A cycling nation: how the bike impacts on Dutch society

A cycling nation: how the bike impacts on Dutch society

We all know that the Netherlands’ has world-leading bicycle infrastructure. But how does this affect us, the society that uses it? Joshua Parfitt delves into the benefits of being bike-friendly. Two mamils (middle aged man in lycra) arrive at a cafe in The Hague. The weather’s great and they proudly show off a digital map displaying bicycle routes, which when zoomed out makes the Netherlands look like a network of varicose veins. 'Ah it’s really nice here,' says Ivor, sipping his lungo. 'You’re separated from the cars, and it’s so flat. It’s impossible to drive on a country lane in England.' We’ve all heard the statistics about the Netherlands. Utrecht is building the world’s largest bike park, with 12,500 places. There are an estimated 1.3 bikes per person here, the most per capita in the world, and about 27% of all trips made are by bicycle — compared with 2% in Britain. Cycling can do wonders for the body. With 14.2% of the population classed as obese, the Netherlands has one of the lowest rates of obesity in Europe, only marginally up on Italy and Romania. In 2018 the Netherlands Institute for Transport Policy Analysis published a report which concluded 'cycling is an efficient way to prevent obesity', and can even prevent emotional conditions such as depression. Air quality But is it on the whole better for us? What use is it if we boost our cardiovascular health only to inhale poor quality air? Other research shows that replacing just 12% of short car trips with bicycle trips would add three to 14 months to one’s life. The effect of increased inhaled air pollution, however, would knock just 0.8 to 40 days off. And traffic accidents would claim just five to nine days. 'Societal benefits are even larger because of a modest reduction in air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions and traffic accidents,' the report said, referring to the subsequent reduction in cars on the road by drivers choosing the saddle. Connectedness Cyclists are self-made adverts. You are tall, in full-view, and it doesn’t cost much energy to stop and have a natter. At least this is what the academic director of the Urban Cycling Institute (UCI) thinks — the UCI is a research platform within the Centre for Urban Studies at the University of Amsterdam. In a 2017 paper titled Travelling together alone and alone together, Marco te Brömmelstroet and co-authors investigate how one’s mobile experiences influence the ability to 'develop a sense of connectedness' to society. He examines four modes of transport — driving a car, riding transit, cycling and walking — to see how they foster or curtail interaction with people and places. Compromises 'A car limits opportunities for interaction with the social and spatial environment for those inside,' Te Brömmelstroet told DutchNews.nl. Bikes, however, create far more  potential for interaction and connectedness, he says. 'This is because two-wheelers must constantly make compromises with other road users, which include pedestrians, unwitting tourists, taxi drivers, elderly cyclists, children on tricycles, lovers on mopeds and sometimes even ducks. We must engage with them all.' A Dutch cyclist has no hesitation to swear at a tram driver for getting in the way, which reflects something about social interaction and perhaps even democratic values: on a bicycle, everyone is visible and everyone is answerable or within earshot, no matter who they are. Democracy 'Cycling is part of the Dutch DNA,' says Shirley Agudo, photographer and author of Bicycle Mania Holland and The Dutch & Their Bikes. 'It's ingrained in the culture. The Dutch live and breathe cycling, from the time they are able to walk — starting with the 'loopfiets' — until very old age.' The Dutch, she says, literally grow up on bikes. They go out to dates on bikes. They go shopping, to school and to work on bikes. They go on holiday on bikes. They put their kids, dogs and groceries in baskets or into cargo bikes. Police even patrol the streets on bikes. And the Dutch enjoy their cycling long into retirement. 'Anybody can afford a bike [...] And as the Dutch are not ‘into’ status games, cycling becomes a very egalitarian means of transport,' argues Jacob Vossestein in his book Dealing with the Dutch. 'Exposed to wind and rain on a regular basis — drudging against gale force eight on unsheltered dyke roads [...] any difference in status or social stature between cyclists is soon eradicated... Whether an office clerk, bricklayer, captain of industry, prime minister or royalty — all cyclists have to bow to the elements.' King Perhaps this is why Mark Rutte caused an online sensation earlier this year when he arrived by bicycle at a meeting with king Willem-Alexander at his offices in The Hague. Does it have something to do with cycling, with it being visible, down-to-earth and among the people? Is it a conscious PR stunt, or intrinsic values finding two-wheeled expression? Either way, the bicycle stands proud as a symbol of health, connection and democracy. And with recent government plans to cut air pollution and traffic jams in the Netherlands, such as urging companies to pay employees 19 cents a kilometre if they travel to work by bike, this bike-mad country is likely to add environmental responsibility to the benefits of the bicycle.  More >



