Everyday Cycling in the Netherlands
August 29, 2017 4:24 AM   Subscribe

BicycleDutch is a YouTube channel by Mark Wagenbuur about cycling in the Netherlands (and occasionally other places), with rider povs of many excellent examples of Dutch bicycling infrastructure.

Mark also has a blog [previously], and Twitter feed .
posted by carter (52 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
What makes all this cycling possible: Infrastructure

What actually makes all this cycling possible: living in the flattest country in the world.
posted by snofoam at 4:28 AM on August 29 [6 favorites]


I'm not sure how living in Maldives helps makes riding a bicycle in the Netherlands any easier.
posted by ddbeck at 4:36 AM on August 29 [10 favorites]


The Dutch originally colonised the Maldives in the hope of exploiting the islands as a paradise for bicycling, due to its flatness. When the British took over, the Dutch had no choice but to settle with the hilly Netherlands.
posted by romanb at 5:00 AM on August 29 [6 favorites]


What actually makes all this cycling possible: living in the flattest country in the world.

Let’s Nail the Cycling Hills Myth Once and For All
yes, the flatness in the Netherlands could be attributed to meaning that more people tolerated otherwise unpleasant road conditions in the 70s, but it did no more than that. Almost all of the growth in cycling since then can be attributed to changes in the infrastructure (the liability laws didn’t come until the mid-90s, long after mass cycling had been restored, not before it).
posted by EndsOfInvention at 5:07 AM on August 29 [12 favorites]


Funny. But seriously, the Netherlands is way flatter than any country even close to its size. The Dutch are totally aware that their country is really flat, but somehow they never seem to make the connection that this is the primary enabler of their widespread bike use. I think it is awesome that they can and do bike so much, but it's not really reproducible in areas that aren't as flat. Certainly some people can and do bike in hilly places, but it's just not possible for large parts of the population.
posted by snofoam at 5:08 AM on August 29


snofoam, moderate hills are not the enemy of the cyclist. Wind is. And The Netherlands has plenty of good wind.

Now if you wanted to argue that the high population density of The Netherlands was a key factor in the amount of cycling, then that's a good argument. But it's also because there was a rational collective response to the car's disproportionate impact on life in a crowded country, which was brought to public attention by a campaign called "Stop der Kindermoord". And of course people are free to drive in The Netherlands. As I understand it, it's quicker, cheaper and easier than it is in most other countries, although the most direct route may be blocked to give priority to non-motor traffic.
posted by ambrosen at 5:21 AM on August 29 [12 favorites]


I've lived and cycled in a really flat place (Cambridge, England) and a really hilly place (Pittsburgh, the Paris of the Appalachians). Pittsburgh has greatly expanded its bike infrastructure and there are more cyclists now and it's great but I am here to tell you that there will always be a hard cap on that because we have major thoroughfares that are at grades steep enough that when it snows the city shuts the entire street down. And there are many neighborhoods that are only accessible by a single street that climbs many hundreds of feet in less than a mile. So, like, I'm really happy for you, Netherlands, and I also loved living in a place where cycling was a legit limitless form of transport for pretty much everyone, but topography matters a lot.
posted by soren_lorensen at 5:29 AM on August 29 [5 favorites]


What actually makes all this cycling possible: living in the flattest country in the world.

It helps, but Amsterdam has always been flat. It hasn't always had bike infrastructure. It used to be choked by cars. Then they changed car infra to bike infra.

Certainly some people can and do bike in hilly places, but it's just not possible for large parts of the population.

A lot of people do (I'm thinking of the SF Bay Area, where cycling rates continue to rise), but you're right. It's not possible for some people. Even in flat places, cycling isn't something that everybody can do. In the Netherlands, there are small vehicles called Canta that are so underpowered that it's legal to drive them in bike infrastructure; and they're custom designed around a user's physical needs or disability.

More broadly, E-Bikes are entering the market, though, allowing people with more mobility, strength, or health issues to ride bikes.
posted by entropone at 5:30 AM on August 29 [4 favorites]


What actually makes all this cycling possible: living in the flattest country in the world.

Tell me that the next time I have to cycle 10 km with a strong headwind on a lonely polder road.
posted by Pendragon at 5:54 AM on August 29 [11 favorites]


Surely nobody would suggest that bicycles are always the answer, especially for cities built on the side of a mountain. And of course not for people who cannot bicycle for health or other reasons.

