Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Netherlands Study Tour

In mid June, four of us from the West Midlands went on a David Hembro Study Tour. The most remarkable thing about cycling in the Netherlands is the sheer number of cyclists:

Only a small minority of Dutch cyclists ride mountain/road bikes or wear helmets/Lycra. Despite the proportion of such sporty cyclists among the general population being higher in the Netherlands than the UK, they are swamped by the large number of people who use a bicycle to ride a couple of miles from A to B.

It's not the flatness of the Netherlands that encourages cycling (much of eastern England is just as flat) and certainly not the weather - it's often raining and the wind can be punishing. It's the way cyclists are separated from motor traffic, often onto to routes which are shorter than those taken by motorists.

Back in the 1950's the streets of Coventry were full of cyclists. Then people bought cars in large numbers, just as they did in the Netherlands. Conditions on the roads got much worse for cycling. In the UK, and in many other countries, few good cycling facilities were built and cycle use declined dramatically. For reasons no-one seems to understand very well, the Dutch highway authorities built decent cycle facilities and so many car owners continue to use their bicycles for short journeys.

Dutch cycle path crossing a side road. Note priorities, footway and sight-lines.


  1. I sometimes wonder whether a contributory reason for the high number of cyclists might be that towns/cities are more compact and cycling distances shorter.

    1. According to wikipedia, Coventry has a population density of 8,050 people per square mile. Assen, the town we visited has a population density of only 2,100/sq mile. In Coventry about 2% of journeys are made by pedal cycle, in Assen 41% are made by pedal cycle.

      A rather low density does make distances longer, but it also makes it easier to route cycle roads though parkland or woods. Which makes for very pleasant journeys.

      David Hembrow has some photos of similar British and Dutch streets, showing how it is perfectly possible to make a far more cycle friendly urban environment within the same constraints of highway widths, car parking demand, bus stops etc:

      Some common misconceptions:

    2. George: Thanks for your review of the study tour.

      On the tour we also visited Groningen. The density of that city is very close to Coventry at 6570 per square mile.

      The issue of population density often comes up, but it's a red-herring. I once plotted a graph of population density vs. cycling modal share. There's no correlation.

  2. Couldn't agree more. Read my Coventry Telegraph cyclig blog at

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