9th May 2021
The Spokesmen Cycling Podcast
EPISODE 274: Curbing cars with Chris and Melissa Bruntlett
SPONSOR: Jenson USA
HOST: Carlton Reid
GUESTS: Chris and Melissa Bruntlett
TOPICS: A 65-minute chat with Chris and Melissa Bruntlett, authors of “Curbing Traffic” from Island Press and published at the end of June.
Carlton Reid 0:13
Welcome to episode 274 of the Spokesmen cycling Podcast. This show was uploaded on Sunday 9th May 2021.
David Bernstein 0:24
The Spokesmen cycling roundtable podcast is brought to you by Jenson USA, where you’ll always find a great selection of products at amazing prices with unparalleled customer service. For more information, just go to Jensonusa.com/thespokesmen. Hey everybody, it’s David from the Fredcast cycling podcast at www.Fredcast.com. I’m one of the hosts and producers of the Spokesmen cycling roundtable podcast. For shownotes links and all sorts of other information please visit our website at www.the- spokesmen.com. And now, here are the spokesmen.
Carlton Reid 1:07
In 2019 Chris and Melissa Bruntlett moved from Vancouver — often billed as one of the world’s most attractive cities to live — to make a new life in the Netherlands. They’ve just bought a house in Delft and, as you’ll soon hear, it sounds like this famous urbanist couple will be staying in cycling paradise. I’m Carlton Reid and in this one-hour show I asked Chris and Melissa to describe the premise of their great new book, chapter by chapter. I was hounded to learn that I was one of the first to get a hold of a PDF of the book, which doesn’t come out until the end of next month so this is fantastic sneak preview for you, and listen on because there’s also a promo code where you can save a chunk of cash of Curbing Traffic, which will be published by Island Press on June 29th.
Carlton Reid 2:03
Chris, Melissa, fantastic. And thank you ever so much for coming back on on the show, because you have been on the spokesman podcast numerous times. Probably previous books, you have got this, this this, this new book, curbing traffic now that will be excellent for the people who listen to this. Because it’s not just about bikes, because your previous book we can talk about that was about bikes. And this is just the basic of getting rid of cars. Now I don’t know how we want to do this. Are you going to be because you’re in separate rooms in your in your in your fairytale house in Delft. But how are we because previously you’ve been like sharing a laptop, but you’re actually in different rooms. And you can come in here. So what do you want? What should I say, Melissa? Chris? Or you’re just gonna we’re gonna do this freeform? How do I do? How do you answer the questions?
Melissa Bruntlett 2:58
I think we’re both pretty good at figuring out who wants to say what or jovially interrupting each other? So if there’s any, I think I think if it’s a specific question for one of us, that probably you know, if you want to direct it, that makes sense. But yeah, I don’t think we’ll leave you with any too much dead air. Right, Chris?
Chris Bruntlett 3:21
No, exactly. And I think usually one of us will start answering a question and the other one will finish it. So whoever gets in first gets the lead. And we usually both are on the same wavelength, even if we’re not in the same room. So I don’t have any concerns.
Carlton Reid 3:37
Let’s in that case, let’s kick off with a question that links to that. And just how do you physically write books together as a married couple, and be just as somebody writing one sentence, and then somebody completes the other one? What is your writing method as a couple?
Melissa Bruntlett 3:56
That’s actually an excellent question that we get a lot. Because a lot of people will say it’s impossible to work with your partner, let alone write a book with them. I think for Chris and I, with the first book, we took a very pragmatic approach, we because we had been writing blogs for so long, individually, we approached each chapter as for individual blogs, and we each selected which section of that we were going to focus on, and then basically married them together. And both reading over making sure that the styles flow because I obviously will write a little bit differently than Chris does. But for this book, we sort of approached it because each contain each chapter contains a story of part of our experience in the first two years living in Delft. We basically took ownership of each of those stories. And so if it was something that I experienced more prevalently than Chris, for example, with the feminist city chapter, then I would leave the writing of that chapter or for Chris, the experience of the sound difference in the sound quality and delve has had a much stronger impact on him. And not that it hasn’t on me as well. So that was one that he took ownership of. And then yeah, at the end of the day, we we go through the chapters, at our little pieces here and there to make it flow to make sure that it has the emotion along with the hard facts with with that and with the data. And overall come up with what what we’re always quite proud of, I think.
Chris Bruntlett 5:30
Yeah, I think you’ve, you’ve said it, well, most of you bring the emotion and a lot of cases and I bring the the wanke the policy focus. And so yeah, and so we not only do we complement each other, well, we bring each other’s writing back to the middle, I think. So Melissa will write a segment and I’ll go in and kind of polish it up. And vice versa, I’ll write something and she’ll dewonkify it, you know, make it less technical and more approachable. So it’s, it’s kind of divide, as Melissa said, dividing the chapter up into pieces, each taking a piece, but then going back and rewriting each other sentences and putting your ego aside and just trusting each other to kind of make make the pros better. And eventually, you know, the whole the finished book has probably been read over and revise the dozen times. But we’re finally reached a point where we’re ready to let it go with and that it’s happy. It’s suitable for a while not just an urbanism audience but a mainstream mainstream audience. We’re always writing for the the casual reader if you will.
Carlton Reid 6:37
So let’s let’s get into into the book a little bit more. So it’s it’s Curbing Traffic. And it’s another Island Press book. So that’s that’s the disclaimer here that that’s also my publisher, who did buy my couple of books and you’ve now got a couple of books with them. Quickly, when is it out? If I got like an advance copy? Or is it physically going to be out?
Chris Bruntlett 7:01
Yeah, the official release date is June 29. So it’s still a couple months from when we’re speaking but the the pre orders should start shipping late May early June because the the publication date natural physical manufacturing date is about a month before the release date. But you have most definitely have a early review copy Carlton, one of the first people to see it in its final form.
