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