The people of the Netherlands have always bicycled around. Like most countries after World War II they adopted gasoline powered cars and their roads became clogged resulting in degraded lifestyle for pedestrians and bicyclists. That is until the oil crises of the 1970’s which inspired the people of the Netherlands to demand change. Change that resulted in an excellent bicycling infrastructure that has reduced traffic congestion, reduced pollution levels, and increased health and wellbeing. The Dutch Cycling Embassy is a recently announced organization whose goal is to re-teach the world to enjoy bicycling for both daily riding and recreation, and to usher in reduced traffic congestion and negative environmental effects worldwide. Last week they released a video explaining the role of bicycling in the Netherlands, and their global outreach to teach the world lessons learned as the Netherlands restructured their cities to be friendly to bicyclists and pedestrians.
Last week the Dutch team led a series of “Think Bike” workshops in four U.S. cities including San Francisco. At the time the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition’s Leah Shahum wrote about how San Francisco is at a decision point similar to the one Amsterdam faced 40 years ago. The citizens of Amsterdam, as explained in the Dutch Cycling Embassy’s video, took the 1970’s oil crises as the rallying point for a wave of change to redesign their cities, to reduce dependency on fossil oil. San Francisco (and other cities) have citizens groups advocating for better bicycling infrastructure, and a population which frequently bicycles for transportation (as opposed to bicycling for recreation) and wants to bicycle for transportation more often. Shahum suggests “We can choose to use the examples of places such as the Netherlands as a model, or we can continue business as usual,” and “The arc that we are on in San Francisco right now is surprisingly akin to that of Amsterdam 40 years ago when engaged citizens led by passionate advocates convinced local leaders to solidly commit to making bicycling the easiest and most favored way to get around the city.” Her blog entry (linked below) is an excellent read comparing Amsterdam and San Francisco.
The Dutch Cycling Embassy website has a brochure jam-packed with facts and figures about bicycling for transportation:-
Despite the billions spent on developing electric cars, cycling is still the most sustainable form of transportation. Bicycling is emissions free and requires a much smaller land use footprint than any form of solo-driven-car-based transportation.
Currently the Netherlands has 29,000 kilometers of segregated bicycle lands, up from 17,000 in 1996. The Dutch are continually investing in new bicycle infrastructure. Bicycling has had an impact on the urban landscape. Traffic calming techniques are important so cyclists, pedestrians and cars can equitibly share the roads.
As bicycle use goes up, accident rates go down. In the Netherlands, where they have 26% bicycle use, there are 1.1 fatalities per 100 million kilometers bicycled, whereas in the U.S.A., where we have less than 1% bicycle use, there are 5.8 fatalities per 100 million kilometers bicycled.
Health benefits. Compared to similarly wealthy countries, the Netherlands has a relatively low rate of obesity and heart disease. People who ride bicycles for transportation tend to be physically 5 years younger than people who do not.
Bicycling for transportation. Bicycling in the Netherlands is not just limited to recreation, it is used for daily travel. They have developed a wide array of specialized bicycles for all sorts of purposes, including carrying cargo around town. People of all levels of the society, even CEO’s and members of their Royal Family, routinely bicycle around.
Cycling for Everyone by the Dutch Cycle Embassy
Dutch Cycling Embassy
Lessons from Amsterdam: How SF Can Bicycle Toward Greatness