Carlton Reid 7:26
In which case, I’m very honoured. Thank you very much. And ite’s an excellent, excellent book and it’s it’s just packed and packed and packed with both the emotional part and the statistical but the the wonky the kind of the transport professional part, when you both transport professional anyway, but that it’s just full of meat is what I’m trying to say. So it has been a fantastic reading. I’ve really, really enjoyed it. And one of my questions is gonna be before actually physically read the book was going to be and we’ll get into your biographical details and when you moved to the Netherlands and a second, but it was gonna be you know, is this a stage of your life that you’re going through? And eventually you’ll go back to Canada. And then I read that the last few paragraphs in the book and the photograph of you on the stoop on the on your outside of your your wonderful 130 year old canalside house. And when you’ve bought a house there, and you’re pretty much saying you’re living here for the rest of your lives, that’s your fairy tale. So would that be you you put that in the book? Had you thought about that? Or do you did you talked about that before? putting that in the book? Or was it something that the book has crystallised for you?
Melissa Bruntlett 8:43
I think from the moment we made the decision to move to the Netherlands, I think we both approached it as this could possibly be a very permanent move for us. As we say in the introduction, you know, we we reached sort of a moment in Vancouver where we absolutely loved the city. We love living in British Columbia and being surrounded by all the natural beauty and the city itself is such a wonderful place to live and to raise kids. But we really needed to downsize, we’d reached I guess, that proverbial point in your lives when you’re at your late 30s, early 40s. And you want to settle down a little. And we found ourselves prior to making the decision to move to the Netherlands, struggling to find a city that we could enjoy the quality of life that we did in Vancouver. Being car free, in terms of our living circumstance, and being able to walk in cycle and enjoy the city without having, you know, to rely on cars to get us around. It was really hard to find a place that could mimic that in and around where we were living in Vancouver or even returning back to Ontario in more central Eastern Canada where our parents and siblings live and so we knowing we were coming to a country where we were going to be able to enjoy a similar quality of life in terms of how we moved, we sort of knew that this is likely going to be a rather permanent move for us. And yes, that was solidified a, you know, when we decided to buy a house here and really set some roots down. But I think even before we got here, we knew that this could end very well might be a permanent stay for us.
Chris Bruntlett 10:29
Well, the very last chapter of the book is about the idea of ageing in place and building Age Friendly cities. And I think that the very end of the writing process helped us understand that we wanted to live in a city that allowed us to age in place that didn’t force us as our, perhaps our parents and other relatives, to either become reliant on other people for our transportation, or move elsewhere in the city so that we’re more conveniently located to the services that we need. We knew we had everything we needed in Delft within a 10 minute walk. And as Melissa said, just purchasing this home on a canal, the five minute walk from the city centres is crystallised everything we’ve been thinking about. And we really see ourselves getting old and living forever in this house, because it’s perfectly located perfect size. And we don’t see ourselves in the future. You know, having to be necessarily moving to as if we’re looking for proximity, mobility, or other compromise to make other compromises in terms of the location. Delft is a city where people from young to old can can exist quite comfortably.
Carlton Reid 11:53
The book is a love story, then it absolutely you as a couple, of course, and then just you falling in love with Delft that that’s absolutely there, of course, and getting rid of cars, which is a lovely concept. But the book is about getting rid of cars, but might you just the book actually be you should move to that Delft if you want to live the lifestyle that you’re describing in Delft, this lovely story, shouldn’t you just move to Delft?
Chris Bruntlett 12:21
I wouldn’t say that. No, I mean, not everyone has the privilege, the ability, the means the and in terms of physical space, it’s impossible to everybody to move to the Netherlands. And it’s certainly not what we’re advocating, we’re quite open in the book that we do have this who have had this privilege to move here. But there’s little do we know when we decided to move to Delft that it was really kind of this this place in the 1970s, that tried a lot of different policies, from the corner to the traffic circulation plan, to the low car city centre. These are policies that can be implemented virtually at anywhere, and they are starting to be implemented in places of the world like Barcelona and Auckland. So our intention was not to say, you know, everybody come here to experience this quality of life, it’s to build this quality of life into your own city simply by treating cars as guests, rather than as we have in the last 40 to 50 years treating them as the guest of honour in our urban fabric.
Melissa Bruntlett 13:26
Yeah, I think, I think what’s I think what I really wanted, and what Chris and I think both really wanted to sort of challenge is that it shouldn’t involve or shouldn’t be a prerequisite that you have this privilege to be able to move to a city like this, which it shouldn’t be that you have to leave where you are to experience a higher quality of life. And so you know, both of us in our day jobs, were so focused on exporting a lot of this knowledge to international cities to really help everywhere start to realise the benefits and also start working towards creating these more human focus cities. So we understand that, you know, for example, the suburb of Ontario and Kitchener Waterloo that we grew up in, is never going to be exactly emulating Delft, for example. But there are a lot of things that can be done to help lower car usage, provide people with other options, connect them with their community in a better way, that, you know, they don’t have to move across the Atlantic to a Dutch city to be able to enjoy a better quality of life. These ideas should and can and are being applied in order to make sure that for those that don’t have the ability to pack up their family and move to another country, another city, that their city can start to enjoy some of these same benefits that we’ve come to enjoy having lived here.
Carlton Reid 14:50
Hmm. Melissa, you mentioned your careers there. So that’s a good time to introduce the fact that you’re working for Mobycon. And then Chris, you’re working for the Dutch Cycling Embassy. So, Melissa first, tell me what Mobycon is. And you kind of briefly touched upon it there. But just tell us again. And then Chris, you follow that up by telling us a bit more about the Dutch Cycling Embassy?
Melissa Bruntlett 15:15
Yeah, sure. So Mobycon is a Dutch North American consultancy, that focuses on sustainable mobility. So here in the Netherlands, there’s a lot of focus on all aspects, whether that’s walking placemaking cycling, or public transport, how do they move to more sustainable choices, obviously, there is a lot of sustainable sustainable mobility here in the Netherlands. But that doesn’t mean there’s not room for improvement. But for my part, I work with our international team in exporting a lot of that knowledge largely focused around cycling, but also placemaking. And walking, both elsewhere in Europe, so across the continent, but we’ve also done some work in the UK. And then we have offices in Canada and the US where we are taking a lot of the ideas that Chris and I presented, for example, in the first book in building the cycling city, and applying them in context, through design through planning through policy in cities and towns throughout Canada in the US.
