According to figures published last year, up to 70% of all journeys in Dutch cities such as Amsterdam and The Hague were made by bike. But why is cycling in the Netherlands so popular? It’s because the cycling infrastructure there is so impressive:
There’s a Vast Network of Cycle Paths
The cycle path network in the Netherlands spreads over 350,000 kilometres, with 400 million Euros regularly spent each year on maintenance and improvement.
That consistent investment in the national cycling infrastructure is perhaps the biggest reason for its popularity as a mode of transport in the Netherlands. By putting a strategic and thorough cycle network into place, the Dutch government have gained the complete trust of two-wheeled enthusiasts – positioning the Netherlands as a worldwide leader for cycling.
One of the biggest problems that cyclists experience in the UK is that the few cycle lanes that are put in place are poorly designed; and can often do more harm than good. The Dutch simply revolutionised their road network and made cyclists equals to other road users.
Cycle lanes in the Netherlands are widely protected from motor-traffic lanes by kerbs or bollards; and are smooth, well-maintained and clearly marked. At junctions, the emphasis is placed on the safety of cyclists – they consistently get priority over motor vehicles.
That is also the case at many roundabouts. Cars are actually separated from cyclists, with cycle lanes running around the ring of roundabouts that are divided from the road apart from at junction entrances.
In Eindhoven, a 20 million Euro ‘floating’ bicycle roundabout – the Hovenring – has been installed and been a fantastic success. It is commonly used and works because it is linked into an extensively thought out network below.
Cycle-friendly roundabout systems are now being trialled in some areas of the UK; with a ‘turbo’ roundabout recently installed in Bedford. For them to be successful though, more widespread investment into the connecting infrastructure needs to be explored.
It’s Engrained in the National Mindset
Cycling in the Netherlands isn’t just a means of travel; it’s a source of national pride. After building a fantastic reputation for widespread infrastructure and participation, the Dutch continue to set the standard for societal integration of cycling.
Everywhere you travel there are countless storage facilities and miles upon miles of cycle-centric streets; all designed to encourage the nation to cycle – and cycle they do. From the young to the very old, cycling has captured the hearts of the Dutch public for decades. Since the divergence away from car-centred roads in the late ‘70’s, investment has just continued to rise.
The generational interest in cycling in the Netherlands is comprehensive throughout. Children sit from an early age in ‘bakfiets’ (cargo bike), ensuring that they feel synonymous with cycling as they grow.
Carefully implemented cycle lanes that allow an older child to then cycle alongside an adult ensure that their development can be gradually continued. As children progress through their school life, the impressive trend further develops.
According to statistics on the BBC website, at some schools up to 90% of pupils cycle to class. This is in part due to the extensive teaching of road safety surrounding cycling that is implemented throughout the Dutch educational system.
As youngsters are not allowed to drive up until the age of 18, cycling continues to be appealing right into adulthood. By the time they’ve reached that point they have become so accustomed to cycling that many decide to just continue to use it as their primary means of transport. This positive cycle is then repeated and passed on to the next generation.
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There Are Fantastic Bike Parking Facilities
Right across the Netherlands there are limitless places to store your bike. With European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) statistics showing that a Dutch person cycles an average of 2.3 km a day, it’s easy to see why there needs to be.
Bicycle parking facilities can be found outside offices, shops, restaurants and schools; ensuring that you’ll always have somewhere to lock up your bike across a whole variation of journeys. The EESC also shows data on their website that shows 26% off all trips are made by bicycle in the Netherlands – in Britain it’s astonishingly lower at 2%.
In 2013, Rotterdam built a new underground parking facility at the central railway station that has space for over 5,000 bicycles. Space outside the front of the station was deemed inadequate and not in keeping with the national feelings towards cycling as a whole; so the investment was provided and the results are impressive.
In Groningen, Utrecht and at the large majority of other major Dutch stations the facilities are similarly splendorous. The abundance of bicycle storage facilities available at central station hubs across the Netherlands is perfect for commuters; and is another part of the successful cycling infrastructure model that has so encouraged the Dutch.
Where Have You Come Across Any Great Cycling Infrastructure?
We’d love to hear from people who’ve come across great examples of cycling infrastructure; whether that be in the Netherlands or in other countries across the world. Send us in your thoughts and pictures to email@example.com; or leave us a comment below.
A Word About Our Sponsor
It is important to stay safe whilst you are out cycling and at Wheelie Good Guys we are champions of cycling safety. None of the work we do however; would be possible without the help if Ian Brown. Ian is the UK Cycling Speedway Commissioner; as well as a personal injury solicitor for Wosskow Brown.
They Don’t Make Excuses to Avoid Improving the Cycling Infrastructure
It has been suggested that the reason cycling hasn’t taken off in the UK like it has in the Netherlands is because the latter is so much flatter. That, though, is a poorly thought out excuse to avoid improving the cycling infrastructure.
Whilst cycling in flatter locations does hold appeal with commuters, there are plenty of examples of places with hillier topography that still draw high cycling rates. Statistics on the Copenhagenzine website back this notion up.
Switzerland is a notoriously hilly country; yet in Basel 25% of journeys are made by bike. In Berne the number of journeys is 20%. Those are just two of many examples of European cities that have comparatively high rates of cycling participation despite being hilly.
Furthermore, Manchester and London are almost exclusively flat; yet they have incredibly low rates of cycling when compared to the flatter Dutch cities. Whilst this is no doubt in part due to the inadequate infrastructure in these and many other UK major cities; citing topographical stats is just an avoidance tactic to avoid spending money on improvements.
Clearly many UK cities could gain similar numbers of participating cyclists to those in the Netherlands; but the investment needs to be on a massive scale so that it is implemented successfully.
Another common ploy to avoid improvements in the UK is to reference the amount of money that it would cost to widely implement cycling infrastructure similar to that seen in the Netherlands.
There’s plenty to counter that negative attitude. The outlay on the infrastructure would pay dividends in many other ways in the long run. The health benefits of mass cycling involvement would be huge; and it would substantially reduce the costs of treating those with health problems caused by poor lifestyle and lack of exercise.
Further to this, the environmental benefits would also be incredibly significant. Reductions in motor traffic could seriously reduce the UK’s carbon emissions and help us to join countries like the Netherlands and Denmark in setting the standard for environmentally-responsible transport choices.
Signage and Lights
The impressive cycling infrastructure is extended to extensively implemented signage and lights. Cyclists get their own separate lights and signs that integrate logically with the cycle lane network.
This widespread system means that cyclists have equal priority on the roads; and that the systems in place for them are every bit as functional as those for people choosing motor transport. Here are some examples: