Rural southern Alberta is far from Gouda, the Netherlands, and so is Toronto, both in physical distance and in the level of cycling adoption and infrastructure. My father's family moved from a village near Gouda to a farm in southern Alberta about 60 years ago, along with many other Dutch farmers leaving the country for wider pastures. I've done a bit of a reverse trek to Toronto, a metropolis with unrealized potential for good cycling infrastructure. (It would be much easier to put in cycling infrastructure into rural Alberta, but as far as I know few there are fighting to get it, unlike Toronto.) This post is about our recent trip to the Netherlands and about all the sensible cycling infrastructure we saw and used.
Gouda is a small city of 70,000, but it shares with big cities in the Netherlands that a large proportion of the citizens go by bike - people of all ages and skill level (see above photo). On our recent visit to my aunt, uncle and cousins in Zevenhuizen near Gouda, we took our Dutch rental bikes on a short trip to Gouda. Luckily all the bike paths have been recently upgraded to "bike highways" so cyclists don't have to face level crossings for most of their journey. The government will be implementing bike highways across the country to encourage people onto bikes and e-bikes. I ended up buying the Fietsrouteplanner book (bike route planner) though one could almost as easily follow the maps and numbered routes found on signs at knooppunten (junctions) along your journey.
Here I'm taking the new "bike highway" underpass. (Photo credit: HCM)
My cousin and I on one of these bike highways. (Photo credit: HCM)
Once we get near the center we come across a very busy intersection with lots of crossing traffic and cyclists queued up to cross or turn.
Woman on bakfiets and other cyclists in Gouda's central market.
The amount of investment in cycling in the countryside and small towns impressed me even more than that in Amsterdam, perhaps because so many people us it as an example. Cycling is really quite wide-spread throughout the entire country.
Even in Den Koog, a small town on the island of Texel, cycling is integral. You can find a gas station that also deals with bike repair. Bikes are not treated as children toys.
Across the street from the Texaco this bike shop at impressive bike repair facilities not to be found in even popular cycling centres like Toronto.
Young kids get independence early. With many paths separated on main arterials (and quieter side streets) and with early traffic education most kids start going to school on their own. The 11 year old kid of my cousin had a good understanding of the right of way and was a stickler for rules where paths crossed streets.
We eventually made it to cycling-famous Amsterdam. I took one short video of riding down a separated bike lane getting passed by impatient cyclists.
Cycling in Amsterdam is much busier and chaotic, given the limited space and the high numbers of cyclists, cars, streetcars and tourists looking around. We did, however, get the hang of it after a day or two.
©Micro-car in cycle track
Sharing the path with scooters is quite common and an issue that the Dutch are trying to deal with. The difference in speed between scooters and bikes on the path made it uncomfortable. Much rarer is the micro-car (above), which fits one person and, I assume, is allowed to share the bike paths.
One of the more inspirational images for bike tourists/nerds is just the vast number of bikes being parked (yet so much more compact than the equivalent number of cars). This is multi-level bike parking in The Hague, at the train station, includes an elevator and ramp. (Photo credit: HCM)
This is the large floating bike parking in Amsterdam, next to the train station. Even this isn't enough; there's another huge bike parking area on the other side. (Photo credit: HCM)
The new central library in Amsterdam features a large underground parking facility with a moving ramp. (Photo credit: HCM)
Underground bike parking at main Amsterdam library. Note the double-decker racks in the back, which are similar to the ones at the Bike Station at Union Station here in Toronto.
Has our safety obsession put all responsibility on the most vulnerable?
Cops don't wear helmets in Amsterdam (at least most of them don't).
This girl hitched a ride on the rack of her mother's bike, jumping off as they came to a stop. This would definitely be considered safe by the North American "society of fear". Meanwhile this girl lives in a quite safe environment with large public squares, slow roads and a plethora of bike paths.
Bikes on Trains
These were our rental bikes - the sit up and beg variety with 3 speeds. Most national trains had two cars where bikes could be taken and space to put them by the fold-up seats. Since many trains would arrive every 10 to 30 minutes we took advantage of seeing the country by bike and train. Many locals lock up their bike at the train station or use one of the cheap OV-Fiets fietsen (rental bikes) to use for the day.
It was just by chance that I happened to finally see someone in traditional dress on a bike. This woman was in a traditional Zeeuwse-Flanderen dress (in Middleburg, Zealand) possibly going to the market. The perfect, romantic image of the Netherlands.
- Interface for Cycling Expertise (leveraging Dutch cycling expertise). Director Roelof Wittink spoke at TCAT's Complete Streets Forum.
- the Fietserbond (cyclists union) of the Netherlands with 35,000 members for a country of 13.5 million cyclists.
- Fietsrouteplanner (bike route planner) for the entire country, also available on DVD and guide book.
- blog by Brit David Hembrow, living in the Netherlands.