Chris Bruntlett 16:15
Yeah, so I find myself in the very strange position that I am a Canadian, advocating for the Netherlands as the world’s leading cycling nation. But the the, the fact of the matter is, as a Dutch Cycling Embassy, it’s a organisation that public private partnership that the national government here in the Netherlands started, basically to export the knowledge and expertise that exists here in this country, and it’s been built over the last 50 years or so. So, we have about 80 different organisations within our network. They are private consultants such as mobicom. They are bicycle manufacturers, like Gazelle. They are the various municipal governments, universities and bike parking manufacturers, all looking to work overseas and help cities and regions become more bicycle friendly. So we bring teams around the world to host workshops, webinars, training. And then inversely, we also do a lot of study tours and welcome groups from elsewhere in the world and take them for tours and classroom sessions to learn from the the amazing conditions here. And so yeah, as I said, I’m marketing and communication manager selling Dutch cycling as as this foreigners is international outside voice but I think it just speaks volumes to how normalised and mundane cycling has become here that that most people who live here don’t think it’s it’s special or recognise it as something that’s should be spread or or exported around the world.
Carlton Reid 17:52
In your book, you mentioned it on that point that you know, when you go you have been abroad. And then you come back you kind of hear the birdsong. You hear the quietude of Delft, of course, a lot of people have roughly the same thing. Even in the most busy, you know, urban cities with with COVID-19 Coronavirus, where people in cities heard that song again. So we kind of all had that that brief glimpse of what you’re getting on a daily basis. Do you think that COVID-19 might actually help urbanist people interested in getting rid of cars to actually get rid of cars?
Melissa Bruntlett 18:37
Right, think for Chris and I that’s certainly the hope. And we found ourselves in this interesting position. We were writing the book. So we had pitched it to Ireland press hadn’t had everything approved. And it started the initial writing process before the pandemic hit. And we actually had several moments that when we’re writing the first few chapters where we’re like, is this even going to be relevant anymore what we’re writing because everyone is experiencing exactly what we’re trying to promote. But I think and Chris would probably agree that I think the challenge now is to not return to the status quo, which we have seen happen in a few cities, as things start to open up again, that this return to car use, or for busier cities, it losing some of that quality that a lot of people experienced. And so we really hope that with that knowledge with that experience, plus what we’ve written in the book, it helps to really solidify why it’s really important because yeah, that that birdsong we have we remember Clarence Eckerson in New York, commenting us in the heart of Manhattan, Manhattan hearing birds. And you know, who wouldn’t want that on a much more regular basis in New York City to be able to hear the natural world around you and so yeah, I guess the challenge now is to record Notice how important that experience was and should be continued. But yeah, I I remain pessimistically optimistic. Maybe Chris feels a little bit differently. But yeah, I, I was amazing that that was all happening as we were writing this. And I really hope it helps to reinforce what we were saying.
Chris Bruntlett 20:20
Well, I think you know, historically much is made of the Netherlands, experiencing the OPEC oil crisis in the 1970s, in the six weeks where they suddenly had a gasoline shortage and the sale of bicycles doubled. It was kind of this lightbulb moment as a society when they realised they had to build a more resilient transport system and, and look at their streets a little bit differently, both in terms of the politicians, but also in terms of the general population. We’re seeing sparks of that light bulb moment now in cities around the world. We always joked beforehand that to make these changes, people would need to come to the Netherlands to experience them firsthand. But they really experienced them on their front porch and on their front doorstep. For albeit, you know, a short period of time, but suddenly, they were out on their street, sometimes playing tennis, interacting with their neighbours for the first time, breathing the air, smelling the ocean, if they lived by the sea, hearing the birds seeing what their city looked like with fewer cars. zooming around, and now as Moses hinted is, is capturing that momentum, supporting elected officials that are going to implement some of the puppet changes that have been made, whether it’s puppet bike infrastructure, or pop up dining terraces, but making sure that this moment turns into a movement for cities that are prioritise the people that live in them, rather than the vehicles, the motor vehicles that they drive.
Carlton Reid 21:51
Now, Island Press is, of course, a climate change specialist publisher. So it must have been a relatively easy pitch. I mean, it’s never an easy pitch ever, but it must have been relatively easy pitch to say to a climate change publisher, we want to write a book about getting rid of cars. Was that something that just went? Oh, yes, we absolutely need a book like that. How was that that publication? process? How did that go for you?
Chris Bruntlett 22:21
Actually, it was quite difficult to be honest, I don’t think we always package this as our personal story. That would include some of the anecdotes of us moving here. And I don’t think I’ve impressive really published a book like that before. I think they’re very kind of policy nonfiction. technical stuff. Exactly. Exactly. So we had some convincing to do to be honest, to get them on board and you know, ultimately, we didn’t know well, we didn’t want to write building the cycling city to we didn’t want to just you know tell the same story or or slightly different story. We wanted to make this project personal we wanted to make it emotive use our engaging the reader user help them to experience what we’ve experienced here bring them along for a journey that also includes some some technical facts and figures to backup our case. But yeah, it was a bit of a pitch to get them to come along for the ride Not to mention you know, we were promotion for this book is going to look a lot different than the first book with us both working day jobs and having relocated to Europe. There was not going to be any kind of multi week tour of America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand as it was the first time around. So a lot has changed since since we wrote our first book and so we’re having to adapt and also bring Island press along for the ride but we hope their their faith in us will be rewarded again.
Carlton Reid 23:54
It’s tough to say that this is one of my favourites because it’s certainly my favourites Of course in in your book, it’s it’s wonderful. But I found especially cute, the the bits of Dutch that you put into the book, and I’m very pleased that you’ve put those bits of Dutch into the book because it really adds a lot of flavour. Yes, you’re learning the language, of course, but you’re also learning in a really cute part of the language, you know, these kind of, you know, aphorisms and and words and phrases that are just so wonderful. Now one of them I picked out was and of course you’re gonna be able to pronounce as much better than me. Uitwaaien is wind bath?
