I grew up in a country where having a 4 WD car like Land Cruiser gave you ‘road respect’. But then I moved to the Netherlands, where my world turned upside down. Little did I know, owning massive motor vehicles was less respectful than owning a simple cycle. In just a matter of few weeks, my outlook on day-to-day transport changed and I found myself buried deep in the new Dutch lifestyle. The more I rode cycles the more I researched about the cycle culture here.
Hands down, The Netherlands is the most cycle friendly, clean and less polluted country in the world. As if the statement was not enough to state things right, I have got a bunch of statistical numbers and lifestyle facts to back up my argument.
The fact that 70% of the population in The Hague uses cycle as their daily mode of transportation, says something about the pollution level.
Almost everyone in Holland is known to cycle or at least knows someone who does. As a cyclist, one is treated with respect and kindness. When you are on the roundabouts, cars and pedestrians are expected to wait patiently for the cyclists to pass by. Of course the cyclists have to respect and obey the set rules for the road. Cyclists could get fined for riding recklessly or for jumping red lights. The police, who are also often found on cycles, issue a 60-euro ticket if you get caught without lights on your cycle at nighttime.
The CEO’s, directors, senior executives of big companies prefer using cycles over motor vehicles. Even the Prime Minister of the country travels to his office using a cycle, along with his two bodyguards who follow him on their own cycles.
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I was surprised to see small kids following their mother on tiny cycles on a Monday morning to their school. Dutch people teach their kids to ride cycles at a very young age, thus implementing the culture of cycling in their lifestyle.
Let us have a look at the brilliant infrastructure of the cycle paths in the Netherlands and how it works:
Holland has more cycles than people and the country’s infrastructure is specially geared to cyclists. Roads have separate, dedicated cycle lanes for the cyclists. Certainly if the cyclists have their own special road for transportation, they are bound to have their own crossings as well as their own traffic lights.
Parallel and Separate Cycle Paths
In a common wide Dutch road, there are separate cycle paths made just parallel to the main road. The whole area is divided into three parts- main road for motor vehicles, a separate cycle path and a footpath for the pedestrians. The cycle paths are often colored in red, which is known to be the standard color for identifying cycle paths and on-cycle lanes in the Netherlands. Standard black asphalt or grey bricks were commonly used in order to represent the older cycle paths. Pedestrians are strictly prohibited to walk on the cycle paths.
The separate cycle paths are a must for the cyclists yet sometimes Mopeds are allowed to use them as well. The fact that Mopeds are allowed onto the cycle path has been controversial but one thing is clear, motorists are not allowed on the cycle paths. In order to enforce this rule, entry of any motor vehicle onto the cycle path has been made physically impossible by using obstacles.
Bi-Directional Cycle Paths
Similar to the concept of the bi-directional roads for motor vehicles, the use of bi-directional cycle paths on one side of the road is common in mostly towns and the countryside. Such paths are divided into two lanes by a dashed line. Seldom, bi-directional cycle ways are found to exist on both sides of the road, which helps reduce the amount of times cyclists have to cross the road.
On-road Cycle Paths
As mentioned before, the cycle paths are usually coloured red or with black asphalt in order to make them more visible and stand out. The additional feature to an on-road cycle lane is that it is outlined by a solid or a dashed line, which helps separate it from the normal roadway. The solid lines on a cycle path are only interrupted on crossings to allow motorists to enter or leave the road. The minimum width of a cycle lane, advised by the National guidelines is 1.25m, thus making it impossible for a motor vehicle to use the lanes. The most prominent thing to notice and keep in mind is that, car parking is not allowed in either type of lane.
Cycle Street a.k.a Fietsstraat
A Dutch cycle street is unique and impressive. It is a simple street where cycles are considered to be the queen and the king of transportation. Motor vehicles are allowed but treated as guests, thus making the cycle street predominantly friendly towards cycles. Such streets mostly exist in residential areas where there is less traffic. The speed limit on the cycle street is 30 km/h or less and are, like most other cycle roads in the Netherlands, coloured in red or black asphalt. This type of infrastructure makes Dutch towns and cities safer for all the cyclists, as they can avoid the busy roads and get access to direct routes into and through towns.
Cycling is no doubt a healthy lifestyle that keeps you fit and well for a long period of time. Some people take cycling up for sports apart from exercising. People love to travel long distance using a cycle-only route, which is similar to the concept of the cycle only street. A fast cycling route called Snelfietsroute and a cycle high way called Fietssnelweg are few in numbers at present yet growing steadily all over the Netherlands. Cycling interest groups and the national government encourage such routes by making it a solution to heavy traffic congestion on roads.
Cycle Traffic Signals
After owning a special cycle path, it is fair and obvious for the cyclists to have their own set of traffic lights. The traffic lights come in two sizes – one big size which is used for motor vehicles and one small miniature one which gives the cyclists an unique identity. As mentioned before if one skips the red light, there is a heavy fine. One must follow each rule as a cyclist and consider each other’s safety along with yours and your family’s.
Parking For Cycles
Parking for cycles is everywhere and easily available. There are no parking charges for cycles in The Netherlands and you can easily find cycle parking slots or garages. Rental cycles are also easily available at a very low rate (usually 3-euros) for a whole day, which in comparison to the car parking charges is quite cheap (varies from 3 to 6 euros per hour – depending on place and season.) Tourists or people, who work in other small towns, simply rent a cycle from the train station for the day and commute accordingly. It is a safe, reliable and cheap way to explore a city for the day. The way the use of motor vehicles is discouraged is impressive and smart. Few streets are designed in a way that a car is not able to fit through them, thus forcing you cycle your way to your preferred destination.
As a person who has lived her whole life in developing countries, seeing the amount of respect towards the environment and the maintenance of human health, I am both honoured and overwhelmed to have gotten a chance to be a part of the Dutch Cycle Culture. In my opinion, other countries should take inspiration from such governance and help reduce the use of motor vehicles. This beautiful change from 4 WD car to a cycle reminds me of a saying by Osho – ‘Poverty is the ultimate luxury’.