we often hear and see when it comes to bicycles in US cities in which complaints and one-sided confrontational statements often rule the day.

6. The very idea of the event being organized as a transatlantic crossing originating in "Oud Amsterdam" is a sharp attention-getting idea.

7. The fact that it suggests a gentle partnership and not a situation of one-way lesson-giving makes it all more agreeable to all involved.

8. One hoped-for outcome will be that New Yorkers and other present will be exposed to a more mature picture of positive and negative aspects of cycle policy and practice in Amsterdam and in other Dutch cities. There is a great deal of wishful thinking on the part of anyone who has not had day-to-day experience on the streets there, and if you want a genuinely critical assessment of cycling in the Netherlands the best person to ask is a Dutch cyclist.

And let's not forget this: When we smile, our IQ goes up.

How it came about:

As best I understand, this all started as a conversation between a small group of committed cyclists in Old Amsterdam who have been following with real interest the recent attempts in New York on the part of a growing coalition of individuals and groups, public and non-profit, to create a more vigorous and safer cycling environment for day-to-day transportation in the city.

Under the leadership of Pascal van den Noort and his colleagues at Velo Mondial, the connection was made with the Transportation Alternatives group who have been leading the public interest push to support cycling in the city over many years. Then, as I understand it, when they approached the city, the team there under the NYC Department of Transportation's Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan recognized a good thing when they saw it and climbed aboard.

Once the basic principle and key team elements were secured, all it took was true grit and a lot of hard work, which brings us up to where we are today.

It remains to be seen of course what the actual results are. And you can be sure that we shall be reporting on them here both directly and through contributions including those of organizers and participants.

PS. And after this event we can all repeat those immortal words as we sail down the street: "Ik ben een Amsterdammer".
# # #

Again for all the latest: New Amsterdam Bike Slam .

For further information, contact:

* Shin-pei Tsay, Deputy Director, Transportation Alternatives, -
* Pascal van den Noort, Velo Mondial, -

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