Cycling in European countries – upgrade to the cultural floor

One day at the end of July 2016, I rode my bike to Delft city center station, took a train to Den Haag city center station to book my upcoming 20-day Interrail journey. Unfortunately, when I came back, my bicycle was disappeared without any track. I remember making sure I had parked my bicycle at the foot of the stairs, and then walked to the train tracks for less than half a minute and it was very convenient. The key is still in my arm, there no way I forgot locking my bicycle. Stealing bicycles is a popular situation in the Netherlands. Maybe a bad thing has just happened? Oh, my goodness, I’m going to leave the Netherlands and just agreed with a friend who will buy my bicycle with € 120.

Walking around searching helplessly among the thousands of bicycles around the station, I stumbled across two employees of the public transport department who were checking their bicycles. In the Netherlands, bicycles that are too long in the yard (usually several months) will be hoisted to the assembly site, unlocked and resold or burned. Having finished the situation, one said that either the bicycle had been stolen, or if it had been parked in the wrong order, it was lying in a gathering yard a few hundred meters away. A ray of hope flashed, and ten minutes later it burned into a brilliant, dazzling light. I have another lesson to remember for the whole life: parking the bicycle carefully, located in the designated line.

The Netherlands is considered a paradise for cyclists. So how the bicycling culture here is formed and developed?

After the Second World War, Dutch people began the process of rebuilding the country. Capitalized by the Allies, in the position of the victor, the Netherlands benefited greatly from the war, making an important leverage for economic growth. In the period of 20 years after the war, the country changed its flesh, per capita income increased by 44% between 1948 and 60, until 1970 reached a record of 222%. Material life has improved markedly, the need to buy expensive goods, especially cars, has increased dramatically since the mid-1950s. People have gradually abandoned the habit of cycling to “build up” cars. In just a short time, the number of cars increased galloping, making the inner-city roads quickly become narrow, leading to the whole country breaking the house to open more roads, turning small roads into big ones, turning roads bicycles into motorways, utilizing parks and squares for parking lots.

Accompanied by the flashy development is a series of extremely serious traffic problems such as traffic jams, air pollution, noise pollution, deterioration of quality of life, and even more fame than the death toll because traffic accidents skyrocketed. In 1971 in the Netherlands over 3300 people died, about 15% of them were children under 14 years old. Protests against cars, encouraging bicycles to start spreading on a national scale. One of them was the campaign that received a lot of support for “Stop de Kindermoord” (stopping the killing of children), which was initiated by the journalist Vic Langenhoff of the same name. People carry banners and banners to march across the streets, bringing bicycles to the front of the town building squares. The pressure from public opinion is increasing and the authorities are forced to think about applying sustainable urban planning and development solutions such as reducing the number of cars in the city and limiting maximum speed, increasing parking fees, narrowing car lanes to reserve space for bicycles, etc.

A major event also occurred during this period was the global oil crisis in 1973. The supply of oil from the Middle East to the United States and European countries fell sharply. Faced with this situation, the Dutch prime minister gave a televised speech that clearly expressed the position that the Netherlands could not depend on foreign oil. This is a great challenge, but it is also a great opportunity for Dutch people to change their minds, to go back to the habit of cycling before. Immediately many small and big cities responded to this call, encouraging people to re-use bicycles, enacting laws on Sunday without cars to raise public awareness about urban superiority. Smoke-free, began to focus on budget development of facilities to serve cyclists such as opening private lanes, designing priority signal lights, increasing more car parks. It can be said from here on, that after about 20 years of “automotive”, the Netherlands has actually returned to the image of people riding bicycles, houses cycling, maintaining and bike culture development is very civilized and different until today.

Today, cyclists have their own lanes

At many intersections there are separate signal lights for bicycles. Thanks to the very good auxiliary works, the rate of cyclists dying from traffic accidents in the Netherlands is the lowest in the world (1.1 people / 100 million km of cycling)

Bicycles today in the Netherlands

According to, the Netherlands has 16 million people and 18 million bicycles, meaning that each person has an average of more than one bicycle. This rate is even higher in the model city of Groningen bicycle planning and development because the average person has 1.4 and a household has 3.1 bicycles. So why does an average person have more than one car? Simply because many people buy bicycles for each purpose: go to work / go to school, practice sports, go out (as I previously combined all to one). Or as my friend now lives in Utrecht but works in Amsterdam, in the morning ride to Utrecht central station, send in the train station, catch the train to Amsterdam, then take another bike to the office, In the afternoon, going back, do the opposite. So instead of buying a car, my friend bought two bicycles and a train card, which was fast (traveling by car and could be congested), both economical and healthy and environmentally friendly.

This is the “omafiets” model with front frames and bins for storage (this car has been unloaded to make a tune). Because bicycles are the most stolen thing, so the lock is usually very big, sturdy and expensive. A good key can count in millions of Vietnamese dollars

In the Netherlands, from the elderly to the young, from the workers to the director of the enterprise, they ride bicycles, regardless of age and social status. The average Dutch person rides 2.3km / day. The father and mother of the young children go to school, hang out on the “bakfiets” (a bicycle with front crates) that make the “bicycle blood” permeate into the thoughts of young children, the culture of bicycles so on from the previous life passed on to the next life very naturally. When children are 4 and 5 years old, they will learn to walk with the first bicycle with side wheels, when they will be 10 years old, they will have to study law at school, pass theoretical and practical tests to ride on their own. Because of such a very trained training, the rate of children under 14 deaths due to traffic accidents is very low (14 children in 2010).

A young father and the “bakfiets”

The glowing path for cyclists to be tested in Eindhoven, southern Netherlands

It can be said that nowhere the biking is interesting and safe as in the bicycling paradise of Netherlands. If you’ve ever visited or lived in the Netherlands, you might not be surprised at what I just said. If not, one time to set foot here, apart from the tulips, windmills or red light streets, take some time to see the bikes. The opportunity to see 10,000, 20,000 bicycles at the same time as Amsterdam’s central station is not an easy image anywhere outside the Dutch border.

Edinburgh, August 2015.

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