Cycle roundabout

Safe Urban Cycling: Should Holland be the Model for Bicycles?

The BBC recently took a look at the dominance of the bicycle in the Netherlands - where there are more bicycles than people, and some 70% of the journeys those people make are by bike.

The broadcaster's Hague correspondent, Anna Holligan, took a look at just why cycling is so popular.   And then just to compare the Netherlands with the United Kingdom, cycled to London (she did take the ferry across the North Sea, however).

​Why is cycling so popular in the Netherlands?

Why is cycling so popular in the Netherlands?

​Before World War II, journeys in the Netherlands were predominantly made by bike, but in the 1950s and 1960s, as car ownership rocketed, this changed. As in many countries in Europe, roads became increasingly congested and cyclists were squeezed to the kerb.

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Before World War II, journeys in the Netherlands were predominantly made by bike, but in the 1950s and 1960s, as car ownership rocketed, this changed. As in many countries in Europe, roads became increasingly congested and cyclists were squeezed to the kerb.

​In 1971 more than 3,000 people were killed by motor vehicles, 450 of them children.

In 1971 more than 3,000 people were killed by motor vehicles, 450 of them children.

​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.

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.
Stop killing children

​Image copyright Dutch National Archive 

Image copyright Dutch National Archive

​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.

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.

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.

​Path to glory

Path to glory

​To make cycling safer and more inviting the Dutch have built a vast network of cycle paths.
These are clearly marked, have smooth surfaces, separate signs and lights for those on two wheels, and wide enough to allow side-by-side cycling and overtaking.

Cycle path
To make cycling safer and more inviting the Dutch have built a vast network of cycle paths.
These are clearly marked, have smooth surfaces, separate signs and lights for those on two wheels, and wide enough to allow side-by-side cycling and overtaking.

​​Image copyright Jonathan Maus/Bike Portland.
The sign reads 'Bike street: Cars are guests'

Image copyright Jonathan Maus/Bike Portland.
The sign reads 'Bike street: Cars are guests'

​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'.
At roundabouts, too, it is those using pedal power who have priority.

Cycle roundabout
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'.
At roundabouts, too, it is those using pedal power who have priority.

​Image copyright TFL

Image copyright TFL

​Early adopters

Early adopters

​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.
As the children grow up they take to their own ​bicyles, something made easier and safer by the discrete cycle lanes being wide enough for children to ride alongside an accompanying adult.

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.
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.

​Most ​bicycle-friendly countries in Europe

Most bike-friendly countries in Europe

​1. Denmark
1. Netherlands
3. Sweden
4. Finland
5. Germany
6. Belgium
7. Austria
8. Hungary
9. Slovakia
10. UK

1. Denmark
1. Netherlands
3. Sweden
4. Finland
5. Germany
6. Belgium
7. Austria
8. Hungary
9. Slovakia
10. UK

​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.

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.

​Behind the ​bicycle sheds

Behind the bike sheds

​In the university city of Groningen, a cyclists' dream even by Dutch standards, the central train station has underground parking for 10,000 bikes. Cyclists are accommodated in the way motorists are elsewhere.
Bike parking facilities are ubiquitous in The Netherlands - outside schools, office buildings and shops. In return you are expected to only lock up your bike in designated spots - if you chain your bike in the wrong place you could find that it is removed and impounded, and that you will have to hand over 25 euros to get it back.

In the university city of Groningen, a cyclists' dream even by Dutch standards, the central train station has underground parking for 10,000 bikes. Cyclists are accommodated in the way motorists are elsewhere.
Bike parking facilities are ubiquitous in The Netherlands - outside schools, office buildings and shops. In return you are expected to only lock up your bike in designated spots - if you chain your bike in the wrong place you could find that it is removed and impounded, and that you will have to hand over 25 euros to get it back.

​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.

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.

​No lycra, no sweat

No lycra, no sweat

​The famously flat Dutch terrain, combined with densely-populated areas, mean that most journeys are of short duration and not too difficult to complete.
Few Dutch people don lycra to get out on their bike, preferring to ride to work, the shops or the pub in whatever clothes they think appropriate for their final destination.
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.

The famously flat Dutch terrain, combined with densely-populated areas, mean that most journeys are of short duration and not too difficult to complete.
Few Dutch people don lycra to get out on their bike, preferring to ride to work, the shops or the pub in whatever clothes they think appropriate for their final destination.
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.

​Right, not might

Right not might

​The fact that everyone cycles, or knows someone who does, means that drivers are more sympathetic to cyclists when they have to share space on the roads.
In turn, the cyclists are expected to respect and obey the rules of the road. You may be fined for riding recklessly, in the wrong place or jumping red lights. Police (often on bikes) will issue a 60-euro ticket if you are caught without lights at night, and you will have to shell out even more if any of the mandatory bike reflectors - of which there are many under Dutch law - are missing.
When out on the road, Dutch cyclists feel powerful and protected, making the whole experience much more enjoyable. There are dangers on the roads, but very rarely do they involve heavy goods vehicles, poorly designed junctions or dangerous drivers.

The fact that everyone cycles, or knows someone who does, means that drivers are more sympathetic to cyclists when they have to share space on the roads.
In turn, the cyclists are expected to respect and obey the rules of the road. You may be fined for riding recklessly, in the wrong place or jumping red lights. Police (often on bikes) will issue a 60-euro ticket if you are caught without lights at night, and you will have to shell out even more if any of the mandatory bike reflectors - of which there are many under Dutch law - are missing.
When out on the road, Dutch cyclists feel powerful and protected, making the whole experience much more enjoyable. There are dangers on the roads, but very rarely do they involve heavy goods vehicles, poorly designed junctions or dangerous drivers.

Thanks to the BBC for this article.   You can read the full version here.

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