Melissa Bruntlett 24:35
Carlton Reid 24:36
So describe what a wind bath concept what a wind bath is and please correct my pronunciation.
Melissa Bruntlett 24:44
Yeah, so that would be uitwaaien. Which, funnily enough, Chris and I seem to be experiencing everyday. It’s been a very windy April and May or, you know, year here in the Netherlands. But essentially, that’s the content of going out and getting fresh air or frisse neus. You know, having the wind in your face sort of washing away any of the stresses of the day or the week or the month. And, you know, it’s, you know, in Canada, we would talk about going out to get a breath of fresh air. Similarly, but in this case, you have quite heavy winds in your face. And it’s, it’s a, it’s, it’s an experience to have the first few times, but I understand why that now having lived here for as long as we have, why it’s important for people because it’s just this like removal of Yeah, just the stress that most of us experience, you know, being whether you will have a family or you’re working full time or however you might experience stress. It’s just a way to wash that all the way in what is a very prevalent force of nature here in the country. And I think in the book and I like Chris. Yes, exactly. No hills, lots of wind.
Chris Bruntlett 26:01
Yeah, I just realised, though, that you use the term frisse neus without actually translating it. So we Oh, yeah. brilliant, brilliant, turn a phrase from the Dutch, which literally means “fresh nose.” So when they say that they’re going to get fresh air, it’s actually kind of, they’re going to get a fresh nose. But yeah, I mean, it just comes back to this connection with nature that the Dutch have in their cities because they haven’t paved over every square inch of it. So by having fewer room for cars, fewer lanes, more roundabouts that are vegetated, they’ve got room for more trees, more grass more. And then the compact cities allow for a greater proximity to the surrounding polders and forests and nature. But you’re never very far from greenery or water. And this acts as a therapeutic sensation that improves people’s mental health and overall well being. And again, I think it’s something that we we often neglect when we talk about city living, we assume that it has to be stressful and, and, and bleak, and Asheville everywhere when we can, if we simply reallocate the space on our cities create greenery that’s inter woven with the the streets and intersections and the public spaces.
Carlton Reid 27:21
I’m gonna pick out another phrase and you can give me the Dutch I’ll give you just the English because I absolutely guarantee I’ll murder the Dutch but the phrase is “we’re not the same, but we’re worth the same.” So what’s the what if you can remember what’s that in Dutch? And then just describe roughly was talking about? Yeah,
Unknown Speaker 27:38
I don’t, don’t remember the exact that’s turn of phrase because it’s slightly different. But this is in the, in the context of a really egalitarian society. So we make this point that the streets are accessible to everybody, whether they have a, you know, a 50,000 Euro Mercedes Benz or a 50 Euro bicycle, and it’s really ingrained in the culture here that there’s a real sense of equity. And so there’s not this class spaced, reinforced class reinforced system that permeates all levels of society, not the least of which are there their streets and cycle tracks and public spaces. So welcome coming
Carlton Reid 28:27
So did you find the phrase Melissa?
Melissa Bruntlett 28:28
I’m now I’m googling it, because now I can’t remember it. I’m even searching in the manuscripts. And of course, it’s not finding it for me. And I know the phrase, yeah, it’s this. But yeah, forget that, carry on.
Carlton Reid 28:39
No, that was very cruel of me to throw not just one word, but like a whole phrase. But where I guess where I was coming at it from and the reason why I picked it that was so that’s, that’s a cultural norm in the Netherlands. So my question is, you know, to curb traffic to get rid of motorcars, yeah. You need certain things you need cultural changes, not just physical, you know, concrete and curbs and, and Lane width, all those colour changes, you need a cultural switch as well. So, is that not the most difficult thing to actually fix? You can fix engineering, but can you really fix how people and nation a group actually think about mobility, about priority on the streets? And isn’t just not the fact that well, the Netherlands have got this dialled in, and you ain’t gonna be able to translate that fully anywhere else. Yeah,
Melissa Bruntlett 29:48
I would. I would say that it’s absolutely possible. And I think one of the benefits I think we have of having lived in a city like Vancouver, is that we watched as things changed. So as that infrastructure started to be built, and more and more people started to experience getting around the city more on bicycle on foot or, or a combination thereof with public transport, we saw a cultural shift. And it’s but the thing is, it’s not going to be fast. And this is one thing that Chris and I say all the time is we’re talking about change, cultural change, overgenerous a generation, which, for a lot of us working in mobility and an urban ism can be quite frustrating, because we can see we know what the benefits are, we’ve seen it in action and in various places, but it’s to not see it immediately, or have that immediate gratification and in our own cities can be very challenging. But I see it as possible. And, you know, as you were speaking, Carlton, it made me think of when we were interviewing one of our friends in the US who was talking about women in cycling, and how, you know, oftentimes when they build new cycle tracks, in cities, if if they don’t see anyone using it, or they only see it used once in a while, then it’s deemed a failure. But for her, she says that, you know, if you see one woman cycling on that cycle track with a child, that is a success, that’s proof that this is something people want, and it’s just going to take time to build. And, you know, we saw that in Vancouver, where, when we first moved there, cycling was definitely something nice, something for the fit and the brave. And then over the course of the 11 years that we lived there, we saw more and more families cycling more and more people of various ages and abilities and races cycling. So I think it’s absolutely possible. And I don’t think you necessarily have to have that pragmatic culture that we have. We see people have here in the Netherlands, it can be done. It takes patience, unfortunately. But I think it’s absolutely possible. And AI just takes showing people what is what is possible when we start building safer streets with space for fewer cars and more space for public life.
Chris Bruntlett 32:04
It’s sorry, so I found the expression and I’m going to try and pronounce it. It’s so it’s “niet gelijk, maar wel
gelijkwaardig” we’re not the same, but we’re worth the same. And it I think you framed it one way, Carlton, is it does there need to be a cultural change to facilitate a structural change, but maybe we can we can look at it the other way and and looking here in the Netherlands, were the structural changes that were made to the streets in the 1970s. Did they influence the cultural changes that we’re seeing today, and this is what we explore in the chapter about the trusting city is how more people on foot and bicycle making eye contact, having to collaborate with one another to negotiate intersections and share space, how that builds, and we’re a trusting society, of people that are accepting of other people’s differences and cultures. And it’s really interesting to think how our transport systems and our mobility systems may make our society more egalitarian. Rather than sitting back and saying, well, only eat out there in societies could undergo these changes the chicken and egg and hopefully we can, we can pick a place to start and rather than pointing at external factors as reasons why we can’t integrate these, these important measures.
