Why is Cycling so Popular in the Netherlands?
|November 15, 2013||Posted by Staff under Environmental|
This 2013 excerpt of the BBC, Aug 7, is by Anna Holligan.
In response a social movement demanding safer cycling conditions for children was formed. Called Stop de Kindermoord (Stop the Child Murder), it took its name from the headline of an article written by journalist Vic Langenhoff whose own child had been killed in a road accident.
The Dutch faith in the reliability and sustainability of the motor vehicle was also shaken by the Middle East oil crisis of 1973, when oil-producing countries stopped exports to the US and Western Europe.
These twin pressures helped to persuade the Dutch government to invest in improved cycling infrastructure and Dutch urban planners started to diverge from the car-centric road-building policies being pursued throughout the urbanising West.
In many cities the paths are completely segregated from motorised traffic. Sometimes, where space is scant and both must share, you can see signs showing an image of a cyclist with a car behind accompanied by the words ‘Bike Street: Cars are guests’.
You can cycle around a roundabout while cars (almost always) wait patiently for you to pass. The idea that “the bike is right” is such an alien concept for tourists on bikes that many often find it difficult to navigate roads and junctions at first.
Even before they can walk, Dutch children are immersed in a world of cycling. As babies and toddlers they travel in special seats on “bakfiets”, or cargo bikes. These seats are often equipped with canopies to protect the children from the elements, and some parents have been known to spend a small fortune doing up their machines.
As the children grow up they take to their own bikes, something made easier and safer by the discrete cycle lanes being wide enough for children to ride alongside an accompanying adult. And, as young people aren’t allowed to drive unsupervised until they are 18, cycling offers Dutch teenagers an alternative form of freedom.
The state also plays a part in teaching too, with cycling proficiency lessons a compulsory part of the Dutch school curriculum. All schools have places to park bikes and at some schools 90% of pupils cycle to class.
In the 16th Century, houses in Amsterdam were taxed according to their width, a measure residents countered by building tall, narrow houses. So hallways get filled with bikes – but so many people cycle, no-one really minds, and just clambers past.
The bike is an integral part of everyday life rather than a specialist’s accessory or a symbol of a minority lifestyle, so Dutch people don’t concern themselves with having the very latest model of bike or hi-tech gadgets.
They regard their bikes as trusty companions in life’s adventures. In that kind of relationship it is longevity that counts – so the older, the better. It’s not uncommon to hear a bike coming up behind you with the mudguard rattling against the wheel. If anything, having a tatty, battered old bike affords more status as it attests to a long and lasting love.
The famously flat Dutch terrain, combined with densely-populated areas, mean that most journeys are of short duration and not too difficult to complete.
Dutch people also tend to go helmet-free because they are protected by the cycle-centric rules of the roads and the way infrastructure is designed. If you see someone wearing a cycling helmet in The Netherlands, the chances are they’re a tourist or a professional.