The Netherlands has a population of 17 million inhabitants but accommodates more bikes than people at 23 million. I guess you could say that the Dutch are incredibly fond of cycling. In fact, the Netherlands is the biggest biking nation and largest manufacturer of the world. Starting from an early age, they are exposed to biking and must even pass a traffic test when attending primary school. With that being said, why does everyone cycle so much in the Netherlands? As an amateur cyclist residing here I sought out to discover the following.
The Netherlands is Suited for Biking
This country is small and flat, simple as that. Making it incredibly easy to get one point to the other. The highest point in the Netherlands is a whopping 1058 feet (322 meters) located in the South on a hill called Vaalserberg (some people like to call it a mountain).
It’s Expensive to Own a Car
Owning and riding a car is extremely expensive. Put this into perspective but having a car in the Netherlands is more than in the US. A liter of gas today will cost you 1.49 euros in the Netherlands. Let’s not forget the road tax and the heinous amount you must pay for parking. Don’t be shocked when you must fork over 7 euro per hour fee in Amsterdam!
Where is the Parking?
There is simply no space whatsoever especially in major cities to park your car. The shortage of parking spaces is plenty so alas, biking it is.
Most Efficient Mode of transport
This brings me to the next point. Not only is driving expensive but so is taking public transportation. A one-way ticket from Amsterdam to Rotterdam is nearly 17 euros! To be fair transportation in the Netherlands is great with everything being so clean and maintained which explains the fairs. However, it really goes to show that biking is more friendly for your wallet and can eliminate the high cost of commuting.
The Netherlands is one of the most densely populated countries in the world! The metropolitan region of the Randstad (Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Utrecht & The Hague) contains 8.2 million people alone, which is nearly 40% percent of the entire population! Since cities are quite compact, the distances between places are short and very accessible by bike. Depending on where you are, sometimes it may be faster to take the bike than drive. For instance, by bike, I could be in and out of the local grocery store within 5 minutes and by car it would take more than a half-hour because of traffic and finding parking.
Healthy for the People and the Planet
Riding your bike promotes a much healthier and active lifestyle and reduces the rate of sedentarism and mortality. Each year 6,500 deaths are prevented. The year-long life expectancy for a Dutch person is increased by half a year due to cycling due to the high density of people there is a larger volume of people on the highways and motorways which evidently contributes to a high amount of congestion. The Netherlands Institute for Transport Policy Analysis says that riding a bike instead of a car saves 150 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometer. It’s nice to know that by biking you are directly contributing to a healthier environment and better air quality!
Dedicated Bike paths
There are about 33,000 kilometers of paths appointed just for cyclists. Take a look at the road and you’ll notice a separate lane complete with special traffic lights and crossings for cyclists. Because of this, you have the privilege to cycle pretty much anywhere you want: the beach, countryside, through the forest, by a windmill, you name it. These dedicated bike paths are located all over the place.
Government Supports Bike Infrastructure
The Dutch government invests heavily in building bike infrastructure and facilities to encourage more people to get on their bikes, improve cycle paths and provide more bike parking. The city of Utrecht is located the largest biking garage in the world. It holds over 12,500 parking spaces for bikes across 3 levels. Even now I’m still amazed by the expansiveness of it all every time I visit.
It’s a Way of Life
Lastly, cycling is a major mode of transport in the Netherlands and an integral part of the lifestyle and culture. Kids need to get to school, parents to work, seniors going about on their e-bikes; no matter the age about a quarter of the population bikes every day. There are numerous benefits that positively affect society, the environment, and the individual’s health. Frankly, it’s just more efficient and less costly to travel this way.
Lastly, as an American, I wish that the idea of cycling was promoted more heavily in the States where we are so automobile-dependent. It could benefit us in so many ways such as alleviating traffic jams, reducing congestion, and increasing public health. While there are more cities and people who are adopting and instilling a biking-friendly culture, the general standpoint is that biking is currently not perceived as the best mode of transport. I hope this changes because since living in the Netherlands I now understand why most people cycle, it’s the ideal way to get around.