There are plenty of places (cities especially) that can, if they choose, build out a similar or better infrastructure like Amsterdam. Most large cities I’ve visited on the east coast of the US and Europe are flat and have the population density to do it.
posted by romanb at 5:55 AM on August 29


Yep, the e-bike discussion is one we had last month. For what it's worth, I'm 140m above the city centre where I live, yesterday was hot (28°C), I was ill and wearing jeans.

But when I test rode an e-bike kit yesterday, I rode home fine (at 16km/h and according to the power meter, 500W of assistance). It solves the hill problem.
posted by ambrosen at 5:59 AM on August 29


Look, nice and flat, easy cycling :-)
posted by Pendragon at 6:01 AM on August 29


My main concern with Amsterdam (having just been there two days ago) is for pedestrians. The combination of trams, cars, and bike paths (also shared by motorised scooters!) take up much of the space, leaving pretty much no room for a misstep. And they definitely do not stop at zebra stripes for pedestrians.

Copenhagen seems to have done better in that sense — at least based on my personal, non-scientific experience anyway.
posted by romanb at 6:02 AM on August 29


Minneapolis, which regularly gets lauded as a good cycling city (by American standards), is also nice and flat.
posted by entropone at 6:04 AM on August 29


What actually makes all this cycling possible: living in the flattest country in the world.
Not to belabour the shooting down of dumb snark, but Florida is far flatter than the Netherlands. Yet famously hilly San Francisco has much more cycling than Miami or Orlando.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 6:17 AM on August 29 [6 favorites]


Topography obviously matters, as do density and weather. But even so, there are many US cities that have sufficiently moderate topography (especially with the rise of e-bikes) and density to support much more cycling -- if and only if the infrastructure was adapted to support it.

There was a comment in one of the cycling or pedestrian threads here a while back about how different intersections would look if they were designed around pedestrians and cyclists instead of cars, and I think about it every morning on my walk to work. Despite being in an area with (for the US) excellent cycling infrastructure, every intersection is primarily designed around cars, and all the details (like where the push-buttons are for the walk signs, who gets priority, timing, etc) are entirely designed around cars, leaving walkers and cyclists to watch for their lives at each crossing.

And maybe that is sort of legit, given that the road use is currently probably 90 percent or more cars -- but that won't change unless we start adapting the infrastructure to shift which transportation modes are privileged and which are not.

Something the US has done well (not perfectly, but much better than many other countries) was adapting infrastructure to accommodate people with disabilities following the passage of the ADA. An equivalent shift towards acknowledging the rights of non-drivers and mandating engineering and design standards (like not having the one bus stop be located far away and across a hard-to-cross road with limited sidewalks, say) would be wonderful.

The Netherlands started making those changes decade ago and it appears to have had real benefits in quality of life without causing terrible problems. I would like to see other places accelerate the borrowing of those aspects that fit best with local conditions and needs, as well as inventing new solutions (like for hilly places) that the Netherlands hasn't had to even consider.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:21 AM on August 29 [4 favorites]


North Dakota is really flat.
posted by sammyo at 6:29 AM on August 29 [1 favorite]


I live in Berlin, and it's as flat as a pancake. Cycling is very popular, but not Netherlands-popular. Cycling infrastructure is good, but not Netherlands-good. So I'm gonna say it's the infrastructure.
posted by Buck Alec at 6:31 AM on August 29 [6 favorites]


And maybe that is sort of legit, given that the road use is currently probably 90 percent or more cars -- but that won't change unless we start adapting the infrastructure to shift which transportation modes are privileged and which are not.

I often ask people who wonder why we build bicycle infrastructure in the absence of overwhelming numbers of people riding bicycles: would we make certain lots of people were swimming across a river before building a bridge?

Would love to keep talking bike stuff. However, while I do get to work faster by bike plus train than I would driving a car, it is not actually teleportation and I should probably get there mostly on time.
posted by asperity at 6:33 AM on August 29 [1 favorite]


So I'm gonna say it's the infrastructure.

Porque no los dos?

