Road map for more Dutch cycling

Although the Netherlands has the highest global mode share of cycling in transport, some Dutch have the opinion that cycling can be increased even more. To be honest, I am one of them. The National Policy Strategy for Infrastructure and Spatial Planning is aiming to make the Netherlands competitive, mobile, liveable and safe. In my ears that sounds as cycling should be top priority in this policy. However, the word bicycle can only be found once in the English summary. Also in the official Dutch document the Dutch word “fiets” can be found 29 times, against the numerous times for “auto” and “wegverkeer”. So time for a change. Tuesday leading politicians of the provinces of Zuid-Holland, Noord-Brabant, Gelderland and the regions of Utrecht, Arnhem-Nijmegen and The Hague offered the Dutch minister of Transport their road map for more Dutch cycling.

hand over of Road map

R. van Hugten (deputy of province Noord-Brabant), H. van der Steenhoven (director Fietsersbond) and M. Schultz Van Hagen (minister of Transport). photo: Arien de Jong

To understand why this was an important event, it is good to know more about the Dutch cycling policies. Although the national policies doesn’t pay much attention to cycling, that doesn’t mean that cycling is not in mind. Taxes are in the Netherlands collected on a national level and are distributed to local, regional and provincial governments.  And of course, that makes sense, they have most kilometers of roads that can be cycled. It is hard to find exact figures, but an educated guess is that the yearly budget of cycling is approximately 420 million euros. This also means that the national government doesn’t have a thought vision how cycling can improve the livability of the cities and how national government can work on it. The road map wants to bring this alive.

Handout of the road map

The roadmap describes the common statistics about cycling in the Netherlands. How many people cycle, how far they cycle, why it is important and so on. More important is that the road map shows that cooperation between parties is necessary to improve cycling. During the last 5 years municipalities assisted by the Fietsersbond worked together to extend their bicycle networks to long distance routes. Thanks to electric assisted bicycles the average distance people want to commute by bicycle is going up from 6,8 km to 8,7 km. This increasing range of the bicycle makes it more important to have better connected bicycle paths. Guidelines to build these infrastructure are being updated to accommodate the higher speed of cyclists. An online cost-benefit ratio calculator will be available shortly, to make it easier to calculate the benefits of cycling in a general accepted way. Aim is to increase the use of bicycles in commute to 35% in 2025 , instead of 25% in 2010.

Picture of jam packed press room.

Of course, most of the gains for cycling can be found in the inner cities. That are often relatively small measures, like shortening the red light phase at traffic lights (or removing traffic lights at all) and keeping the surface of cycle paths in good conditions. But that is only part of the job. The most appealing part is the proposed network of 675 kilometers of high speed cycle routes. To be finished in 2025, and to connect most cities with the urban sprawl that was created during the last 50 years. Financed by local governments, but also with help of the national government.

What said the minister of transport?

IMG_20130924_172824

Our transport minister, Mrs Schultz Van Hagen  was happy with the massive audience in the room. She never experienced a meeting in the press centre in which the public had an active role. In that phrase she made clear that the cooperation between the different parties is very important to make bicycle infrastructure in the right way. Of course some remarks were made about the role of Regions (my employer), as this is part of the political debate in the Netherlands.
And the minister announced there will be more attention in investment programs in the future. The national investment programs are often too large and too long term to cover bicycle projects. But the minister also has budgets for short term projects. In these short term budgets the minister wants to cooperate with provinces, regions and cities to improve the transport system.
A new element was that the minister wants to take the quality of the environment and spatial planning into account, when considering investments. So in case a cycling route is more beneficial than adding more asphalt for cars on that spot, she said she certainly wants to invest in cycling facilities. Good news for Dutch cyclists, who get even more options to commute and to go around on their daily trips.

When Danes meet the Dutch

Only one day after the the Earth Institute of Columbia University announced that the Dutch are the forth nation ranking in happiness in the world, leaders of the Danish cycling culture flew to the Netherlands to see if they can improve their own cycling facilities. Although the researchers cannot prove the objective contribution of cycling (and other forms of transport!) to the national well-being of people, it is known that people link the emotion of joy more to cycling than other means of transport.

So, a good reason to have the second study tour of the Cycling Embassy of Denmark to the Netherlands, a country that is almost as high on the happiness list as Denmark (they are number one), but ahead in bicycle use as a means of transport. Of course in their tight schedule the Danes made time to visit their sister organisation in the Netherlands, the Dutch Cycling Embassy.

Danes meet the Dutch Cycling Embassy

Danes meet the Dutch Cycling Embassy

This evening the delegation had a good chat with Aletta Koster, new director of the Dutch Cycling Embassy, Tom Godefrooij and a few members of the Dutch Cycling Embassy. We had a lively discussion about the benefits and costs of having a bicycle embassy and how to increase the interest of policy makers all over the world into cycling. And we discussed the options to cooperate more outside Europe as the leading cycling countries in the world.

