At the beginning of this trip, I wondered if there were any inherent and permanent differences between the United States and the Netherlands that held the U.S. back when trying to accommodate bicycles. After two weeks in the Netherlands, I can’t argue that there are some things, like the flat landscape, that are in favor of the Dutch. However, most of the things that make biking easy in the Netherlands, particularly in the region of cities known as the Randstad, are due to careful planning and effort.
For example, I suspected that the small size of the Netherlands could be a major advantage in their favor. I assumed that because the country was smaller, it would be easier to get from place to place on a bike. After experiencing their network of transportation, it occurred to me that bicycle convenience has nothing to do with country size and everything to do with city density. The Dutch are government has a very different approach to land use than the United States does. In Amsterdam, the city owns most of the land, so the government decides how and where new developments should go instead of private businesses. Municipalities tend to build dense housing close to the center of the city and don’t allow unchecked urban sprawl. This strategy means that most people living in or around a city are actually a reasonable biking distance away form the city’s core. Our government has not put any focus on increasing density and Americans have actively spread out over sprawling suburbs. Features that seem dictated by our surroundings are actually the product of our own long–term choices.
While riding from Delft to Rotterdam, the landscape changed very quickly from urban to rural. In the course of five minutes I rode from the University Campus to a field with grazing cows. Five minutes in the other direction I would have found the core of Delft. This sort of transition doesn’t tend to happen nearly as fast in The U.S.