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Learning from the Netherlands About Bikes

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How did the Netherlands get almost everyone out of cars and onto bikes? No, it’s not the hash, and it’s not something particularly about the Dutch character. It has a lot to do with intention, planning and execution. Lessons we all can learn for a cleaner environment and a saner lifestyle.


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  • Russ

    Am in Boulder Colorado currently, where they have automatic bike rental dispensers around town. $7 for 24 hours!

    • Danae

      My intention isn’t to brag but, rather, to provide an idea of scale / cost, in relation to the $7 / 24 hour, US Colorado option.

      Paris and other major French cities have implemented vast bike programs, lanes and stations, wherein bikes can be rented per hour – a relatively expensive option –, or by open-ended, yearly subscription, of roughly €40.

      This means that there is no need to own or to store a bike. Bike stations are available every 100′ or so.

      The project has been a tremendous success, but it required municipal investment, which is largely inconceivable in the US.

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  • Amy

    I have three main concerns with trying to make bikes more accepted in America:
    1. bicycling in poor weather, such as rain or snow is no fun.
    2. cities with lots of large hills are inherently less bike-friendly.
    3. bikes aren’t very useful for really long trips, whether cross-country or just a long commute, but most notably for camping, a favorite pastime for many Americans.

    • Joost

      Legitimate concerns Amy, but let me respond with my own thoughts:
      1. Cycling in inclement weather is also a matter of gear, e.g., gloves, rain coat/pants, shoe covers, bike lights, etc. If you are well-protected it is more fun. Snow is perhaps a different story when it comes to snow that has been plowed unto the side of the road where cyclists would ride and slippery conditions are no fun, I agree.
      2. Also depends on gear. If you are well-equipped big hills are surmountable. Now, you say, well that is all nice, but that is going to cost me a lot of money. Depends, but if you add up costs of gas, parking, maintenance, purchase of a motor vehicle $1,000 dollars is not that much money anymore. If employers/insurance companies would provide financial incentives for purchasing a healthy way of going around, this would also help.
      3. Even though a lot of people bicycle as a leisure activity, there are excellent folding bikes that you can take on buses/trains/car pools easily for those long commutes with poor connections to offices etc. Even though commuting by bike may not be an alternative for you and others on a daily basis. Just change it up and try it once in a while. Maybe…

    • ObbieZ

      1) The Dutch don’t seem to be bothered by this (in spite of the sunny weather in the video, Amsterdam is like Seattle… it rains all the time).

  • http://www.facebook.com/jmiller29 Johnny Miller

    I can’t ride a bike anywhere because:
    1. It is 105 degrees outside and 98% humidity.

    2. Everything is very far away.
    3. Riding a bike is hard.

    • ObbieZ

      1) Dress light, the breeze will keep you cool, and you can do a sponge-bath in the restroom when you get to work.
      2) Move.
      3) Put some air in your tires, and adjust your seat properly. I mean, c’mon, are you saying you’re a wimp compared to these old Dutch ladies?

      • Henk_sg

        Funny you would mention the old ladies. A friend of mine worked fixing Nato F16′s in Holland, He was an avid Mtn Biker and brought his brand new carbon fiber bike with him. He just couldn’t get over being passed by little old ladies on those heavy, often single speed, bikes that they rode. It drove him nuts.

      • Natuurspirit

        Listen above 85F it may be too warm for most people to ride (one gets overheated). Temp is a lot cooler in Holland.

  • Jeff Lakey

    Although there are many flat places, the Netherlands is especially so, making the bicycle an easier proposition for riding than in other terrains.

    • http://twitter.com/AlternativeDfT Schrödinger’s Cat

      Like East Anglia in England, where it’s as flat as a pancake but the cycling rate is 2%? Maastricht has hills but the cycling rate is about 25%. It’s not the lack of hills: it’s the infrastructure.