Carlton Reid 33:30
Lots that’s very good to hear. If that’s the case, so we can change. I’d like to now cut to an ad break. But after the ad, I would like to go through your book chapter by chapter because you mentioned the trusting city there. And there are there are 10 chapters and the conclusions. I want you to describe each chapter we need to give like a short precis of each chapter, I’m going to give one to Melissa and wanted to create as your forewarning. That’s why I’m going to ask him for next. But right now let’s go to an ad break with David.
David Bernstein 33:59
Hey, Carlton, thanks so much. And it’s it’s always my pleasure to talk about our advertiser. This is a longtime loyal advertiser, you all know who I’m talking about. It’s Jenson USA at Jensonusa.com/thespokesmen. I’ve been telling you for years now years, that Jenson is the place where you can get a great selection of every kind of product that you need for your cycling lifestyle at amazing prices, and what really sets them apart. Because of course, there’s lots of online retailers out there. But what really sets them apart is they’re on believable support. When you call and you’ve got a question about something, you’ll end up talking to one of their gear advisors, and these are cyclists. I’ve been there I’ve seen it. These are folks who who ride their bikes to and from work. These are folks who ride at lunch who go out on group rides after work because they just enjoy cycling so much. And and so you know that when you call, you’ll be talking to somebody who has knowledge of the products that you’re calling about. If you’re looking for a new bike, whether it’s a mountain bike, a road bike, a gravel bike, a fat bike, what are you looking for? Go ahead and check them out. Jenson USA, they are the place where you will find everything you need for your cycling lifestyle. It’s Jensonusa.com/thespokesmen. We thank them so much for their support. And we thank you for supporting Jenson USA. All right, Carlton, let’s get back to the show.
Carlton Reid 35:24
Thanks, David. And we are back with Chris and Melissa Bruntlett. And they’re in their fairytale house in in the in the fairytale city of Delft in the Netherlands. And they’ve been telling us why they moved there, how much they’re loving it. And before we get on to going through and getting a precis of each each chapter in the book, I want to talk about their kids. Because that’s absolutely a key component. We’re not doing any privacy issues here because Chris and Melissa your kids are mentioned throughout the book and their experiences are mentioned throughout the book, which which is which is very, very inspiring and heartening, but let’s just talk about Coralie and Etienne now, I’m assuming that the ages of 12 and 10 so Coralie 12, Etienne 10. That was when you moved in 2019, so they’re now older?
Melissa Bruntlett 36:15
Yeah. Coralie is now 14 and a half and Etienne is 12. And yeah, we’ve got well, Coralie started right in high school, we’ve got another child about to join them in high school as well. So yeah, it’s it, they’re doing well, as far as, as far as they tell us anyways, you know, having a teenager and a preteen, they certainly start to keep a few things from their parents now and then. But yeah, it’s been an interesting experience for them. I won’t lie and say that it was rosy from the start, we had, you know, a bit of melancholy when we first moved here, they certainly miss their peers that they had built relationships with back in Vancouver. But we did actually do a check in we were on holiday last week, because we’re currently on there, may vacation for two weeks, and we went away and asked, you know, it’s been two years, how are you feeling? Do you still hate us? Did we make the worst decision of our life is taking you guys here? And they both said emphatically that they’re happy that we’re here. They of course, still miss their friends. But they, they’ve come to appreciate living here, which is good. We’ll see if that continues. You know, we’ve still got a few more years before they’re adults and fully appreciate where we’re at in life.
Melissa Bruntlett 37:31
Melissa Bruntlett 37:33
yeah, I think I think they’re doing okay, as much as they tell us anyways.
Chris Bruntlett 37:37
Yeah, I think Melissa and I both did similar moves as children of around 10 years age. I’ve actually moved from the UK to Canada, she moved from Eastern Canada, French Canada to Ontario. So we’re kind of familiar with the circumstances. And we were quite careful about giving them the time and space they needed to adjust and integrate. They went straight into a Dutch language school in the middle of the school year in February, and which couldn’t have been easy but they really I think surprised us with how resilient they were how quickly they made friends how quickly they learned the city. And of course as we write in the first chapter, the the traffic concentrates and the the cycle tracks really just gave them this freedom that we anticipated, but never really understood how quickly or how amazing it would be that to give them suddenly this this autonomy and independence of getting around a to be without mom and dad at your side.
Carlton Reid 38:43
Because you you quote Lenore Skenazy in the book, and she’s famous for the free range kids, you know, no helicopter, parenting approach, and you’ve basically taken that concept. And you’ve you’ve, I’d like to say ran with it, but you’ve cycled with it, you’ve given your kids the freedom the kind of freedom that kids in the US kids in the in Canada, kids in the UK do not have.
Chris Bruntlett 39:08
We actually flirted with that freedom in Vancouver, you know, we would, within reason allow them to walk to the corner store or to their school or to the community centre. But the problem was the built environment would not support that. That freedom and so we found ourselves worrying about faded crosswalks that drivers would ignore about footpaths that would disappear every time they cross the side street about six lanes of traffic that was cutting through our neighbourhood that they would have to cross and that made giving them that freedom and independence a very difficult choice. And, and more often than not, we found ourselves supervising them for short trips, when we really wanted them to let them spread their wings and, and get around independently. So we’re I think, are quite relieved that we now live in a place a built environment that supports That freedom and it speaks volumes to how the prevalence of car traffic really has robbed children of their freedom, and forced them to be constantly under supervision and rely on their parents for their transportation needs.