Get a taste of the south in Venlo

DutchNews.nl destinations: get a taste of the south in Venlo Venlo's strategic position on the river Maas, right on the border of Germany and the Netherlands, has made it a travellers' and merchants' crossroads since Roman times, and a central point in the final battles of WW2. Esther O'Toole has been checking out this very southern Dutch town. The urban regeneration after the war has allowed Venlo to grow into a bustling city today with a strong local culture and sense of place. And despite the wartime damage, it managed to preserve many historical buildings, like the imposing 'stadshuis' on the main square that dates from the end of the 1500s, and overlooks many welcoming cafe terraces in the summer. The city itself now has nearly 40,000 residents, with a similar number in the greater Venlo area since neighbouring Blerick and Tegelen were incorporated into the council region after the war. Currently, the city's most famous son is notorious Dutch politician Geert Wilders and the town has brought forth many a politician over the years,...  More >


It is time for politicians to take action

The social partners have done talking, time for politicians to take action The social partners have mulled over all the main issues in the government accord. So now it’s time for the government to take decisive action, says economist Mathijs Boumans. In March 2017 we went to the polls. In October, following the longest formation period in history, we had a cabinet. We are now a year into a new government but we are still not really being governed. Voters have no idea where the country is headed. Of course there is the government accord, boldly ambitious about a climate friendly economy, a dynamic and fair labour market and the introduction of a shiny new pension system. But no sooner had these plans been put to paper than the government decided to let them be mulled over by civil society. Unions and employers’ organisations were asked to chew on pension reform and the cautiously worded labour market plans. A motley crew of representatives of the business world, local authorities, environmental organisations, knowledge institutes and – here they...  More >


The Word is out: spoken word poetry in NL

The word is out: Spoken word poetry in English comes to the Netherlands Spoken Word – a performance art where words are conveyed to an audience in poetry, rap or music – is powerful, accessible and diverse. Deborah Nicholls-Lee shines a spotlight on the emerging English-language scene in the Netherlands. In a curtained-off room lined with books and posters, in the back of a west Amsterdam bar, a blond woman in a floral dress bobs around the microphone nervously. She ties herself up in knots with disclaimers about the spoken word poetry she is about to perform. ‘It’s super short – no worries – and it doesn’t have a title. I don’t know, I’m not good with titles...’ ‘Do it!’, ‘Just do it!’ holler two voices from the audience – more supportive than impatient. The piece is heard, and there’s a cooing ‘aaaah!’, a cheer, and a warm, enthusiastic round of applause. Community This event, organised by Word Up, is one of a clutch of English-language spoken word events which have popped up in Amsterdam over the last...  More >


Podcast: Pitchforks and Pindakaas Edition

DutchNews podcast – The Pitchforks and Pindakaas Edition – Week 41 It's been a week of departures as D66 leader Alexander Pechtold handed over the reins to Rob Jetten, Mark Rutte pulled the plug on his dividend tax plan, Unilever rowed back from Rotterdam and the Zwarte Piet motorway blockers had to leave their clogs at the door. Plus Bibian Mentel hangs up her snowboard as she reveals she's been diagnosed with cancer for the 10th time. In our discussion we take a look at the ongoing efforts to reunite artworks stolen by the Nazis during World War II with their rightful owners. SOUNDCLOUD TOP STORY Alexander Pechtold quits as D66 leader, Rob Jetten becomes youngest party leader NEWS Cabinet puts dividend tax plan on hold after Unilever turns back on Rotterdam Trial begins of motorway blockaders who stopped Zwarte Piet protest King regrets Brexit as Rutte holds talks with Merkel in The Hague Animal shelter seeks new home for lion cub abandoned in field SPORT Dutch women one step away from World Cup qualification after beating...  More >