Return visit

Cycle route in Denmark

Cycle route in Denmark


As the Dutch Cycling Embassy is still building its network, I had my personal return visit in advance. With my family I went this summer for a cycling holiday to Denmark. We cycled from the border at Flensburg (Germany) to Korsør and took the scenic touristic route along the coast and an abandoned railway line that was converted in a cycle route. We also visited the city of Aarhus. The cycling in Denmark was of course very pleasant, the roads and traffic seems to be very bike friendly, but their might be some holiday bias. I know in the Netherlands (and especially in Amsterdam) people don’t have that much patience with tourists on bikes, so that was a good experience.

Cycling holiday in Denmark

At the railway line

The abandoned railway line, was, as in many other countries  a good bicycle facility through the hilly parts of Denmark. The gradients are very slope, and the scenery is beautiful. Of course there were no cars on the trail, but that meant to be extra careful at the former railroad crossings. Those were not designed as road crossings, so blind spots occurred regularly. At one place it was made impossible to cross the road directly, a heavy curb was made to make sure that cyclists would give way.
Particularly my son liked the former railroad much, as he wants to become a train driver. So most of the time he cycled in front and yelled at every crossing like and old steam train. An in case we stopped, he announced as in German trains “aussteigen in fahrrichtung links”.

Aarhus

In Aarhus we met Marianne Weinrich, Head of Mobility at VEKSØ and vice-chair of the Cycling Embassy of Denmark.

With Marianne Weinrich at the statue of the bicycle Mayor

With Marianne Weinrich at the statue of the bicycle Mayor

She showed us the cycling facilities of the city with a nice bicycle tour. As Aarhus is almost the size of Utrecht, it was very interesting to see  and feel the differences between both cities. For that reason, I also went out on my own (well, accompanied with my daughter) to find out how easy it was to find your way in an unknown city and to feel the rhythm of cycling. Unprepared we cycled through the city and found most of the highlights by ourself, like the bike counters, air pumps, signing and even the 2 bike streets. These streets, designed to have cyclists prioritized above motorized vehicles are not officially regulated in the Danish law. In fact, that is something the Dutch have in common, the status of “Fietsstraat” in the Netherlands isn’t regulated either, but their appearance is very different.

bicycle street in Aarhus

bicycle street in Aarhus

Fietsstraat in Utrecht

Fietsstraat in Utrecht

Dutch program

The Danes will visit the highlights of cycling infrastructure in Netherlands this week. Zwolle for their consistent work for years to build a bicycle friendly town, Groningen, for their overwhelming amount of people on bikes in the central town and their wonderful “Stadsbalkon”, Eindhoven for their futuristic Hovenring, ‘s-Hertogenbosch because it became quite silent the best bicycle town of 2011 and last, but certainly not least Houten as the bicycle New Town of the world. Of course the Danes could have picked other cities and towns, cycling is everywhere in the Netherlands and bicycle infrastructure is almost everywhere at the same high level. But for those people that are searching for the next level in cycling, only the best examples in the world are worth a visit.

In shape by everyday bike rides

Twenty five years ago I decided to prove that cycling for everyday purposes is a very effective way to keep you in shape. At that time I cycled 3 kilometres to highschool and delivered papers in Valkenswaard (near Eindhoven) in a 13 kilometres round. For leisure I cycled on the same regular single speed Dutch bike in the countryside. I even went to the hills of Limburg. My means to show my point was to take unprepared part in a racing bike event, initiated by the local bike shop.

This Diekirch-Valkenswaard tour of 255 kilometres was in those times (1988) one of the heaviest one day tour events, mainly because it is an A-to-B ride through the hilly Ardennes. For many bike touring clubs it was the event of the year. I borrowed a racing bike from the bike shop and practiced the week before in operating it. It was quite uncomfortable with the gear shifters mounted on the tube and the bended steer. And those clothing! Thight lycra shorts in bright colors! But I managed to ride the tour in dreadful rainy circumstances and arrived at 7:15 pm in time at the marked square in Valkenswaard.

With myself I made the promise to ride this tour every 5 years again as a good reason to show you don’t have to ride a racing bike every week to fullfil this journey  and to keep yourself in shape. Yesterday I rode this Diekirch-Valkenswaard for the sixth time. Every time I took part in this tour personal circumstances had changed, but cycling remained one of the continuing factors. Also this year the base for my condition is still the everyday cycling. Nowadays my commute to Utrecht is 14 kilometres one way, so with shopping and leisure I easily make 180 kilometres a week. And a cycling holiday in – not so flat as Netherlands – Denmark seems to be a good preparation for a long distance ride too. I make approximately 9000 kilometres a year on my regular bike, so far more than the 1000 kilometres on my racing bike. Yes, finally I bought one, first a second hand and after an total loss accident – no scratch on my helmet – I bought a new one.

At the finish in Valkenswaard

At the finish in Valkenswaard

A nice 18 speed Giant with all the modern “comforts” of a racing bike.

And yes, I have the idea that cycling on a regular basis keeps you in a better shape than going to the gym. During the last 25 years my weight was rather the same, with some one or two kilograms fluctuation. And when I compare myself with others of my age, I can clearly see the difference between Dutch style cyclists like myself and non-cyclists.

Of course this is all anecdotal evidence, which is proved by objective science.