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According to a recent article by the BBC, bicycles actually outnumber Dutch inhabitants and in Dutch cities such as Amsterdam and The Hague, up to 70% of all journeys are made on two wheels. So, why is cycling so incredibly popular in the Netherlands? Surely there must be more to it than the famously flat Dutch landscape that makes cycling such a breeze? Below we examine just some of the many reasons that Holland has become one of the most bike friendly nations in the world.
The end of a brief Dutch love affair with cars
Up until the end of the Second World War most journeys in the Netherlands were made by bike. During the fifties and sixties, however, car ownership surged and Dutch roads became increasingly congested, leading to a demonstrable rise in road traffic accidents. In 1971 alone more than 3000 people were killed by motor vehicles and 450 of these were children. The Dutch responded with a powerful social campaign known as ‘Stop de Kindermoord’ (Stop Child Murder), which demanded safer cycling conditions on Dutch roads. The Dutch love affair with cars was simultaneously shaken by a shortage of fuel caused by the oil crisis in the Middle East in 1973. Both factors ultimately prompted the Dutch government to embark upon a comprehensive programme of investment in the country’s cycling infrastructure.
Urban planning for two wheels
As a result, Dutch urban planners began to focus on more bike-centric policies. This culminated in a vast network of cycle paths that are often totally segregated from other traffic, are wide enough to allow side-by-side cycling and overtaking and even feature their own traffic lights and road signs. Parking facilities for bicycles are also widespread and are routinely provided outside schools, offices and shops – the central train station in Groningen for example, boasts spaces for some 10,000 bikes!
The “bike is right”
The notion that the “bike is right” has been fully embraced across the Netherlands and the concept is now firmly embedded in Dutch culture. Those on bikes have a clear priority over motor vehicles and, as car drivers must cover at least 50% of all financial costs incurred by cyclists in the event of an accident, they are generally more considerate to cyclists. Which is perhaps why, despite such large numbers of cyclists, the Netherlands has one of the lowest number of bike accidents per kilometre, per year.
All of these improvements, coupled with mandatory cycling proficiency lessons in the Dutch curriculum, have made it both easier and safer for Dutch children to take to the saddle and, almost inevitably, to go on to develop a lifelong preference for pedal power.
Prefer to read this article in Dutch? Then why not visit our sister blog, Heimwee.info, specifically intended for Dutch emigrants abroad?