Anna Hughes

How they do it in the Netherlands

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How they do it in the Netherlands

On August 27, 2014, Posted by , In Cycling, With 3 Comments


I recently went to the Netherlands on holiday, and was absolutely bowled over by the culture of cycling. I knew that the Dutch are world leaders in cycling, but you have to see it to believe it.

Everyone cycles. Young, old, black, white, cool, geeky, students, office workers. Riding a bike is just, well, normal. The provision for cyclists is incredible, from the acres of bike storage at the station to the infrastructure – they have their own lanes, their own lights, and, mostly, right of way. In the Netherlands, the bike is king.

But why is cycling in the Netherlands so different to cycling over here? Is it so impossible to have what they have here in London? The style of cycling is completely different to London and the idea that adults or children can’t ride is unheard of. Cycling in the Netherlands is simply how people get around – it’s easy and safe and an attractive form of transport. Everyone does it, so there is no reason not to. The infrastructure is extensive and functional. People don’t jump red lights, because there’s no need. Traffic (of all kinds: motorised, two-wheeled, and pedestrian) flows. There was a massive investment in cycling around 30 years ago, which has created a culture of cycling which works.


Everybody rides a bike. All drivers take care of those on bikes, because they ride a bike too.

Bikes have priority at junctions, and if they don’t, there is a separate light for them.

Lights don’t stay red for long (for either bikes or motor vehicles)

All roads have infrastructure for cyclists – if it is a main road, there is a separate cycleway, either clearly marked at the side of the road or separated by a verge. Side roads or roads in town centres are often closed to motor traffic. If it is a dual carriageway, there is a parallel road for bikes.

It’s just as easy to get around by bike as it is by motor vehicle – just as direct, with signage.

No one wears a helmet

People rarely signal

Everyone rides a bike, regardless of age, creed or social position, and they all ride the same kind of bike. They are mostly sturdy upright bikes with baskets or crates or bags on the rack.

People ride in the rain. Many hold umbrellas.

You’ll often see two people on the same bike – either on the rear or on the handlebars

The cycle paths are wide and clearly marked, and they all go somewhere.

People leave bikes chained very loosely or with a wheel lock.

No one is in a hurry.


Bicycle ownership is 1.1 bike per person in the Netherlands, as opposed to 0.4 in England. There are 5 thefts per 100 bicycles.

Road transport makes up 36% of total transport emissions in the Netherlands, and 69% of those in the UK

The Netherlands has a relatively low rate of obesity levels and heart disease

As bike use goes up, accident rates go down: 1.1 fatality per 100km cycled in the Netherlands (with 26% bicycle use) and 3.6 fatalities in the UK (with 2% bicycle use)

From the Dutch website

The arguments pro-cycling are overwhelming: it is sustainable, healthy, has zero emissions of everything, is silent and clean, cheap both in purchase and in providing infrastructure, is space and traffic efficient, enhances urban traffic circulation and provides more liveability to residential areas. Despite all this evidence, none of these are the reason for the Dutch to cycle. They just enjoy it.

3 Comments so far:

  1. Dad says:

    The Dutch have an advantage over many parts of the UK – Holland is flat. I wonder what a survey would show about cycling rates in the UK where it’s flat against where it’s hilly.

  2. Rob says:

    I spent 30 years in Cambridge where like The Netherlands, it is flat and there is a lot of cycling.
    I have since moved to County Durham Where there are these evil things called hills!!
    If these hills were in Cambridge, I wonder how popular cycling would be?

  3. Anna says:

    Good question! The Netherlands and Cambridge have that distinct advantage. Bristol is another city which has lots and lots of cyclists – and is actually very hilly. So perhaps it is possible!

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