Every expat living in Holland knows that there are a lot of bikes and cyclists here. But did you realize that Holland is regarded as the best cycling nation on the planet? Well, it’s true.
Cycling is a very hot topic these days, as more and more countries around the world attempt to emulate the Dutch bicycle culture, whereby cycling is a way of life and a dedicated cycling infrastructure exists throughout the country. As the most cycling-friendly country on earth, Holland is home to a nation of everyday cyclists; virtually everyone cycles, day in and day out, and typically several times a day. It’s a primary means of transportation here – a way of getting from point A to point B most efficiently and cheaply – and people around the world are tuning in to the melodious Dutch sound of cycling.
“The export from the Netherlands of bicycle-enabling policy instruments is booming,” cites Kaspar Hanenbergh of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “Recently, urban motoring congestion traumas have renewed international interest in attempts to determine these Dutch ‘magic ingredients’ and copy them to Paris, London, New York or Barcelona.”
What are those ‘magic ingredients’, then, and why do the Dutch cycle so much in the first place?
The success story behind this much-admired bicycle culture includes a desire to be practical, efficient, economical, health-conscious and environment-conscious, plus a vast, well-thought-out, dedicated – and safe – cycling infrastructure and, above all, the Dutch government’s complete support of cycling as a highly valuable and viable means of transportation.
According to HollandTrade.com, “‘Bikeability’ is something the Netherlands excels in. Urban planning incorporates cycling paths in the transportation network. There are separate traffic lights for cyclists and special signs to regulate cycling traffic. Children learn the traffic rules for cycling in special training courses in grade school. All Dutch children around the age of 10 are required to take a theory test for cycling as well as a practical examination, which is overseen by the police. Their bikes are checked and certified.”
Indeed, cycling is a priority in the Netherlands, for people in every walk of life and, even though it’s already regarded by most as the ‘world’s best bicycle culture’, the Dutch government constantly strives to invest more time and money into making it even better.
As an example, bicycle usage in Amsterdam – dubbed as ‘the world’s best cycling city’ – has grown by more than 40% in the last 20 years. According to Iamsterdam.com, “Together with parties including Prorail and Stadsregio Amsterdam, the City of Amsterdam will be investing nearly € 120 million in the period up until 2020 in order to tackle major issues relating to bicycle parking and the cycle network in the city. € 90 million of this will be used to create the 40,000 planned new bike-parking places. Running through until 2040, a total of approximately € 200 million will be required and of this, € 170 million will be used to further improve bicycle storage.”
Throughout the nation, innovative bike tunnels, bridges and parking garages are popping up everywhere. In fact, the world’s largest bike garage is currently being built near the train station in Utrecht, for approximately 12,500 bikes.
With more bicycles than people in the Netherlands – 16.8 million people and 18 million bikes – such measures are appropriate. In Amsterdam alone, with a population of about 780,000, there are an estimated 880,000 bikes.
Supporting this phenomenal number of bikes is a vast network of cycle paths throughout the country. Nationwide, there are a staggering 35,000 km of bike paths… and that number is growing daily.
Overall, approximately 30% of all trips in the Netherlands are made by bike. Compare that with a reported 1% in my home country of America. The difference is astounding, and the challenge remarkable.
What will it take, then, for other countries to make cycling an integral part of their cultures as well? Most people agree that it will first take an attitude shift. Secondly, it will take government support, in a major way. Thirdly, a dedicated infrastructure is required. And lastly, it will take the example and expertise of the Dutch to guide them in the right direction. The Dutch Cycling Embassy and many other cycling industry spokespersons are working toward precisely that aim.
Perhaps one day all nations can integrate cycling as a way of life. Until then, we can look to the Dutch for inspiration… and hope.