Carlton Reid 40:17
So that was chapter one in effect in your book. So the child friendly city is chapter number one after the introduction, of course. So if I can ask you, in turn to describe the other chapters now, I’ll mention which chapter obviously will go chronologically. If you could just take it in turn to tell us what that chapter is about, you’d have to like, give the whole game away. But just you know, briefly, what that that that chapters about so chapter number two is the connected city what’s what’s, what’s the thing going on there? And I’m gonna, I’m gonna give this to Chris.
Chris Bruntlett 40:49
Yeah. So I mean, unbeknownst to us when we moved to Delft, this was a city where the runner was invented the living Street, this concept of reclaiming the space outside your front door for play social activity, gathering and interaction with your neighbours. And for a long time, we’ve been aware of the Donald Appleyard and his really groundbreaking research in the 1970s, about how the volume and speed of traffic outside your front door really limits your connections on your street, your friends, acquaintances with your neighbours and the time you spend on your street and the sense of ownership that you spend on your street. So we really want to explore how prioritising the speed and volume of cars, outside our front door impacts our social relationships with our friends and neighbours. And we interject with some personal experiences, unexpected encounters with people living on our street to that kind of reinforces this research, and makes the case that that perhaps we should be looking at, well, what they’re implementing in London is low traffic neighbourhoods. But this idea of not banning cars altogether, but treating them as guests on, particularly on our residential streets.
Carlton Reid 42:10
Okay, Melissa, chapter three, the trusting city.
Melissa Bruntlett 42:14
Yeah, this this chapter, I think it’s it’s really about it takes the concepts of the first or the last chapter of the connected city and extrapolate that to the broader society. So the way in which people move around their city, if it’s a much more human scale way of living around whether that’s walking, cycling, or some other form of human mobility, it forces you to start connecting with the people you’re moving around the city with, and really creates a social trust. Because here, especially here in the Netherlands, traffic lights are often removed, there’s no traffic signage, and so you’re forced to interact with the people that you’re moving around the city with. And that does include cars, you know, having an what the design of the street really forces people to make eye contact to acknowledge each other. And that leads to a much more interactive experience, but also much more trusting. You know, if you look at someone if you’re forced to make eye contact, that how they react to you that they acknowledge you being in that space will ultimately affect how you navigate around each other in the space in which you’re moving. We interviewed Marco te Brömmelstroet for that, for this chapter, who talks a lot about how speed really impacts our ability to be able to approach our society and the way and our interactions in the city in a much more calm and trusting way. And so when we’re moving in fast cars, whenever things racing bias, we become very insular, it’s about our trip and our journey and anything that gets in the way becomes a very negative, whereas when you start to slow the way we move down, you’re forced to interact with people you’re forced to suddenly acknowledge the existence of the people around you and it just creates much more trusting environment and we obviously get much more into what that means in terms of the city itself and and society at a larger scale because of these forced moments of interaction with our fellow human beings.
Carlton Reid 44:22
And I should just say that Marco there is @CyclingProfessor (@fietsprofessor) so people on Twitter who follow Chris and Melissa on Twitter, I’m sure they also follow Marco the cycling professor. Chris, the feminist city, Chapter Four.
Chris Bruntlett 44:37
I think I’m gonna defer to Melissa because this is a her, er …
Carlton Reid 44:42
No, I constructed the way we started the child friendly city. I knew I actually can’t get Chris to do chapter four. So no, no, no, no, you can’t. You’ve got to tell us about it, Chris.
Chris Bruntlett 44:54
Okay, sure. Yeah, no, I think the way that we have built our Our urban fabric or our cities, our transportation networks up to this point has been very male centric, and men tend to disproportionately drive motor vehicles, they take longer distance, single purpose trips. And inversely, that leaves women out of the equation and doesn’t take their travel patterns in into consideration, which are often more sustainable foot bicycle or public transport. They’re usually shorter distance trips, they’re usually Multi Purpose trips, because they are still doing predominantly that the care work. And so we delve into this idea of care trips, and which are again, disproportionately made by women, and how we can build transportation networks that facilitate those care trips. And as you can imagine, it comes down to fine grain cycling, that works, that comes down to great walking conditions, it comes down to giving children the freedom so that their their moms don’t have to necessarily take them pick them up to drop them off at school. So a city that doesn’t just accommodate the the single purpose one way commute for a predominantly male driver. And that’s largely historically been done, because the people in the decision making chambers are affluent men, that, that we’ve, we can look at building more equity in terms of gender equity, by simply building more walking and cycling and better, faster, more frequent public transportation to support those trips that they’re already making and make their lives a lot easier.
Carlton Reid 46:46
Okay, nice summary, chapter five, Melissa, that will be the hearing city. And I guess we’re gonna have some birdsong here?
Melissa Bruntlett 46:53
Yes. Well, I mean, I think we’ve talked a lot about the benefit of you know, when we remove excessive numbers of cars in our city, and we really reduce the sounds that they contribute to in the city, you start to hear a lot more of the natural world. But one of the things that I think is really important in this chapter is not just the ability to hear the beautiful bird songs, but also the impact that has on us as individuals on our mental state and our overall stress by reducing the amount of ambient noise that we experience. And I think it’s actually funny because I was just watching, pretended to city on Netflix with Fran Lebowitz. And she refers to the the noise of New York City. And that’s just a part of it, you know, we don’t want to escape the noise. This is our noise. But I think there’s not that recognition that goes along with that of the stress of that noise creates, in terms of just us as individuals, if you’re constantly in this hyper noisy environment, you’re always on alert, you’re always at attention, you’re always in that fight or flight kind of mode. And so what this chapter, what I love that it delves into is that when we create these calmer ambient environments with lower decibels of noise, what that means for the citizens in general, not just the ability to hear the nature or hear the bricks, as people cycled by or hear people enjoying a beer on a patio, but overall in you know, really increasing that enjoyment of the city itself, and a sense of calm for us as individuals. And so I love that, you know, birdsong is so much a part of that or just the natural sounds of of the city. But you know, what that means to us as individuals, I think is an important conversation and emerging conversation, and we delve into that in this chapter.
Carlton Reid 48:47
Okay, Chris, you’re up next, because you are going to have to talk about the therapeutic city.