  • Sue

    The Dutch never got on bikes to go green. It has always been a part of our culture. That makes that it’s well integrated into traffic like through cycle lanes and other traffic that is aware and prepared to deal with them participating. Weather is a non issue. Rain and low temperatures are the main climate most part of the year, we dress for that. Cycling is just way cheaper, and longer distances used to be just the reason to cycle, for outside the city, public transport wasn’t and in some villages still isn’t common. I assume the main reason had been financial, and promoted by the fact that a cycle plans are offered by employers to promote a healthy life style. Plus in city centers it’s more trouble and complex to drive and park, so a bike is the best option.

  • http://www.facebook.com/somasundaramv Soma Visal

    A good job well done for a healthier society. Hats off!

  • ObbieZ

    Am I the only one that’s bothered by the fact that there was not one rider in this video wearing a helmet? Am I the only one that noticed this?

    • http://twitter.com/haayman Arjen Haayman

      There’s really no need to wear a helmet, just like pedestrians don’t need a helmet

    • http://www.facebook.com/leo.vandervoort.7 Leo van der Voort

      The Dutch RESPECT cyclists,don’t need helmets because there is no helmet law as of yet!
      Everyone grows up on a bike,so did I when I grew up in Holland and lived there for 18 years!
      Today I ride in Canada!

    • http://twitter.com/AlternativeDfT Schrödinger’s Cat

      Yeah. You’ve obviously never cycled in the Netherlands if you think you need a helmet.

      In fact, you are more likely to be murdered in the USA than you are to die on a bike in the Netherlands. (And that’s *without* a helmet!)

    • cruz_ctrl

      yeah! and read the warning on the five-gallon paint bucket to make sure your kid doesn’t fall in headfirst and drown and remember to read the warning to remove your sunscreen from your car windshield before driving and read the warning on the lid of your takeout coffee that “contents may be hot!”, etc, etc, etc, etc, etc

    • Mike

      Nope! And that’s their choice. No social pressure to wear one it appears.

  • DorothyP

    It’s a tiny, flat country.

    • http://twitter.com/AlternativeDfT Schrödinger’s Cat

      Bzzzt – next!

      Do all US citizens commute from LA to NY every day? Nope.

      In fact, the Dutch have some of the longest commutes in the world. It’s a myth that their distances are short.

      http://www.aviewfromthecyclepath.com/2011/02/all-those-myths-and-excuses-in-one-post.html

      • DorothyP

        The Netherlands are about the size of Maryland. People commute from Baltimore to DC every day.

        • http://twitter.com/AlternativeDfT Schrödinger’s Cat

          All of them?

  • Unibrow Chic

    Like others said, it is very flat, and you can actually get places in a reasonable amount of time, because they aren’t designed with sprawl. In addition, their petrol costs are among the most expensive in the world, adding further incentive to bike. Sadly for us, our infrastructure was built around the car, without awareness of the hole we were digging for ourselves by so doing.

    • http://twitter.com/AlternativeDfT Schrödinger’s Cat

      These are myths.

      The UK has similar fuel costs to the Netherlands – 2% cycling rate, similar to USA. Also it’s not the flatness – central London is flat, all of East Anglia is very flat (the bit that sticks out above London) yet the cycling rate is still 2%.

      It’s the infrastructure: people don’t want to ride a bike amongst motor vehicles.

      You can read more here: http://www.aviewfromthecyclepath.com/2011/02/all-those-myths-and-excuses-in-one-post.html

      • Unibrow Chic

        It’s a myth that American cities are further apart? That the sprawl of suburbia presents a unique problem in most of the country? You’ve never been to Texas, that’s for sure. I don’t disagree that the infrastructure in terms of traffic is a factor, but to ignore the others is just dumb. And you, are additionally obnoxious.

        • http://twitter.com/AlternativeDfT Schrödinger’s Cat

          Fine, whatever. Keep breathing those fumes!

        • Unibrow Chic

          Thank you for dodging my point. I will accept that as an acknowledgement that I have one, and you can not handle it. You don’t understand and seemingly don’t care, about the MASSIVE undertaking that will be the total restructuring of how and where Americans live. NO other country has our unique combination of sheer expanse, coupled with a ‘coming of age’ in sync with the age of the auto. You can make all the snotty comments you like, but this brings us not one centimeter closer to a solution. You are unserious, you don’t care, and you should honestly just shut up.