I've watched the cycling culture here go from "Only the utterly barmy attempt it" to "Reasonably fit people who live in flatter areas who don't have too terribly far to commute often commute by cycle" with the addition of better cycling infrastructure. But going from there to "everybody bike now!" is possibly not a hump (heh) we're ever going to get over here, because of the laws of physics.
posted by soren_lorensen at 6:47 AM on August 29


It isn't like infrastructure alone or topography alone are responsible for cycling adoption. They work together. So, yes, SF has a lot of cyclists, but most people also have a car, and the level of commuting by bicycle is relatively low vs the Netherlands. That is because of the hills, which as a former SF resident of 11 years I can attest make even modest cycling both perilous and difficult, especially if you don't live in the Mission, Richmond or Sunset. But there is infrastructure and advocacy, so biking is popular if not ubiquitous.

The Netherlands has great infrastructure and super flat topography, the latter of which I would argue played a significant role in helping that infrastructure get built. Also: it is a small country and the cities are dense, unlike Florida or North Dakota, which while flat are also either sparsely populated and/or built specifically for cars.
posted by grumpybear69 at 6:49 AM on August 29 [1 favorite]


To add another 'anecdata' point to topography vs infrastructure : in Detroit you could go from the Joe Louis fist downtown (or the RenCen) to say, Southfield or Royal Oak, which are at least 10 miles away, without encountering an incline more than about 2%. I have a good friend who cycle-commuted from Hamtramck to the DIA and she said it was much more pleasant than driving. But there is little to no cycling infrastructure in Detroit and you only get one guess as to why.
posted by Slothrop at 6:53 AM on August 29 [1 favorite]


But going from there to "everybody bike now!" is possibly not a hump (heh) we're ever going to get over here, because of the laws of physics.

Literally nobody is saying "everybody bike now." [OK, actually, I googled it, and literally one person on the internet is saying that.]

What people are saying is: "A lot of important things would be better for everybody if more people biked, and we can make that happen by building infrastructure that supports cycling."
posted by entropone at 6:56 AM on August 29 [4 favorites]


But there is little to no cycling infrastructure in Detroit and you only get one guess as to why.

ED-209 on traffic duty?
posted by Buck Alec at 6:58 AM on August 29 [5 favorites]


I recently started biking to work. It's about an 8 mile ride in a fairly hilly area.

The first response of everyone at work is always "There's so much traffic, aren't you afraid of dying?"

And I am. We have a token bike infrastructure with a few roads having "bike lanes", that will randomly disappear and I have to go through at least 3 intersections that are scary-enough in a car, let alone a bike. And we're a small city, most of it is 2 lane traffic. It's not even that busy or crazy.

There would definitely be more biking in my hilly city if we had better infrastructure.
posted by mayonnaises at 7:03 AM on August 29 [4 favorites]


Headwinds = big ol' quads
posted by Burhanistan at 7:12 AM on August 29 [2 favorites]


I started bike commuting literally last week - I've only done the trip three times so far, so I really shouldn't talk, but as a recent convert I have to say that I was far too intimidated by the idea for too long. I first started at my current office in January and I remember looking up the bike trip on google maps and thinking it looked too trafficy and hard so I went ahead and skipped even trying (plus public transit is just as fast, almost to the minute). Turns out that 3/4 of the trip is on trails or bike-friendly (and quiet) sidewalks and the remaining 1/4 is in (non-protected) bike lanes, which even my out-of-shape self can handle reasonably confidently. I found the "omg you'll die in traffic" narrative so overwhelming that I never even tried, and I'm regretting that a lot - I already feel healthier with the extra hour of cardio a day and I'm pretty proud to be biking, so I hope I stick with it. That infrastructure definitely made the difference - I only wish I'd understood it sooner. I know there are education programs, but cities could definitely do better (and google maps could do better with bike directions including information like elevation and trail type on mobile...that would make a huge difference for me).
posted by mosst at 7:14 AM on August 29 [4 favorites]


Oh yeah and I grew up in Seattle so I definitely know the intimidation of hilly cities - I'm hoping one of those dockless shared bike systems introduces shared e-bikes and soon because that's such an elegant solution and the cost is definitely justifiable if used enough.
posted by mosst at 7:15 AM on August 29