Rotterdam awakes as Amsterdam overheats

Rotterdam awakes as Amsterdam’s property market overheats Expats are shunning the crowded, overpriced capital and heading south to buy property in Rotterdam. We find out why house buyers cannot afford to overlook Rotterdam.    Richardo Cruz Fortes, mortgage advisor at Expat Mortgages, foresaw, like many others, what is happening in the Rotterdam property market today. ‘What I’ve been calling Rotterdam for years now is “the sleeping giant”,’ he tells me. Rotterdam has everything you’d expect a large city to offer, Richardo explains, but has long played second fiddle to Amsterdam. As the capital’s property market overheats and public and private investment pours into our second city, all eyes are on Rotterdam as the giant now awakes. Founded in 2007 in Amsterdam, Expat Mortgages has been expanding its offices across the Netherlands as demand for housing outside the capital has risen. The opening of a Rotterdam branch in 2018 is a sign that expat investors and home-seekers are becoming more aware of the huge amount the...  More >


'I was told that "no means no"'

‘I was told “even if you’re the queen of the Netherlands, no means no”‘ Seven years ago, Beena Arunraj said goodbye to her dental practice and, with her husband Eddie, who works for Philips, upped sticks and moved from India to Eindhoven. Beena has been shocked by home births and sales staff in Ikea, but says she would like to meet Menno Snel and talk to him about the 30% ruling. How did you end up in the Netherlands? It was by a very normal route: my husband was with Philips, so he moved here for work eight years ago. I had never moved to another country before, but when you’re living in India a different state is almost a foreign country. We have a different language for every state, so it teaches you what it means to move to a new culture. How do you describe yourself - an expat, lovepat, immigrant, international etc ? I wouldn’t call myself an expat, because technically my husband is the expat; I would call myself an international. And I would call myself an international even if I was in India, because when you read a lot, and when you...  More >


Universities partly blamed for downturn in Dutch as a language degree

Universities partly blamed for downturn in Dutch as a language degree Dutch is no longer a popular choice for prospective students but universities are partly to blame, says Lotte Jensen, professor of Dutch cultural and literary history at Radboud University in Nijmegen. In recent weeks newspapers have been reporting on the alarming decline in the number of young people opting to study Dutch at university level. It is a worrying development which, if the trend continues, could land Dutch in the department of minority foreign languages. There are several reasons why this should not be allowed this to happen. Not only do we need academically trained Dutch language and culture graduates to teach at secondary schools, we also need specialists to conduct research into the Dutch cultural heritage. Johan Koppenol, professor of Dutch literature (1100 to 1800) at the VU University in Amsterdam, rightly said that a profound knowledge of the Dutch language, culture and history has never been more relevant: all current public debates are about language and culture...  More >


ING takes the money and the biscuit

ING takes the money and the biscuit, says VVD MP Society has nothing to apologise for but ING does, says VVD MP Roald van der Linde, who is the party's financial markets spokesman in parliament. ‘It’s MPs who are fuelling public mistrust,’ said Henk Breukink, a member of the supervisory board at ING, in a recent opinion piece in the Financieele Dagblad. When I read this I nearly fell off my chair and I don’t think I can have been the only one. For years ING has looked the other way as criminals laundered the proceeds of their criminal activities. Far from incidental, this was part of a structural policy which criminals were quick to turn to their advantage while the chic bankers of the ING pretended not to notice. The end result was an out-of-court settlement of €775m, the biggest settlement the Netherlands has ever seen. As MPs, we represent the people and it is our job to call out these bankers. We are not alone. The finance minister said the practices at ING were ‘extremely serious’. Ordinary citizens are...  More >


Podcast: The Barbies and Bonnetjes Edition

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For sale in Amsterdam, very green homes

For sale in Amsterdam, family homes in a very green building A family home in one of the greenest buildings in Amsterdam and which won't set you back more in mortgage payments than you would pay in rent? A home with its own garden and great views, which is just a few minutes from Schiphol airport and the city centre? Too good to be true? Next year, developer Heijmans will start work on Vertical, a new residential project in Amsterdam west, which, the company says, is the place for modern families who want the convenience of city living but are interested reducing their environmental footprint as much as possible. The first tranche of homes has already been sold but the second batch is now up for grabs. You can sign up via the Amsterdam Vertical website. Bike-friendly A short bike ride from Amsterdam's Westerpark and the 'real' countryside, Vertical will have 144 homes ranging from compact garden lofts to family homes with three bedrooms and two bathrooms. So far, so good. But the Vertical project is special for a number of reasons. Firstly...  More >