Cyclists rule in the Netherlands. And bicycle business is big business in the Netherlands. A visit to any Dutch city, I mean any city, will show you who are the kings and queens of the urban jungle. Cyclists. This is the conclusion I came to from my recent trip to the European country. I was there to attend the 2018 International Federation of Agricultural Journalists conference which was hosted by the Dutch Roots Foundation under the theme: Small Country Big Solutions. It was an eye opening trip that I came away from with #BucketsFullOfStories.
In my home country, Botswana, it is said that there are more cattle than people. Well, in the Netherlands, there are more bicycles than people. You see, Netherlands accommodates over 17 million inhabitants, and over 23 million bicycles. You got that right. 23 million bikes.
Unlike in my country, and probably most African countries, Dutch cities are equipped with intricate road networks for cyclists. Some call them bicycle lanes. But I beg to differ. Those are not mere lanes built as an afterthought. Nope, they are part and parcel of any Dutch city planning. I’m telling you, those are proper roads, with proper road signs, proper road markings and traffic lights. Yes, proper working traffic lights.
Not only that, they even have traffic circles. I was surprised to see motorists waiting for cyclists to pass on one of the roundabouts on my recent trip to Netherlands. I couldn’t help but think about how difficult it is to cycle in my home country. Even pedestrians fight for space with cars in some instances in my country. Just recently a cyclist lost his life due to reckless driving and the case is still before the courts of law.
Not in Netherlands. Dutch roads are so safe and comfortable that grown folks and tots alike use bikes as the easiest form of transport. They even have bicycle seats to carry the young ones around. How cool is that.
Where I come from only fitness fanatics and the disadvantaged members of the community use bikes whereas more than a quarter of all trips made by Dutch residents are travelled by bicycle as per the Statistics Netherlands’ 2016 Travel Survey. Compare that to 2% in the UK. In Botswana I will hazard a guess and say less than 1% of all trips are made by bicycle.
There are many reasons why the Dutch love their bikes. The same survey states that two-thirds of Dutch residents aged 18 and over associate cycling with joy. The report also states that people who walk or cycle to work tend to be more satisfied, less stressed, more relaxed, and experience greater freedom compared to people who drive their car to work.
Cycling improves accessibility and, compared to cars, involves lower greenhouse gas emissions and less air pollution. And the Dutch are big when it comes to the environment and sustainability. Bicycle use not only improves physical health, but also has a positive impact on mental health and subjective well-being.
Maybe it’s time Batswana start looking to cycling to improve their well-being. Especially after a recent international report ranked Botswana as one of the unhappiest nations in the world.
I believe it can be done. To one day be a leading African bicycle nation. It is possible because, believe you me, The Netherlands too wasn’t always a cycling paradise. It took child traffic deaths and some fierce activism back in the 60s and 70s to turn it into what it is today. Nowadays the Netherlands boasts over 35 000km of cycle paths.
I believe all we need is local politicians who will realise and appreciate the many advantages of cycling, then start designing and implementing transport policies that will put bicycles at the forefront and construct roads as well as streets that are more bicycle friendly.
Just like the Dutch, we will also need to have special bicycle civil servants, tasked with maintaining and improving the elaborate bicycle road network.
Photo: Statistics Netherlands