The Netherlands has become the world’s first example of a cycling nation. Today, the country has more bicycles than citizens, and even the country’s Prime Minister commutes to work by bicycle.
In 2018, more than a quarter of trips were made by bicycle; a stark contrast to the UK, France and Ireland, where this figure drops to less than 5% of trips. For journeys of less than 7.5 km, this figure rises to more than a third.
So how did the Netherlands manage to accommodate 23 million bicycles and build facilities to accommodate them?
In the 1970s, Dutch cities were, like most European cities, crowded with cars. The rapid increase in the number of cars meant that in 1970 there were 100 cars for every 500 inhabitants.
Dutch streets, many of which were built in medieval times, were not designed for such traffic, and the consequences were severe. In 1971, more than 3,000 people were killed by vehicles, and nearly 500 of those deaths were children. This sparked a movement called “Stop the Infanticide” (Stop the murder of children in French__Editor’s note).
Public reaction to these figures also coincided with the oil crisis of 1973, when some members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) cut production and imposed an embargo on exports to certain countries.
Urban planning designed for cycling: cars are the guests
Perhaps the most important measure taken by the Dutch government to encourage people to get on the saddle is the creation of many kilometers of cycle paths. Today, the Netherlands has more than 35,000 km of cycle paths; in comparison, the country’s road network is only 140,000 km long.
But the Netherlands did not stop there, the country also has a series of roads used by cars and bicycles where bicycles have priority. In many streets you will find signs indicating “bicycle street car guest”which can be translated as “cars are invited”.
Dutch roundabouts are another example of urban design that is more bicycle and pedestrian oriented. Around 60% of roundabouts in Dutch cities have a separate circular cycle lane that goes around the roundabout and intersects its exits.
Many intersections have also been redesigned to reduce the risks to cyclists. Depending on the maximum speed allowed on a road before a junction, cycle lanes are supposed to move closer to the traffic lane to improve visibility or out of the way, allowing cars to turn before crossing a cycle lane. Where cycle lanes have priority, such as when vehicles turn from a main road onto a side street, these lanes should be raised as directed.
In addition to designing cities and roads that help cyclists get from point A to point B safely, authorities have also invested in bicycle parking facilities. In 2019, the Dutch city of Utrecht built the largest multi-storey bicycle parking facility in the world, with 12,500 spaces.
The country has also worked to enable a smooth transition between different modes of transport, with most stations now having spaces for bicycles. In addition, some trains even have a special carriage for bicycles or spaces on board.
Benefits of being a cycling nation
It’s easy to see why countries around the world are rushing to replicate Dutch success. A 2016 study in the UK on the value of cycling found that it was not only beneficial for cyclists, but also improved productivity, had a positive societal impact and reduced transport costs. health for the state.
A recent report by Decisio estimates that the export value of the Dutch cycling sector is between 1.2 and 3.8 billion euros per year. The manufacture, sale, maintenance and rental of bicycles account for 13,000 full-time jobs in the country.
The Netherlands don’t seem to want to slow down going forward. Last month, the Dutch State Secretary for Infrastructure and Water Management unveiled her goal of 100,000 more people cycling over the next two and a half years.
Authorities are also considering how they could provide bicycles to the more than 200,000 children and young people who cannot afford one.
A hope for other countries
While the Netherlands is a pioneer, other countries and cities have shown that cycling can be adopted quickly.
In Seville, Spain, the number of trips made by bicycle increased from less than 7,000 in 2006 to more than 70,000 in 2011. Copying Dutch techniques, the city has transformed many parking spaces into raised and separated cycle paths .
Seville now has a whole network of cycle paths, the first 80 kilometers of which cost less than 20 million euros to build.
The rapid expansion of temporary cycle lanes around the world during the pandemic shows that the Netherlands may not be as apart as we thought. With enough political will, any country could become the next Netherlands.