My bad for being tongue in cheek with such a very serious crowd. The Netherlands absolutely has done a good job with biking infrastructure and there certainly are flat cities that don't have lots of biking and part of that has to do with infrastructure. If you've been there you can see how easy biking is physically. A really broad cross section of the population is physically able to bicycle to useful places in part because it is flat and things are close (it is the most densely populated country in Europe). I think the geography is a very important factor that is often overlooked or shrugged off. It's like suggesting Venice is unique because they were the only city that was forward thinking when it came to gondola-building. Maybe it is rather contemporary to ignore the influence of the world around us and celebrate our human cleverness.
posted by snofoam at 7:19 AM on August 29 [1 favorite]


Maybe it is rather contemporary to ignore the influence of the world around us and celebrate our human cleverness.

How contemporary are gears? They are clever, though.
posted by asperity at 7:27 AM on August 29 [1 favorite]


My bad for being tongue in cheek with such a very serious crowd.

The problem is that one person's "tongue in cheek" is someone else's "glib dismissal". While both topography and infrastructure matter, one of them is something we can design. And, according to a city traffic designer at my town's last bicycling forum, responsible for whether about 80% of the population rides or not.
posted by traveler_ at 7:34 AM on August 29 [7 favorites]


See also Your cycling fallacy is.. It’s too hilly here “The Netherlands is flat – that’s why they cycle a lot”
posted by mirthe at 7:47 AM on August 29 [2 favorites]


Bikes are also popular because cars are expensive (about 60% tax on gas) and a bit of a nuisance in the city center (limited space and freedom of movement). Plus, most distances are small.
posted by dmh at 8:03 AM on August 29 [1 favorite]


More seriously: I just biked up (and sometimes down!) a few hills and bridges to get to work. The slope's not at all my biggest problem. (That's why gears exist! They are great.) The fact that even the posted bike route I take for most of my morning commute is designed entirely for people driving cars is my biggest problem.

The fact that driver licensing in my country is so lax that I've lived and driven cars in five licensing jurisdictions (states) with no serious road exam, ever, in over twenty years of holding a valid license, and only a couple of truly pathetic multiple choice exams where I'm asked to identify road signs? Also a really damn big problem. Where I live, if you don't make a point of educating yourself about how to drive safely around people riding bicycles or walking, or about how to ride a bicycle safely, you're not going to learn.

That said, with good enough infrastructure, we can get away with a lot more ignorance (and in some cases the infrastructure itself can train the stupid out of us.) But bicycle infrastructure in a lot of places is nonexistent, doesn't go where you need it to, or is so poorly planned that it's worse than nothing. And many people argue against having any of it, for a variety of reasons that they probably think are sensible. It would be unkind to assume that they've considered that their preferred transportation policies cause a great deal of needless death and then dismissed that problem as being not their problem.

So, uh, yes. I do take bicycle infrastructure very seriously. Should I be sorry?
posted by asperity at 8:15 AM on August 29 [5 favorites]


I've been bike commuting in Boston for more than 15 years and have watched as bike infrastructure boomed... and with it the number of other bikers. Which, though they annoy me, indisputably help me by making cars more aware of bikes. Best commute, getting better for infrastructure. It's amazing what just a painted line does for safety and comfort!
posted by ldthomps at 8:19 AM on August 29 [3 favorites]


New York City spent millions of dollars over the past few years to create hundreds of miles of dedicated bike lanes, (thanks, Janette Sadik-Khan!) and consequently, ridership is way up (and injuries are way down.) We have plenty of hills, but clearly infrastructure makes all the difference. Our bike share program, CitiBike, keeps expanding further into the other boroughs.
posted by monospace at 8:33 AM on August 29 [4 favorites]


Silicon Valley (San Jose to Mountain View and Milpitas), is pretty flat, good population density, more moderate weather than the Netherlands (it never snows), and for the US is has a decent number of cyclists, but still has a tiny percentage of the cyclist density that the Netherlands has.

I think culture is a big part of it. The Dutch just decided to go all out with bikes after WWII and they haven't stopped since. It isn't just the younger, fitter members of society, but everyone--CEOs, doctors, dentists--everyone rides their bike to commute. The culture of biking as the default commute vehicle leads to the infrastructure to support it.

