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.
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.
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?
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.