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

by Simon_MacMichael   February 27, 2012  

Dutch Cycle Parking (AirBete, Wikimedia Commons)

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.”

Hembrow and his wife Judith continue to run their online shopa blog about bicycle components, and a website offering cycling holidays and study tours based around their home town of Assen.

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.”
 

13 user comments

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David is a top bloke. I met him in the Cambridge Cycling Campaign, and was gutted when he left to live in the Netherlands.

I know what he means about people labelling infrastructure as "Dutch", such as the LCC's disappointing plans for Parliament Square in its "Love London, Go Dutch" campaign, when it really looks nothing like what Dutch traffic engineers would implement.

two wheels good; four wheels bad

posted by cat1commuter [1307 posts]
27th February 2012 - 12:28

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Yep, it is annoying when people basically steal your editorial work and then try and pass it off as their own - had numerous experiences of this over the years. There has been a rash of this following the rise of 'citizen journalism', with amateurs copying ans pasting words written by others. Sending a legal letter often provokes a response that they 'didn't know' this was copyright theft. The law states ignorance of the law is no defence however.

OldRidgeback

posted by OldRidgeback [2024 posts]
27th February 2012 - 13:12

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When I was in the meejer and anyone nicked our copy, we'd send them a bill for lineage. That usually stopped them even if they didn't pay.

posted by JohnS [198 posts]
27th February 2012 - 14:15

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Okay, here's the challenge: Who will take the hint and hire David as an expatriate consultant? He's proven his worth and frankly I think he earned it. Expensive? I rather think it would save a couple of grand by doing it right in the first go. After all, David showed us that good bicycle infrastructure is cheaper to build than not to build. I'm thinking of less car traffic, streets becoming interesting for new shops, health benefits, etc. etc.
But then again, it was never David that lacked vision. He'd probably soon get just as frustrated as others, by authorities too scared to properly invest and opting for half-baked measures...

posted by Koen [1 posts]
27th February 2012 - 14:26

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Sorry to hear this. Hembrow's blog was one of the few sources of information.

Really, someone should hire him. He's done more research and advertising on his own than some organisations have done.

posted by Ush [370 posts]
27th February 2012 - 14:49

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Lifting content is far too easy on the internet and very few are willing to give a credit or even a link, never mind payment where the context in which the work is published may warrant it.

I have seen some comments suggesting this move is selfish or possibly going to hinder progress in UK cycling infrastructure but, while I understand that point of view, it's David's work (i.e. stuff most of us do for money) and he's entitled to do what he wants with it.

Simon E's picture

posted by Simon E [1824 posts]
27th February 2012 - 17:08

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Hembrow's blog has certainly brought information about Dutch cycle infrastrucure to a wider world and that has inspired campaigners here to raise their game - CEoGB for a start and more recently LCC, maybe even CTC will move away from their baleful "hierarch of provision" aproach - eventually.

I was not however aware that he had actually designed any of the Dutch infrastructure though - surely any intellectual property there belongs to the national or local government engineering departments responsible for design and implementation? Would you say that Boswell should collect royalties for the Oxford Dictionary of English, because he wrote "A life of Samuel Johnson"?

Perhaps we shall now hear more about Danish cycle infrastrucure, which is also pretty damn impressive in comparison with anything we currently know here. I for one have grown a little tired of snotty putdowns of the Danes because they are somehow deemed to be not so amazing as the Dutch.

posted by Paul M [302 posts]
27th February 2012 - 17:39

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Simon E wrote:
Lifting content is far too easy on the internet and very few are willing to give a credit or even a link, never mind payment where the context in which the work is published may warrant it.

I have seen some comments suggesting this move is selfish or possibly going to hinder progress in UK cycling infrastructure but, while I understand that point of view, it's David's work (i.e. stuff most of us do for money) and he's entitled to do what he wants with it.

Yep, too many people lift copy from the Internet without caring that producing it might be someone else's livelihood. I do work in the Meeja and I have taken legal action on several occasions against pirates who believe they can copy and paste my work and pass it off as their own. I've no sympathy for any of them or their excuses and I'll quite happily take legal action again if need be. I'm very sympathetic in this case, as he's a mine of useful information and who has not earned a well due crust from it. Anyone who calls him selfish probably hasn't their work stolen.

OldRidgeback

posted by OldRidgeback [2024 posts]
27th February 2012 - 20:46

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I understand the problems, partly thanks to the above explanation, and I hope that some people are now hanging their heads in shame.

But what I am not clear about is why all the interesting content has been removed. OK, David may save on hosting or transfer charges but could it not be left for reference (at least until it is too outdated) ? And it may still generate a little ad revenue ? And link to his new ventures ?

But maybe I am missing something !?

posted by zoxed [62 posts]
28th February 2012 - 12:49

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zoxed wrote:
could it not be left for reference (at least until it is too outdated) ?

If he did that it wouldn't change anything and we wouldn't be talking about it.

The fact that he decided to pull the whole site, knowing how great a resource it is, gives an indication of how frustrated he must be.

Simon E's picture

posted by Simon E [1824 posts]
28th February 2012 - 15:18

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Off the topic: Have you folk reduced the content font sizes recently? Seems really tiny on my chrome; strain to read.

Text on other websites seem ok, though.

~rbx

rbx's picture

posted by rbx [243 posts]
29th February 2012 - 18:49

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Hi David
I don't blame you at all, I would be equally frustrated, and having toured Belgium and the Netherlands a couple of years ago I can sympathise with your view of UK planners. Most of my interaction with transport planners in the UK has left me convinced that most of them are more or less completely clueless about cycling. This is sometimes seen as funny when looking at ridiculous examples of bike paths, but in reality it is a serious failure of their duty to make safe provision for cyclists on our roads. I suggest you reinstate your blog but remove all the detailed useful material, and insert links to a new section that deals with how users can purchase your services!
Good luck

posted by Grumpyoldbiker [15 posts]
1st March 2012 - 8:25

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rbx wrote:
Off the topic: Have you folk reduced the content font sizes recently? Seems really tiny on my chrome; strain to read.

Text on other websites seem ok, though.

nope, same as ever

Dave Atkinson's picture

posted by Dave Atkinson [7133 posts]
1st March 2012 - 10:20

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