The improved infrastructure can certainly lead to a more pro-biking culture, but I don't think it is sufficient.
posted by eye of newt at 8:54 AM on August 29


I'll add that cycling is popular in San Francisco and you'd be hard pressed to find another city with so many tall hills and poor biking infrastructure.
posted by eye of newt at 9:24 AM on August 29 [1 favorite]


This thread has just made 17 million Nederlanders even more smug.
posted by humboldt32 at 9:31 AM on August 29 [4 favorites]


What actually makes all this cycling possible: living in the flattest country in the world.

Pretty damn windy in NL. I'll take Boston's hills over Holland's winds any day.
posted by ocschwar at 9:47 AM on August 29


All the great images of awesome bicycle bridges are pretty great, but this post about residential building regulations is just amazing to me. I want that so much. (More here.)

I love the condo I rent and haven't been able to make myself move elsewhere in spite of the whole lack of air conditioning thing because it is so amazingly nice to have secure, private bicycle parking that opens right into my home. There aren't many multi-family rentals with attached garages here, and I count myself lucky to have one at a price I can afford.

Even brand-new apartment complexes that count bicycle parking among their amenities seem to have it planned by people who don't actually ride, so you end up with things like bicycle racks on the far side of a parking garage from the doors to the apartments. That's a good way to make it more convenient for someone to get in a car than get on a bike, since they've got to walk past all the cars anyway. Or if there's some sort of indoor bicycle room (sometimes even with a repair station!), it's not easy to bike in and out of it, or it's got nothing at all to stop someone from walking off with your bags or lights or the entire bike.

The most likely option for residential bicycle parking in my area appears to be leaving your bike year-round with its front wheel hanging off your apartment balcony, to rust, unused. Or in some uncovered common bike rack where you slowly forget that your bike exists at all, and eventually the lock's cut a year after you move out.
posted by asperity at 9:54 AM on August 29


I'll add that cycling is popular in San Francisco and you'd be hard pressed to find another city with so many tall hills and poor biking infrastructure.

I'd chalk that up to a mixture of eco-conscious/health culture and some of the worst parking in the US.
posted by JauntyFedora at 10:17 AM on August 29


My bad for being tongue in cheek with such a very serious crowd.

So interesting to see an anti-apology particle in the wild -- they collide with positive humorons and annihilate them.
posted by Celsius1414 at 10:59 AM on August 29 [2 favorites]


You're absolutely right, Asperity. I'm fortunate enough to live in a building with an underground car park that has lots of designated space for bikes, but until now I've kept my bikes in the cellar because none of them have stands and there's no bike rack in the car park. Last week I bought a whole 'nother bike partly because it has a stand, which means I can leave it in the car park and save myself as much as thirty seconds every time I want to go out on my bike. Life-changer!

I may have a slight addiction
posted by Buck Alec at 11:23 AM on August 29 [1 favorite]


visited Naples for the first time last year and was struck by the near utter lack of bicycling. I was inclined to attribute this to OMG-DEATH-TRAFFIC-MURDER-VEHICLES-INSANITY but my husband is sure its due to the hills. not to mention the cobblestones...ugh
posted by supermedusa at 1:50 PM on August 29


Well now, I'm certainly glad that everyone's hit all the points already to show the limitations of the "Holland's flat, mate" argument.

There are a lot of interesting factors that all met together to ensure that the Netherlands kept cycling even when it was building motorways and turning town squares into car parks. There used to be a graph that showed that the UK hit a majority cycling share during 1950s petrol rationing, but the Netherlands dropped from a plurality modal share of cycling down to simply a whole lot. I'd love to find that again!

And so when the 1970s hit, and the oil crisis and the environmental movement and people started actually taking action about the deaths in the streets and the unpleasant urban experience, all the pieces were in the right places on the chessboard for the Dutch to start fixing things. They had enough people to bring the political will to bear, and the right kind of messages for the era to get the less dedicated along for the ride.

Other nations are working to scrabble back from pitiful single-digit (often 1-2%) cycling modal share, and the first step has been to improve the demographics of the cycling campaigners themselves. One of the most essential things Wagenbuur's videos have done at least in London is to show that a mere stone's throw away is a technical solution to the problem of why cycling is so unpleasant that only sport cyclists and angry young men even bother! This channel was instrumental in starting the shift in conversation that culminated in London Cycling Campaign's "Love London: Go Dutch" 2012 campaign. It gave a large population of people who did not currently cycle the materials to look at and say "I want London to be like that! I'd cycle if we did that!"

