Thursday, November 19, 2009

Bikes rule in the Netherlands

I just got back from a European trip that included two stops in the Netherlands. And, once again, I've found myself captivated by Dutch cycling culture.

Not only are there dedicated bike paths just about everywhere; there are also huge bike garages at many railway stations, where you can have a mechanic tune up your bike while you're at work. Public staircases include clever grooves parallel to the steps that allow cyclists to easily move their bikes up and down. And cycling accessories go far beyond the meagre selection of baskets and panniers available in North America; on my two trips to Holland, I've seen people carrying everything from a week's worth of groceries to small pieces of furniture on bikes, using a variety of trailers and racks.

It's not surprising that only 7 percent of Dutch people canvassed in a recent survey said they rarely cycle. On the other hand, 80 percent said they cycle at least once a week.

Interestingly, cycling began to decline in the Netherlands in the 1950s, as people switched increasingly to cars. However, it went through a renaissance in the 1970s, after a group of parents demanded safe cycling routes so that their kids could bike to school.

Last spring, Britain's All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group visited the Netherlands to get the inside scoop on the country's success. Check out this video about the trip.

Bike and Trains Study Tour, Netherlands from carltonreid on Vimeo.

(And just in case you think biking is only for the relentlessly unfashionable, check out Cycle Chic from Copenhagen. It's a weirdly captivating blog with lovely photographs of stylishly dressed cyclists in Denmark--another haven for two-wheeled travellers.)


Amsterdamize said...

hi Laura, great post, love that you appreciate it so much :)

About the 60's part: it's actually the other way round. The 50's saw the highest rate of cycling (ever) in NL, but by the end of that decade the car was gaining ground. During the 60's cycling went down hill fast (going from 50+% to 20%), as policies were all about giving priority to car-use. By the end of the 60's and early 70's, cycling had become so marginalized and dangerous (a lot of deadly accidents, by Dutch standards), that a group of people organized themselves (unhappy with the National Motor Club), successfully, and were able to become a power player as an advocate/lobby organization, paving the way for infrastructure, broader policies (liability, promotion, education, etc) and eventually the nationally implemented Bicycle Plan. In short, we woke up in the 70's and stuck with it. This history is of course richer and more interesting than I narrowed down, but this is what it boils down to.

And recently information came to light that shows that even in an established bicycle culture significant and continued growth is still possible. Last year 12,5% more people biked to the station to take the train to work (hence, an even bigger bike parking issue), and in 2007 statistics showed that for the first time in decades there were more bike movements than car movements in the city.

Marc (lots of cycle chic, obviously ;))

Laura Byrne Paquet said...

Thanks for the clarification on the history of biking in the Netherlands, Marc! I'll amend the post to reflect the corrected information.

Love your blog, by the way! I visited Amsterdam for the first time last year, and it's already become one of my favourite cities.