Chris Bruntlett 48:52
Yeah, so building on this idea of calming environments, we do a bit of a dive with our friend Robin Mazumder, who recently completed his PhD on this exact topic, mental health in the urban environment. And look at the way that car dominated environments really diminish minister mental health as a source of stress as a source of noise. And really well as we were talking about earlier, reduce the amount of green space we have access to, and really have these subtle ways that they are testing us as human beings, for lack of a better way to put it. And this was a chapter we wrote, just after lockdown started, where again, I think everyone in the world suddenly gained a newfound appreciation for the ability to just get outside, move their body, have some kind of a social distance, social interaction make, talk to people from a distance. And this was a key way that they kept their sanity, if you will, under some very stressful conditions, and otherwise they were locked down in their home. So I think we, like everyone gained a newfound appreciation for especially in Delft here, being able to get outside for a bike ride or walk into the city centre, a meandering, pedal through the polders all of them have a means to unwind. And de stress from, you know, we were still working jobs, we were still trying to make ends meet internally, but those little breaks that we have, it is possible to build them into our cities, to give people that opportunity to, to de stress and re energise and, well, it’s a form of therapy, as we said, The this, this wind bath or variety of cultures have their own versions of it. But at the end of the day, it’s about a means of improving your mental health.
Carlton Reid 51:09
This next chapter, chapter seven is the world’s shortest chapter, the world’s most obvious chapter, because it’s the accessible city.
Melissa Bruntlett 51:18
Excellent point. But I think, you know, one of the things with this chapter, there’s two parts of this, in that being mostly able bodied, most of the time, I had a brief stint recently with a broken leg that reduced my ability to move around. But we really felt compelled to speak to somebody who has experienced a Dutch city as someone with limited mobility. So we interviewed a wonderful woman named Maya [Maya van der Does-Levi], who shared her story of living with multiple multiple sclerosis, and getting around in the Netherlands. And, you know, in talking to her, there are things that we didn’t realise, including the fact that, you know, we enjoy traffic, calm streets, and we enjoy walking around on the street once in a while. And it’s a bit of, for us liberation, and not having grown up in North America where there’s no way you would remove walking in the middle of the street in the middle of the day. But she points out that that actually enables her to be more independently mobile. And that’s something we also delve into more with Dr. Bridget, for debt from New Zealand who, who really talks about this idea of when we’re thinking about people with disabilities, and how they move through the city, there’s so much focus on making sure that we have roads in order to allow them to be able to transport more freely in cars or in public transport, when in fact, that is the adverse of what a lot of these individuals want. They don’t want to be dependent on somebody to move around, they want to be independent, for a myriad of reasons, not the least of which is to have ownership of your own mobility is to have a sense of freedom and joy in terms of how you get around. And so this chapter, I totally agree, it could be simple and say yes, make your cities accessible, period, end of story. But understanding why it’s so important. And you know, how cars do limit how people with various disabilities, whether that’s mobility disabilities, or sight, hearing any of these things, by reducing the ability or the possibility of conflict with motor vehicles and enabling more independent mobility, we are inherently telling these people you are not other, you are not separate from society, you are a part of it. And we want to facilitate you owning your ability to be a part of society.
Carlton Reid 53:39
And as a guidedog puppy trainer, I am absolutely anti car on that particular aspect, because so many cars are parked on sidewalks on pavements. And it’s only when you really you get a guide dog and you have to walk around that you really realise that this is so selfish, so entire door. And so blocking for anybody that doesn’t have, you know, feet to walk and an eyes to see because it’s make cities incredibly difficult to navigate. If you’ve got these big four wheel vehicles parked from the infrastructure that’s actually meant for pedestrians, which I’m guessing you don’t get that much of in the Netherlands, they kind of design that out. We do get that
Melissa Bruntlett 54:25
I you know, we have our own set of challenges. I think your historic cities have had mind boggling mind bogglingly narrow sidewalks and footpaths. And so yeah, that’s one of the things that my actually says is I don’t I never use the footpath. It’s too hard for me. There’s either assign a sandwich boards on it or they’re too narrow or they’re old and a bit crumbly. And so the road infrastructure is is how she gets around. She uses the cycletrack she uses the traffic calm streets, and not just for getting around Delft, but forgetting even further outside of the city. So, yeah, hearing her story and and hearing how motor vehicles through the rest of the chapter are really helping to not to enable these people but really hinder their mobility is is an important topic that anyone working in mobility and urban design needs to hear or read, I guess, in this case, in terms of changing their thinking.
Chris Bruntlett 55:23
And I unfortunately, I think it has become a bit of a counterpoint when you start talking about restricting car traffic, removing car parking, and that you’ve seen it, especially with the low traffic neighbourhoods. In London, the first thing people say is what about the disabled is if you are restricting the mobility of everyone with a disability that they rely solely on a private automobile to get from A to B, when the statistics that you pulled out prove actually the exact opposite, I think 60% of the people with physical disability in the UK do not have access to their own motor vehicle. But the physical disability has been used as this as an excuse to build in more car dependence, unfortunately, when the facts and figures Don’t, don’t prove that out, and it’s usually able bodied people that are using the disabled as a bit of a trope, unfortunately, to argue that cities should not limit their automobility
Carlton Reid 56:29
if we’re going to build back better. And your thesis is that what to do that you curb cars, you’re going to get a richer city. So chapter eight is the prosperous cities how we’re going to get more prosperous cities, Chris?
