Jos Sluijsmans, director of Fietsdiensten.nl and cycling consultant
Is there anywhere that has embraced the bicycle more than the Netherlands? Take to the road, streets and lanes of any town or city and you will get your answer. Along with the 2015 European Green Capital, Copenhagen, the 2018 European Green Capital, Nijmegen, might just be one of the most bike friendly cities in Europe. In 2016 the city was the cycling City of the Netherlands thus putting it into the top tier of cycle friendly cities worldwide respectively.
One person who has been making a valuable contribution to the cycling culture of Nijmegen is Jos Sluijsmans, founder and director of cycling consultancy Fietsdiensten.nl, co-founder of Nijmegen’s ‘Dutch Bicycle Centre’ and director of the International Cargo Bike Festival. He continues to improve not only his home city’s approach to bicycles, but that of cities across the world through his work with the bicycle as a logistics solution.
Pursuing his studies at Nijmegen’s Radboud University in the early eighties, Jos worked in various other cities before returning again 10 years later to study law part time, qualifying in 1996. Jos has lived in Nijmegen for the majority of the time since then and has contributed to making it one of the most important hubs of bicycle based transport and innovation in the Europe.
Starting in 2004 after taking leave from his legal work, Jos has, through Fietsdiensten.nl, endeavoured to show how much can be done with bikes and in particular cargo bikes. “I started a bike messenger company and I was one of the first to use cargo bikes on a commercial basis. I delivered organic herbs, cheeses and other high quality products from the local market to good restaurants in the city. I also gave cycling lessons to kids and adults with disabilities and guided these people to their activities or work by bike. I started organising bicycle events to show people that bikes can be fun and putting emphasis on design, technical innovation and new materials.”
One of the crowning achievements of Jos’ mission to return the bicycle to a primary role in transport and deliveries is the annual International Cargo Bike Festival that has been held annually in Nijmegen since 2012. This year (2018) for the first time, the festival hit the road and took place in Berlin’s former airport Tempelhof. The ICBF is the primary event where users, designers, manufacturers, inventors and retailers of cargo bikes can network and inspire each other. The festival moves to Groningen in 2019, spreading further the cargo bike revolution that is taking place in Jos’ home of Nijmegen. On the decision to move the festival out of Nijmegen for the first time, Jos references the goals of the European Green Capital Award: “I am pleased to pass on the values and ideas of Nijmegen European Green Capital to other willing cities. The festival is a great opportunity to reach eastern-European countries such as Poland, Hungary, Romania and the Balkans. The festival offers an opportunity to show that freight distribution by cargo bike can be a solution to traffic congestion and subsequent excessive air pollution.”
The ICBF isn’t where Jos’ relationship with the cargo bike ends: “I am also a member of the European Cycle Logistics Federation and for the last two years I have been involved in a very interesting research project called LEVV-LOGIC in cooperation with the Universities of Applied Sciences of Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Arnhem-Nijmegen. The project is about the use of clean and efficient Light Electric Freight Vehicles, including cargo bikes, in City Logistics. I am the initiator of RIPPL, which stands for Register of Initiatives in Pedal Powered Logistics. Together with Tom Parr we have published over 40 articles on cycle logistics. I undertake cycling tours and study visits for the Dutch Cycling Embassy showcasing our cycling infrastructure, making presentations and participating in a number of international bike exhibitions and festivals.”
Jos has been involved in the Nijmegen European Green Capital project over its lifetime, helping with the city’s successful bid and continuing to contribute through his ongoing cargo bike work and playing a part in the Nijmegen Green Capital Challenges. Under the Challenges, each month has a theme and its own challenges, in which the residents of Nijmegen are encouraged to participate. The closing event each month is at the Sustainability Café where most recently, in April, Jos presented his views and research on the use of cargo bikes in cities. He will again take part in July 2018 when the theme is ‘Sustainable Care and Healthy Moving’.
According to Jos, the role of the citizens of a Green Capital is not limited to taking part in events such as the aforementioned Green Capital Challenges, but must translate into people’s everyday activities. “I believe citizens should try to make the city a pleasant place for everybody. In my view it is then automatically a green city. This means moving around by walking, cycling and using clean public transport instead of cars. Being personally responsible for keeping the streets clean of waste is everybody’s job and behavioural change in this way can make a huge contribution.”
Jos himself does not manufacture or sell bikes and cargo bikes from his base at the Honig Complex, close to the Waal, in Nijmegen. He bases his operations from a space where small manufacturers can get creative and innovative in their productions, with some notable bikes emerging from his co-inhabitants workshops, including the bike that delivered the EU Cycling Strategy to EU Transport Commissioner, Violeta Bulc, at the velo-city conference in Arnhem-Nijmegen in June 2017.
Many companies in Nijmegen are now incorporating cargo bikes into their day-to-day logistics for goods deliveries. The cycling infrastructure in Nijmegen plays a big part in this move away from vans and trucks.
“The bike paths in Nijmegen were not built specifically for cargo bikes but they facilitate messengers by providing fast routes in and around the city that contribute to faster delivery times that are very often more efficient than van or truck deliveries. When people come here and see what can be done with cargo bikes they can’t believe their eyes. We are moving forward by returning to the way deliveries were made in the 1940’s and 1950’s!”