Bike-Friendly Cities: It Can Happen Here


Written by Jay Walljasper

Back in 2010, former Utne Reader editor Jay Walljasper traveled to Europe to discover the secret behind Holland’s famously bike-friendly cities. The reputation is well earned: when commuting or running errands, Dutch residents use their bicycles more than a quarter of the time, and in cities like Groningen, the share is more than half. Writing for Solutions (April 2012), Walljasper outlined the Netherlands’ recipe for success:

First, start young. In Dutch schools, students are instructed on bicycle and auto safety from a very young age. In Utrecht, kids earn a certificate from the city for passing a bicycle safety test at age 11. Programs like this ensure that most students are comfortable on a bike and well-versed on safety. And results are immediate: fully 95 percent of Dutch students age 10-12 regularly bike to school.

Safe options are big. It’s not just safe skills that are important. Most people in the U.S. say they’d bike more if roads and bike lanes were safer. In the Netherlands, they’ve got this down to an art. The key is to separate bikes and cars as much as possible, and clearly mark which is which. Off-road pathways and two-wheels-only “bicycle boulevards” may be nifty novelties in Portland and Berkeley, but in Holland they’re the rule, not the exception.

Biking is about convenient alternatives. In Holland, this often boils down to parking. Not content with traditional bike racks, many cities have indoor bike parking below-ground, complete with parking attendants. Secure bike parking makes biking more accessible for professionals and even people over 30. In places like The Hague, officials are retrofitting older parking garages to meet demand—one car space can fit up 10 bicycles.

It’s planning, not DNA. Holland may seem unique, but there’s nothing all that special about Dutch bikers. Rather, almost all of the bike-friendly innovations Holland now boasts stem from careful government planning. The spark was the 1970s oil crisis. Desperate to find alternatives to a car-dependent culture, Holland embarked on a generation-long experiment that’s now bearing fruit. The takeaway, says Walljasper, is that this success can be repeated anywhere—even here.

This post was originally published by the Utne Reader.


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Photo from gwhalin via flickr

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irene fernandez
irene Fernandez3 years ago

Great article, here in Mexico City using bikes for transportation is becoming more and more common, when the whole project started as a "ride your bike on sunday" most people thought it wouldn´t last but now there are bikes that you rent with a card and many take advantage of it and I hope it doesn´t stop, but we do need more bike safety instruction to be common place.

Lydia Stone
Lydia Stone3 years ago

As a woman who rides her bike everyday to work and for errands I don't feel any less safe than a man. Safety comes from following the laws and riding with confidence. I would like separate bike lanes and they are coming to my city but in the meantime I'd rather ride in traffic than on multi-use paths having to deal with pedestrians and joggers who are plugged in to headphones and oblivious to everything around them. It will take more people getting on bikes and riding to prove to the powers that be that cycling is here to stay and safe cycling infrastructure is necessary.

Kevin L.
Kevin Lewis3 years ago

Thank you

Carole R.
Carole R.3 years ago

Holland has always been bike friendly. A great example to the world.

James Campbell
James Campbell3 years ago

I hate traffic congestion, fumes and noise as much as anyone else. I have just returned from London and the place is a madhouse of traffic (including bikes). I hate to think what it will be like when the London Olympics start. I attended university where the city was full of students on bikes (one of whom was me). This was an excellent way to get to lectures, but the selfish minority made life very difficult for pedestrians. Part of any scheme to encourage the use of bicycles MUST include cyclists bearing their share of the cost by paying a licence fee and carrying an ID number (which in the UK they don’t). They should also be required to use the cycle lanes where they exist, not the pavement and not inside shopping centres when it suits them. The problem with this scheme “Biking is about convenient alternatives” is that biking is not an alternative for everyone. For instance, I cannot use a bike now due to the fact that I am a wheelchair user and have to rely on a car, as do thousands of others, including those who, whilst they do not have my degree of disability are still unable to manage a bike. Cycling is only an ‘alternative’ if there are other means of getting around. The answer cannot simply be opening more cycle lanes. Research has shown that without good planning, cycle lanes can actually be more dangerous for cyclists. The UK desperately needs fully accessible public transport and this is where the money should be spent first.

Duane B.
.3 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Berny P.
Berny p.3 years ago


Ela V.
Ela V.3 years ago

Congrats to Holland for becoming an example for Europe and beyond

John chapman
John chapman3 years ago

Too bad that cyclists have almost no clout. We're never going to get Big Oil behind this.

Grace Adams 406 Valley St
Grace Adams3 years ago

I would like to see American cities safe for both pedestrians and bicycle riders. Separate lanes for bikes, pedestrians, and cars, with curbs separating bikes from cars from pedestrians would help.