So, I’ve talked a little bit about how much I absolutely love bicycling here in the Netherlands, how easy and convenient it is, and how excellent the infrastructure is, but that’s far from the end of it!
Life by bicycle
As you can imagine, with all of this impressive dedication to and infrastructure for bicycles, the Dutch put it all to good use. Commuting by bicycle is common, and rush-hour bicycle traffic is definitely a thing! Its estimated that 27% of trips taken in the Netherlands are made by bicycle, which is pretty impressive in itself. In Utrecht 43% of trips under 4.6 miles are taken by bike, and it is estimated that 125,000 bicycle trips are taken each day in the town of 330,000 people!
Bicycling is also part of the family experience, and there are numerous ways to bike as a family – from piling toddlers and young kids on to special seats on your own bicycle, to letting them ride out front in the bucket of a ‘bukfiets’, and graduating to riding on their own two wheels next to their parents when they are ~5+ years old.
My morning commute is often shared with numerous families biking their children to school, and on weekend afternoons there are many families out and about on bicycles – shopping, heading to the park, or to get an ‘ijsje’ (Dutch for ice cream!). Teenagers also seem to benefit from the bicycle culture – traveling together with a great amount of autonomy, while getting some good exercise at the same time.
In fact, our Dutch friends confirm that the transportation of choice for students in the higher elementary and high school is indeed the bicycle, and tell of biking to school as a group with their friends for quite a distance – perhaps 30-45 minutes each way – especially if they lived in the suburbs or outside of town.
They all seem to look back on this fondly as a pleasant part of youth. Most Americans I know who have observed this comment that these kids have a significant amount of freedom that they don’t see in the US today. People of a slightly older generation also remark that it is what life was like when they were growing up…a return to a simpler time. (Though this doesn’t mean these kids aren’t texting and biking, generally horsing around, and sometimes making (hopefully harmless) trouble just like they are everywhere else in the world!)
One great impact of all of this bicycling is the public health influence of so much free and passively collected exercise on Dutch citizens. With my commute, I get more than 20 minutes of certifiable exercise per day (and when I am in a rush in the morning, it’s definitely cardio!). Although this isn’t an incredible amount, it happens whether I have energy or time to go the gym or not, and really adds up over the course of the week (especially including the other errands I do and trips to town that I take). I have been impressed that all of this biking makes a noticeable impact on my fitness (and my ability to eat all those frites and mayo, without too many significant consequences! ;)).
You can see this result in the whole population as well…even my German family comments that the Dutch are in great shape compared to their average countryman, so they must be doing something right. The government is aware of this as well, and estimate that the country can save $23 billion in health care costs due to reduction of mortality and number of deaths prevented in the population from bicycling. And all of this comes before even talking about the carbon emissions saved by riding bicycles rather than driving gas powered cars, which is significant…not bad for an activity that brings me so much joy!
The other key factor for bicycling being so enjoyable here, is that it has reached a critical mass and collective importance that it feels (and apparently is) considerably safer than bicycling back home. Here drivers know to watch out for bicycles everywhere (in fact it can be a bit nerve-wracking to drive a car!) and are well aware of bicycle lanes, habits and dangers. It is my impression that traffic laws also favor bicyclists in the case of an accident, which also keeps things safer – important when you are traveling with your whole family along with traffic! (I am not sure about the details of this though, so if anyone knows more, please let me know in the comments!)
At any rate, having bicycled in a few different cities in the US, I can say that all of this affinity for and awareness of bicycles, as well as the prolific infrastructure for bicycling, make the experience here feel significantly safer, pleasant and more convenient. This, combined with the increased amount of exercise I get, and the pleasant moments it brings to my day, add up to this being my absolute favorite part of life in the Netherlands.
What about you? Does this still sound like something you would like to try? If you’re Dutch (or living here), have I represented the Netherlands love of bicycles well? Or is there anything you would add? And in what sort of ways can we encourage bringing this experience to other parts of the world? It would be great to be able to share this awesome experience in more places…Let me know what you think in the comments – I’d love to get your input!