Cycling infrastructure guru David Hembrow deletes his View From The Cycle Path blog
Lifting of content without attribution or recompense and misguided application of ideas among reasons cited
Netherlands-based cycling infrastructure guru David Hembrow has deleted his View From The Cycle Path blog, which had sought to accurately report the Dutch approach to cycling policy in the English language.
Hembrow cited the time required to work on the blog as one factor behind his decision, but in a final post went on to express his frustration at others copying his work, sometimes word for word, without acknowledgment or recompense, and of planners seeking to implement his ideas without fully understanding the issues.
“The blog had no real income but was consuming a large part of my life,” revealed Hembrow, who moved with his wife from Britain to the Netherlands, where the couple’s activities include running study tours for those interested in learning more about Dutch cycling infrastructure in situ.
“For a long time, I didn't mind this. I very much appreciated, and still appreciate, the comments and feedback from genuine readers. I hope that in turn, I have provided useful information to my readers.
“However,” he continued, “it increasingly became apparent that commercial organisations including magazines and newspapers, other websites and transport related organisations including the London Cycling Campaign, European Cycling Federation and Environmental Transport Association were taking an interest in my work.
“In some cases my text and photos were copied without asking me and without giving any credit. In other cases the text was re-written to say more or less the same thing, but so that it is difficult to prove the connection between my work and that of other people.
“I've also been quoted out of context both by accident and on purpose by people who seemingly deliberately want to misconstrue what I've written. Photos have been taken from our website and edited to remove our watermark image. I find this all quite abusive.
“While some people from commercial organisations took the time to tell me that my work was "valuable", never did this "value" extend to offers of payment when they asked me to work for them. Some people seem to take a delight in pointing out that they have "no budget" to pay others while they themselves draw a regular salary.
“I'm not willing to be taken advantage of in this way,” he stated. “I am not doing other peoples' jobs for them without being paid their salary to do it.
Hembrow pointed out: “The blog was never meant as a reference to be used on its own in order to decide policy. What I've written rests upon our experience of living and working in both the UK and the Netherlands and riding tens of thousands of kilometres by bicycle in both countries.
“We have a view of the world which is different to both that of people who visit the Netherlands briefly and that of Dutch people who don't have the experience of living and cycling in other countries.
“Our Study Tour condenses our knowledge into three days, in which we demonstrate how things actually work, concentrating on those things which are most important.
“Relying on reading articles (including those on my blog) and looking at Google Maps to make assumptions about how things work does not give the full picture,” he insisted. “There are many misconceptions spread by many people, often inadvertantly and with good intentions.
“I know of instances where planners from the UK have attempted to design "Dutch style" infrastructure based on nothing more than this remote view.
“The reason that I know this happens is that after they start, some of them have asked me questions about what they should do next - based on such distorted ideas as "Dutch style" cycling infrastructure with absolutely no cycle-paths.
“While it's clear that many of these people don't really know what they are doing, not one of them has ever come on a tour. Yet again, well paid professionals want free advice. They will actually start planning based in good part on what they have read on a blog. However, they won't pay our modest fee to be shown a good part of what they really need to know in order to do their jobs properly.
‘While there are people who make a considerable amount of money out of blogs which consist of "reviews" and photos, that does not happen if you take the time to create long and original content,” he maintained.
“Really profitable blogs target people who want to buy things, because they click through on advertising. Writing paid for advertorials and "recommendations" also helps. I didn't do this.
‘As a result, total income from advertising on the "A view from the cycle-path" blog never reached more than €18 per year. That's under 35 cents per week. This doesn't even cover minimum wage for the time taken to delete spam comments, let alone trying to correct misconceptions, find out who the latest person is who has started "borrowing" from me or to create original content.
“Eventually I had to accept that the value of something is very much what people are willing to pay for it,” he said.
“These days, knowledge has no value. Maintaining the blog has become a chore. This is not sustainable. For this reason, the blog has been deleted.”
A post on the website of the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain said: ‘David Hembrow has inspired a whole generation of cycle campaigners in the UK,” – his blog, it should be pointed out, only ran for four years – “and provided an absolute gold mine of facts, photos, analysis, comment and video over the years. He formed part of the inspiration behind the Embassy and his presence shall be missed.”
Some of the content, however, written by Mark Wagenbuur, who collaborated with Hembrow on his blog over the past year, will survive in the form of a new blog that Wagenbuur has set up for his own content, called Bicycle Dutch.
“A year ago to the day I wrote my first real post for the blog ‘A view from the cycle path’ from David Hembrow,” he explained. “For a number of good reasons we both decided to stop writing blog posts in the end of 2011. But the posts remained visible for all on the internet and I kept on making videos without an accompanying blog post.
“Now that the blog has become inaccessible, I felt it was a pity for all the blog posts I had written. When questions about broken links from my video channel to the blog posts started coming in, I decided to open my own blog to re-post some of the posts I wrote that have turned out to be the more interesting stories. This also gives me a platform to write a few lines to accompany the videos that I will most probably be making in the future.
‘With the posts I have already put on this new blog I think you can see what that will look like in the future,” he added. “I hope that you, as one of the followers of the blog, my videos and the twitter account, are willing to come with me to this new platform to enjoy my future creations.”