Links of the same chain: how the bicycle was reinvented in the Netherlands

June 3rd is World Bicycle Day

It's clear, convenient, and accessible. It is used by children and old people, workers and monarchs in the Netherlands. For the Dutch, a bicycle is not just a mode of transport it is a symbol of freedom and pragmatism of the nation.

Links of the same chain: how the bicycle was reinvented in the Netherlands

“Out of the way!” they shout at me from behind. I dodge the cyclist, realizing that I accidentally ended up in her territory – a narrow strip separated from the road by a dotted line. Yes, a typical klutzy tourist… After all, in the Netherlands, even children know that the fitpad (fietspad) – bike path – is not a place for pedestrians.

At the main museum of the country, the Rijksmuseum, businessmen in suits and schoolchildren in jeans rush past me. Here, a girl in high-heeled shoes is pedaling, deftly circling others. A young mother is carrying two children: the youngest sits in a wicker basket in front, and the eldest sits in the back. And here is an elderly couple: they are swimming slowly, holding hands. Suddenly it starts to rain. But this doesn't bother cyclists at all.

Links of the same chain: how the bicycle was reinvented in the Netherlands

They put on raincoats and rush on. Some dive under the arch of the Rijksmuseum. A long through gallery with a high vaulted ceiling runs through the entire building, dividing it into two parts. There is a wide two-lane path for cyclists. Pedestrians are assigned zones along the walls.

At various times, horse-drawn carts, cars, mopeds and, of course, bicycles drove through the Rijksmuseum building. When restoration began in 2003, the director of the museum wanted to close the driveway by merging the two wings of the building. But the townspeople were outraged. For ten years, while the restoration lasted, Amsterdam residents were not worried about the new look of the museum, but about the fate of the bike path.

As a result, with the support of the Council of Cyclists of the Netherlands, Fietsersbond, the bike path was reclaimed in court. The reconstruction of the museum cost the authorities more than planned, but ordinary Dutch were satisfied. After all, the bicycle is no less important part of their culture than the paintings of Rembrandt and Van Gogh. Encroachment on a bicycle is the same as encroachment on the constitution.

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– Do you know who this blonde girl on a bicycle is?&nbsp ;— Tim Lunshof, 32, owner of Free Walking Tours Amsterdam, shows me a photo of a schoolgirl. She looks like a normal 12 year old girl. On an ordinary bicycle with a red basket on the frame. – This is Her Highness Katarina-Amalia, heir to the throne. She goes to a simple school where she cycles on her own, like all other children her age. We, the Dutch, do it that way. As soon as a child moves from primary to secondary school (at the age of 12), parents buy him an adult bike. Now he has to go to school himself.

Links of the same chain: how the bicycle was reinvented in the Netherlands

Members of the royal family, like all Dutch, behave modestly and ride a bicycle. By the way, he appeared in the Netherlands thanks to Queen Wilhelmina. She became acquainted with this vehicle during an Austrian holiday in 1897. Then it was used exclusively by European monarchs. But Wilhelmina's hobby did not please her mother. She considered cycling too dangerous for the heir to the throne. Wilhelmina returned to the hobby only after the death of her mother in 1934. The Queen was not shy about driving through the streets of The Hague, setting an example for ordinary Dutch people.

Her daughter Juliana continued the tradition. She often visited cities and villages, communicated with the people. Modest clothes and a bicycle – that's what people respected the queen for. Even her fiancé, Bernhard of Lippe-Bisterfeld, Juliana introduced the Dutch during a bike ride through the streets of The Hague. And their daughter Beatrix was depicted in bronze riding a bicycle – a statue for which ordinary people collected money, was installed in 2002 in the city of Rehden, next to the bike path so that people could ride side by side with the queen.

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The politics of independence

— Everyone in the Netherlands uses a bicycle: students, clerks, politicians. The mayor of our city also commutes to work by bike, says Jaap Valkema, 40, adviser on transport policy in Groningen.

Locals call Groningen the bicycle capital of the world. It is a cozy city with narrow streets and canals. Every morning, 50,000 students—a quarter of the city's population—rush to the university. Some come to work from other cities and villages. Yap Valkema lives in a village, 12 kilometers from his place of work. In good weather, he rides a bicycle to the office. In bad & nbsp; – to the nearest railway station. Many people leave their bicycles at Groningen train station.

Links of the same chain: how the bicycle was reinvented in the Netherlands

The bike can be parked anywhere, unlike the car. It is much easier to get to any point of the city on it, – continues Yap. – Now it has become even more comfortable. We installed traffic lights with rain sensors. In bad weather, a built-in sensor reduces the waiting time for cyclists from three minutes to 40 seconds. And at intersections, cyclists can cross the road diagonally instead of in two steps.

It took Groningen less than 50 years to become the cycling capital of the Netherlands. But in the 1960s, local residents began to massively change to cars, and Groningen began to choke on exhaust gases. He, like most Dutch cities, was not ready for the car boom. They wanted to reduce traffic jams here by widening roads and demolishing old quarters.

