Dutch Culture: Where Cars are the Guests
Updated: Jan 29, 2021
Last summer's lockdown saw cycling being taken up in a new and extreme way, if you wanted to pick up a new bicycle it seemed like every shop was sold out, permanently, and even trying to find inner tubes, spare parts, or in my case a new saddle bag seemed a mammoth task in itself. Whilst the world was battling coronavirus it seems there was also a new developing fever, that being the fever of cycling culture. However cycling culture on the mainland is nothing new; having the opportunity to visit the Netherlands twice last year before the March lockdown, it became apparent that over there it is not just a hobby but a grounded and embodied part of Dutch culture. With 36% of Dutch people listing cycling as their most frequent use of transport, with the Roadster and Omafiets being the bicycles of choice, they offer a low-maintenance and practical way of commuting to and from work, having a leisurely cycle or even to run everyday errands. It is no surprise that cycling has been considered a national symbol of Dutch culture since the 1920s, seen as a sign of independence, self-control, and I guess in both a physical and non-physical way, stability.
However this wasn’t always the case, from the 1950s onward car ownership proliferated massively over the continent of Europe, conversely leading to a sharp increase in car related deaths, in 1971 totalling 3,000, 450 of which were children. In turn the Stop de Kindermoord (Stop the Child Murder) social movement was set up, that through lobbying and campaigning forced the Dutch Government and urban planners to rethink the designs of their cities and towns and incorporate much more cycle-centric infrastructure. Through this, since the 1970s the Dutch have worked tirelessly to incorporate cycling into transportation, in which many roads now have cyclists as the priority. In some cases, cyclists are separated completely, or even dedicating whole roads to them that read 'fietsstraat auto te gast' (Bike street: Cars are guests).
However, it is not just policy planning in the 1970s that has led The Netherlands to becoming a hub cornucopia of cycling, I am wholly under the impression that if Amsterdam had the same terrain as many towns in Switzerland and around the Alps, there would not exist this profound popularity of cycling. Through a 300 year process of land reclamation and low flat lands, much of Holland is completely flat, journeys for the Dutch are appealing by bike because they are short, fast and don’t require you to give it your all trying to keep up with fast paced traffic. Cycling in The Netherlands is not just a hobby, it does seem a very imbedded way of life and whilst this has been the case for several decades it seems that policies in the UK are only slowly catching up. Boris Johnson only last year putting into action a plan to invest £2 billion into cycling and schemes that were seen being rolled out in the late summer of 2020. However, whilst such schemes have been greatly welcomed, it does seem that they are still a long way off the types of programmes run by the Dutch in the 70s; for now a new lick of pain on pavements will be the closest thing we get to new cycle lanes.