I am one of these people. I cycled in Seattle in the 90s, and always felt like an intruder on the roads (painted gutter-lanes or no). I spent time studying urbanism at university, and Wagenbuur's videos made me think past mass transit and pedestrian thoroughfares to see the gap that was beautifully filled by cycling of all sorts. London's community are great at interacting with disability groups now, who start talking about cycling "beyond the bicycle" to include mobility devices of all sorts including hand-cycle attachments for wheelchairs.

I myself am about to host the "sociable" two-seater tricycle for the Middlesex Association for the Blind soon, and hope to start offering rides where I steer and either or both of us can pedal. It's great to grow this pie, instead of fight over slices, and I owe a lot of this to Mark.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 2:06 PM on August 29 [4 favorites]


Infrastructure!!! (Norway's bike escalator)
posted by sammyo at 3:55 PM on August 29 [1 favorite]


Gosh, the back-and-forth in this thread.

I do think that people understimate the impact of climate and hills sometimes. I still remember the time I tried to bike 2 miles to campus - and ended up sitting on the sidewalk, trying desperately not to puke. I had to call my mom to have her pick me up; I literally couldn't continue.

And I'm reasonably fit and heat tolerant. I do fieldwork in West Africa and have no problem hiking for hours in the hot sun. But it was just that hot, humid, and hilly. And it can be like that for months in the summer. It's not just a bad day here and there.

(Wind just doesn't compare. I've done that too..)

But infrastructure is also so important. There are many times I've decided not to bike because, although I could physically do it, there are no safe routes. And I know there are many others like me - so I know there would be more cyclists if the infrastructure is better, even if not in high summer. So.

Porque no los dos?

Yeah. This.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 4:10 PM on August 29


sammyo, I never found much evidence that anyone was trying to make much more out of that bike escalator, such as contact details for the manufacturer, etc. But it was a while ago that I was looking. And, frankly, a while since any English council would be looking for a £400k shovel ready suggestion from their local cycle campaign group. Not because they're doing their own strategy, either.
posted by ambrosen at 4:10 PM on August 29


Absolutely agree that bike infrastructure makes a huge difference. I bike commute occasionally, and run most errands by bike. The only space where I feel the most unsafe is one five block residential street that connects to the local multiuse trail. It's painted with sharrows, which cars ignore, and because it's one lane with parking on both sides (being residential), I am always tailgated by cars trying to detour around the more crowded parkway. I routinely go out of my way to avoid that street, because I'm tired of being run off the road.

I remember going to a conference in Vancouver and being amazed at their bike infrastructure. First time I'd seen curb-separated bidirectional bike lanes. Skipped a day of conferencing just to bike around the city!
posted by basalganglia at 4:28 PM on August 29 [1 favorite]


Oh gosh yes, in this day and litigious age how could there ever be an utterly safe system that could withstand the {redacted} {redacted} {redacted} folks that badly need bubble wrap or robot cars anyway. And there is a certain critical mass to justify a bike escalator that may be hard to get to in hilly areas. I biked up a couple hills today and it's great but there are a few spots and times that would make it a joy to coast/ride up/coast for a ways.
posted by sammyo at 4:29 PM on August 29


I've commuted to work by bike 2 days/week for something like 7 years now. For the first 5 or so of those, I put up with very bad infrastructure, either no bike lanes or, if there were lanes, they were covered with trash, debris, holes, cracks and driven in/parked in by cars. I sort of shrugged it off and thought "it is what it is"

And then they opened a mixed use trail that starts near downtown and goes out from the city 10 miles or so. It's great. It's so great that I actually add 2 miles to my commute each way so that I can take it.

It's also so great that it has clearly caused a lot of people to try cycling casually and commuting who otherwise would not have. It says to people "this is for you, you should try it" instead of "this is for other people, the fitness crazed death worshipers"
posted by RustyBrooks at 7:34 PM on August 29 [3 favorites]


« Older Provided you accept all the formalities and...   |   "A country of inveterate, backwoods, thick-headed... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments