The cycling attitude in the Netherlands is completely different from that in other parts of the world. While reading “City Cycling” by John Pucher and Ralph Buehler, I was amazed at the age distribution of cyclists in different countries in the world. In the United States, bike use continues to decrease as the age of the cyclist increases. Bicyclists over 65 years old use a bicycle for about 0.5% of all trips, compared to a bike usage of 0.8% for users 25-39 years old. However, in the Netherlands, citizens 65 and older use bikes for 23% of trips compared to 21% of trips for 26-44 years old citizens. This means as people get older in the Netherlands, they actually bike more. Senior citizens bike more than spry and young 26 year olds. That is amazing to me.
Another thing that I thought was amazing was the bicycle fatality and injury statistics. In the United States, there are about 5.5 bicyclists killed every 100 kilometers biked. In the Netherlands, this rate is 5 times less: 1.1 bicyclists per 100 km. The non-fatal injury statistics are similar to the fatal ones, except the United States is about 30 times more dangerous than the Netherlands. This is amazing because the Netherlands has such a large bike share and an overall greater number of bike trips. It’s hard to believe that bikes are used much more often in the Netherlands, but less people are hurt.
For the Netherlands to experience these kinds of statistics, specific design and policy decisions must be made that are advantageous to those who bike. One of the big policies of the Netherlands is to try and separate bike facilities whenever possible. They would prefer a bike path with a buffer and a cycle track instead of a bike lane on the road. There are only a few circumstances where it would make sense to construct a bike lane, and even in those situations, the bikes have priority over the cars. It’s expected that traffic calming features be constructed in order to maintain that bike priority. In the United States, there are no specific policies for separating traffic like this. There are only guidelines, so they often are ignored. In fact, many in the United States believe that is more dangerous for bikes to be in their own right-of-way, which is easily countered with the accident rates from these European countries where separated facilities are common.
It's also interesting to think about the interplay between bikes and public transportation use. Bikes can play an important role in increasing the ridership on public transportation as they will extend the coverage area for a particular transit service. This is seen in many European countries, like the Netherlands. To facilitate this, bike storage spaces are provided at many bus and rail centers. This encourages people to leave their bike there and then ride a train into a city. It’s interesting to compare this to American cities, because in American cities, bikers often just take their bikes with them on the train. This can actually be seen as more convenient for the bicyclists as they don’t have to worry about their bike being stolen and they can use it at the other end.
One of the places where bikes often interplay with these transit facilities is in big cities. It is very common for biking to be more prevalent in large cities than it is in the more spread-out suburbs. This is because the origins and destinations within cities are closer together and there are generally more people, which makes car traffic is slower. There is also the effect of other bikers on safety. As the number of bikers increases, their safety increases because cars will become more used to interacting with bicycles. To encourage biking in big cities, many European countries have been implementing policies that encourage cycling specifically in larger cities. They will introduce traffic calming measures which will make it more difficult for cars to navigate and easier for bikes. They will also do things like time signals to bicycle speeds instead of car speeds.
In comparison, cycling in small cities varies greatly from city to city. Some small cities are especially conducive to a strong bike culture while others will shun it. In America, many small cities where biking is common are home to good weather, flat terrain, and some university with an abundance of young and fit people. Delft, a city in the Netherlands, has established a strong biking culture for a similar reason. Although, in addition, biking has increased from a conscious decision made by lawmakers to prioritize biking and limit driving. This has shown to work and ended up increasing the bike mode share in an already heavy bicycle city. A similar situation happened in Odense, Denmark. This shows that if a small city prioritizes biking, the benefits will subsequently come.
All material in this blog post was taken from the following source:
Pucher, John, and Ralph Buehler. City Cycling. MIT Press, 2012.