        • Erwin

          True; it will be a gigantic undertaking. Primarily because bicycling and public transpo does not promise much of any obscene profit. Americans have a hard time wrapping their minds around ‘small.’ Ironically, it’s even worse now that there isn’t much if any economy as well.

        • Bert

          It’s a myth that fuel prices and the lack of hills influences people’s decisions to ride bikes instead of drive cars. If those were serious factors then the UK would have similar cycling levels to the Netherlands.

          But as the cat pointed out, the UK cycling levels matches the US cycling levels and we certainly do not have the, as you say, unique sprawl so why are our cycling levels the same as yours?

        • Unibrow Chic

          No idea, Bert. I’ve never stepped foot in the UK. I’m just speaking from personal experience. I’ve had many a commute that would have been just about impossible to do by bike – seriously impossible, with freeways involved, and great distances. Ever been to the US midwest, for example? Or biked around, say, Boston? You’re risking your life, you are. But your point is really mine – each country has its own set of reasons – variables – obstacles. In the area I lived until lately, biking was very, very common. Now? In a more rural area, it’s just not practical at all. Way too hilly, way too spread apart….

  • Brian S.

    I live in a medium-sized prefectural capital in Japan. We’ve got excellent public transport (generaly true of Japanese cities), but for the last 10 years (carless for me), I’ve gotten around almost exclusively by bike. With proper kit winter commuting is possible though it remains treacherous, as most roads are neither salted nor cleared. Summer is hot and humid and cycling a bit unpleasant at that time of year. But what makes cycling most unpleasant in Japan is not the weather but the motorists and, in cases, even other cyclists. The former do not recognize cyclists’ right to the road. I experience this daily, indeed was forced the verge of the road by a bus earlier in the day. Other cyclists can be a menace as well, for many cyclists text while riding. I’ve even encountered cyclists who held an open umbrella in one hand and a smartphone in the other while riding.
    Cycling nevertheless remains the most pleasurable way to get around for me, but it’s decidedly unsafe and requires constant vigilance.

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  • reginag

    A great lesson to deal with.
    volkswagen auto glass

  • Robert ANderson

    We really need traffic rule education for little kids in the San Francisco bay area. Maybe then more bikers would obey traffic rules.

    • Angel

      We need traffic rule education everywhere. This morning a little kid crossed in front of my friends car without looking and the mom didn’t say anything.

  • Unibrow Chic

    “it’s not something particularly about the Dutch character. It has a lot to do with intention, planning and execution.” That fact they value it and did so, means it IS a part of their character. Duh.

  • Bikerpup

    Cool. The suburban city city I live in north of Dallas has designated bike routes north and south in grids of 1 mile increments on lightly trafficed secondary suburban streets for getting around town. Dallas itself has gotten over 1M in federal funding to enhance and expand bicycle traffic from converting rail easements to to bike paths to marking bike routs to removing parking and designating bike lanes. Its happening in the US too.
    I use my ATB and the light rail commuter train to go the 20 miles into town and ride around for activities in Dallas all day long now on weekends, and some weeknights. I drive my car a whole lot less these days, and I am better for it.

  • TatianaT

    While I love the idea that something like this could work in cities within the United States, I think it’s important to note that in the 70s, instead of looking at alternative forms of transportation when the oil crisis happened, we decided to modify the cars themselves by using I4 engines instead of V8s. Instead of creating safer bike lanes, we changed the speed limit.

    Now we seem to be marketing biking for commuting purposes as the “green” or “environmentally sustainable” instead of “practical” or “more cost effective”. People often don’t see biking to work or school as a plausible alternative for the average person. They may see bikers as people who sacrifice comfort for their love of the environment. It’s important to change this view of bikers if we want to see more people choosing it as an option.

  • Bubba Zinetti

    Nice thought, I used to ride a lot until I got run over by a car while I was on the sidewalk. Until we make cycling safe, it’s a pipe dream.

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