Links of the same chain: how the bicycle was reinvented in the Netherlands

“But we chose a different path,” Jap Valkema smiles. “In the 1970s, many young people worked in our city council. The 24-year-old Max van den Berg was responsible for transport and urban planning. He proposed making the historic center pedestrian. Only bicycles were allowed to ride. Many were afraid that without a car, no one would buy anything in stores. And the shops in the center will close – the city will become empty. But it turned out the other way around.

Couples with children walk leisurely in Groningen. Old people go to grocery stores on bicycles. In the evenings, students rush to the center to drink a glass of beer. Many people leave their bicycles right on the square, near the bars. Most of them accumulate at the largest drinking establishment in the country – De Drie Gezusters. Here, under one roof, there are 20 bars with different interiors and music at once. Drinking and driving is illegal in Holland, but no one checks cyclists. As the students themselves joke, what can happen to a drunk cyclist? He will fall, get up and go further.

On wheels

Links of the same chain: how the bicycle was reinvented in the Netherlands

767 km total length of cycle paths in the capital.

35,000 km total length of all cycle paths in the country.

There are 22.3 million bicycles in the Netherlands. There are 1.3 bicycles per inhabitant. In Amsterdam – 1.07 bikes each, in Groningen – 1.4 bikes each.

140 bicycle shops operate in Amsterdam.

10,000 bicycle parking spaces are located at the central station of the capital of the Netherlands.

12-15 thousand bicycles are fished out of the Amsterdam canals every year.

More than 70% of all trips around the city are made by the inhabitants of Amsterdam and The Hague.


928,000 bikes were bought in the Netherlands in 2016.

96,507bicycles were stolen in the country in 2016. This is an average of 11 bicycles per hour.

400 million euros is spent annually in the Netherlands on bicycle infrastructure.

A trip in a Dutch city with a population of more than 100 thousand people in on average, it takes a cyclist 10% less time than a motorist.

* Data as of 2017

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Healthy pragmatism

— Bicycle is a safe mode of transport. It is used by everyone from young to old,” says Johan Dipens, director of the transport consulting company Mobycon in Delft. His company has been building infrastructure for cycling in the Netherlands and around the world for 25 years. – Fifty years ago, more than three thousand Dutch people died annually in road accidents, and today -600. In 1971, more than 450 people died in car accidents children. And then the people staged protests across the country. People took to the streets, demanding to ban cars from entering residential areas. This movement is called Stop de Kindermoord (“Stop Infanticide”).

Links of the same chain: how the bicycle was reinvented in the Netherlands

And in 1973 there was a crisis in the Middle East, which led to an increase in oil prices. Driving has become expensive. Prime Minister Joop den Oyl urged the Dutch to think about saving. The state initiated a series of “Sunday without cars” campaign, during which children frolicked on empty roads. And adults, if they rode, then only on bicycles. Soon, woonerf began to appear all over the country(“residential yards”) – quarters where cars are allowed to drive at a speed of no more than 30 km/h. Today, about two million people live in such zones.

Links of the same chain: how the bicycle was reinvented in the Netherlands

– If a person is hit by a car at a speed of 30 km/h, in 90% of cases he will get up and move on. And if the car rushes at a speed of 50 km/h, the pedestrian will survive only 10% of the time. That is why every Dutch city has special zones. And in such areas it is much more pleasant to ride a bicycle than a car. You can exchange a word with others, and in the car all you hear is the radio, continues Johan Dipens. -I almost always ride a bike. By myself, I can say that such daily fitness increases efficiency. When I pedal, new ideas pop into my head.

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The path of innovators

— The Netherlands  is a small country. To have advantages over others, you need to constantly invent something new. Due to this, our economy is also growing,” says Sten de Wit, representative of Solaroad , a project to create a solar-powered bike path.

Sten de Wit and his colleagues from the Netherlands organization applied scientific research (TNO)figured out how to make the national habit even more useful. They built solar panels into bike paths that convert light into electricity. The first Solaroad appeared in 2014 in the city of Krommeni, 20 kilometers from the capital. It was a trial section 72 meters long. In the first year, he provided electricity to three houses.

Links of the same chain: how the bicycle was reinvented in the Netherlands

— In our country, it is not so easy to find a free place to install additional solar panels. The area of ​​roads in the Netherlands is twice the area of ​​the roofs of all houses. So we thought: why not use bike paths? – continues Sten de Wit. – After all, they get a lot more direct sunlight than highways loaded with cars?

The Dutch did not invent the bicycle . But they proved to the world that this type of transport is modern, useful and environmentally friendly. And while other countries are only picking up this idea, the Dutch are equipping a country in which everyone is comfortable. Where everyone works for the good of society. Where everyone pedals together.


Material published in Vokrug Sveta magazine No. 9, September 2017, partially updated in June 2023

Natalia Mayboroda

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