Chris Bruntlett 56:43
Yeah, this was a, again, a chapter that we had proposed before refer to the pandemic. But for us, it really came down to access to opportunity, I think, coming from Canada, and also, you know, spending a lot of time in the United States, we saw how codependency was really robbing people of their access to opportunity, or their society required the the expense of a private automobile, which is now 20 or $12,000 per year when you take all expenses into consideration. And that’s really inequitable and unfair burden to expect for people, especially low income, and so but that’s only because the options, the alternatives, the more economic alternatives do not exist. And so we look at the kind of public transportation system that exists here in the Netherlands, in combination with the Cycling Network, how the two really reinforce each other, support each other to provide a broader cross section of the population with access to affordable housing, to steady employment, to education, to healthcare, to all of their daily needs, without necessarily the the financial burden of their own private automobile. And so we can speak to this ourselves, okay, where, you know, not in a low income bracket, but without the expense of a car, we suddenly have more money to spend in our community on small businesses. And, and I think, yeah, yeah, exactly. And we are actually, you know, we’re in this very privileged position, actually to walk work four days per week instead of the traditional five day workweek, which is something more Dutch companies are doing, but we probably couldn’t do without the, if we were paying the monthly car payments and parking in gasoline and
Carlton Reid 58:43
Okay, Melissa, chapter nine, the resilient city,
Melissa Bruntlett 58:46
what does it mean to create a resilient city, and we interviewed Dr. Judith Yang for the herb Wang sorry for this chapter. And she really helped to change our thinking a little bit, because when we look at a resilient city, we think, Okay, this is a city that can sustain itself long term despite potential natural disturbances or unnatural or manmade disturbances. But what she argues in this chapter, and what helps to open our eyes a little bit is that there’s two ways for a city to be resilient. One is that you’ve designed it in a way that even if you have impact be that something as small as construction or something much larger, like a natural disaster, the city can easily returned back to you at status quo. But one of the things that we need to look at really when we’re talking about resiliency is can we adapt? Can we change? And can we flip that regime to be stable or resilient in a different way? So that’s the way we sort of reflect that is looking back at this OPEC oil crisis, and how here in the Netherlands, it wasn’t a matter of when that oil reserve became available. Again, they just went back to the status quo, but rather found A different way of thinking flipped the way that they were designing their cities the way that they were managing them to a different stability regime to allow for much more human centred travel. And so it presents these opportunities and really reflects on the idea that As humans, we evolve, we adapt, our cities evolve and adapt with us. And so resiliency is not about making sure that your city can stay the same, but that you can adapt in a way that leads to arguably a higher quality of life and a better city overall, for its citizens
Carlton Reid 1:00:35
Tell me more about the ageing city.
Chris Bruntlett 1:00:37
Yeah, I think, as I hinted at earlier, we’ve watched our parents and our grandparents get old in fairly car dependent places. And in some instances, they’ve really been trapped in their houses, for lack of a better way to put it completely dependent on when there, there is a period of our lives inevitably when we cannot drive safely. The American automobile says it’s on average 10 years for a US senior citizen where they outlive their ability to drive safely. And in that 10 year period, we’re left with very few options, we’re either relying on a public transportation system that that’s infrequent and unreliable, or we’re forced to rely on our children, our adult children or neighbours for transportation, or we are trapped in our homes in in our neighbourhoods or we are institutionalised in a care home. And I think there’s a lot to be said about neighbourhoods, cities, largely, you know, low car places that actually allow people to age in place comfortably without being reliant on others, external forces for their mobility. And so we tell the story of Pater, one of our neighbours here in Delft that has been born and raised his entire life on the street. He was born there. And now in his 70s, he’s retired, they’re living in his own house without a car, able to get around by foot or bicycle everywhere he needs to grocery store, the community centre, the schools, that he volunteers that to stay active in the community. And that’s all supported, again, by the the infrastructure and the policy decisions that were made many years ago to build a city that’s not car dependent, and car dominant. So when we look ahead at this baby boom generation, that’s retiring and ageing very quickly, we suddenly find ourselves with an entire generation that’s going to be tracked in the neighbourhoods that they built, the car dependent places they’ve built. And I think it’s very urgent to to start looking at that as a challenge in this kind of emergency that it is, and giving them means of mobility. And, of course, we talked about Cycling is, is one route, but it is not an option for everybody. But there’s a lot to be said for the fact that the age group of 65 and above cycles more than any other adult Group here in the Netherlands. So it’s Cycling is a means of participating in society. It’s a means of staying healthy, active, and, and part of society. And we often elsewhere in the world, perhaps think of cycling as a young, able bodied activity, but in a lot of sense, it benefits the ageing population much more and gives them an alternative drive when they can no longer drive.
Carlton Reid 1:03:39
Hmm, I will thank you ever so much for going through those 10 chapters with us. And I know people are going to be absolutely now busting a gut to want to get this when it comes out in in June. So to wrap up this show, if you wouldn’t mind, Chris, if you could tell us about all your social media, because you have got quite a few. So all your social media hats where people can actually get in touch with you. But then, but first, Melissa, if you could tell people where people are going to be able to get the book from, tell us again the exact publication date, give us the price, give us how many pages but give us give us that kind of information.
Melissa Bruntlett 1:04:19
Price? That’s a great one. I don’t know. It’s a affordable book. That’s what I know. But you can buy it directly from our publisher Island press from Ireland press.org I believe Chris, correct me if I’m wrong.
Chris Bruntlett 1:04:34
Listeners in the UK, we actually have a pre sale promo code set up with Marston books, which are the US so the UK distributor of Ireland press. So if you go to their website Marston.co.uk. And site the promo code ISCT you can get 30% off of a copy of Curbing Traffic and 30% off of our first book Building the Cycling City, which is significant savings to say the least.
Carlton Reid 1:05:06
Cool, I will actually put that in the, in the show notes if you if you send me the absolute perfect link, so I get that. And also we’re gonna put in the show notes are all your social media handles. So tell us about that, Chris.
Chris Bruntlett 1:05:17
Yes. As you hinted, we are quite prolific on social media.
Carlton Reid 1:05:23
This is the next half an hour of the show …
Chris Bruntlett 1:05:28
We have a shared account @modacitylife on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn. I am doing the social media for the Dutch Cycling Embassy these days at cycling_embassy again on all four of those platforms. And likewise, Melissa is doing social media for Mobycon at Mobycon. Oh, and and, yeah, you can get your daily dose of such inspiration from all three of those accounts.
Carlton Reid 1:06:07
Thanks to Chris and Melissa Bruntlett there. And thanks to you for listening to the Spokesmen cycling podcast, show notes and more can be found on the-spokesmen.com Meanwhile, get out there and ride …