Rotterdam remedies a lower cycling rate

Rotterdam in the province of South-Holland, is the second largest city in the Netherlands. It is best known for its important port, the busiest in Europe. The cycling rate, although very high compared to any other country, is low for the Netherlands. About 25% of all trips in Rotterdam is by bicycle. This is much lower than Amsterdam, where that figure hovers around 40% or Groningen where it is almost 60%. This may have to do with the fact that Rotterdam is very different from most other cities in the Netherlands.
Rotterdam sky line
Rotterdam sky line
Rotterdam is younger than most larger Dutch cities. It started off as a fishing village when around 1270 a dam was built in the river Rotte. Only after the railways and a waterway to the North sea were finished in 1872 the port could really develop. It soon made Rotterdam a proud and important city. A city that was able to build Europe’s first skyscraper and tallest office building in 1898. But Rotterdam lost its historic heart in World War II, when in May 1940 the Nazis bombed away the entire city center to make the Dutch surrender.
The Centre of Rotterdam in 1940
The Center of Rotterdam in 1940
When the city was rebuilt from the late 1940s the city planned to do that ‘according to the demands of modern fast traffic’ and after the example of US cities. This resulted in wide multi-lane city boulevards right through the centre and big high rises, on a scale unknown in any other Dutch city. This is the reason that especially visitors from the US can relate to Rotterdam better than to any other city in the Netherlands. But the 1940s Rotterdam planners also came up with something entirely new: the main shopping area was created as the world’s first pedestrianised street. When it was finished in 1953 it soon served as an example for numerous car-free shopping streets around the world. Luckily a long standing Dutch tradition was also not forgotten and the new wide streets were built including separate bicycle infrastructure. But just building infrastructure has proven not to be enough. First and foremost the city wanted to strengthen the regional cycle network. It needed to better connect suburbs where people live to the centers where they need to go to do their shopping, go to school and work and stay for leisure etc. It also wanted to create two longer-distance high quality regional routes to Delft/the Hague and to Dordrecht. These should be completely finished by 2013.
Cycle grid Rotterdam: the routes in red were sub-standard
Cycle grid Rotterdam: the routes in red were sub-standard
In recent years the city was not satisfied with the current relatively low rate of cycling. Investigations revealed the following possible reasons:
  • The quality of the cycle network was not up to modern standards.
  • There was a lack of bike parking possibilities with homes.
  • There is lower interest in cycling among the non-Dutch/new-Dutch residents.
  • The city has exceptionally good public transport (metro/tram/bus/train).
To increase the modal share of cycling the city’s cycling policy and action plan for the years 2007-2011 set a number of goals:
  • To make cycling more attractive by making cycle routes safer, faster and of a higher quality.
  • To increase the parking possibilities at both beginning and end of cycle journeys.
  • To target specific groups to get them to cycle more (youth, working people and immigrants).
Concrete measures to make a cycle route faster involve giving cyclists right of way more often, making short cuts, shorten red times at junctions and making the surface of cycle paths smoother.
Apparently a number of the goals of the policy were met. By looking around the city most of the cycle network seems to be up to standards now and the rate of cycling is rising. This results in more and more cyclists visibly riding on good quality infrastructure in the streets of Rotterdam. Most of the background data came from the ‘Actieplan Rotterdam fietst’ (Action plan Rotterdam cycles) by the council of Rotterdam on the site of Fietsberaad (in Dutch only). An article on the fast cycle route between Rotterdam and Delft is available in English.
This post, written by me, was originally published on a different platform.
Some original comments:
Paul Martin said… Very interesting post, Mark. The film was excellent. Nicely edited indeed. If our cities cycling facilities were only half as good as Rotterdam’s I’d be very happy! Regards, 25 March 2011 05:27
shuichi said… Hello. I have read your latest entry. Thank you. I feel like I could have touched Rotterdam a little. You said the rate was low and it might be true but the movie showed a number of cycling people there. I think the landscape of Rotterdam resemble to that of Osaka or Kobe in Japan. Finally, I could not find a mama bicycle which I want to introduce more moms and dads in the world. I could find a wind breaker which I have on my mama bicycle on a bike in the movie.^^ 25 March 2011 13:56
amoeba said… I echo Paul Martin. Close to cycling heaven, certainly when compared with the UK. 25 March 2011 15:45
Alicia said… Yes!! “First and foremost the city wanted to strengthen the regional cycle network. It needed to better connect suburbs where people live to the centres where they need to go to do their shopping, go to school and work and stay for leisure etc.” Was this done? I had a hard time finding my way around the new developments on the outskirts. First around the airport last spring… And there’s a town, Berkel en Rodenrijs, with knooppunten going around the border, rather than conveniently through the city to Rotterdam… And once in Rotterdam there are some missing “Centrum” signs and you have to guess which way to go. 25 March 2011 17:16
Mark Wagenbuur said… Hi Alicia, nice to see you here too. The ‘knooppuntennetwerk’ is a system to make recreational tours, they are not necessarily the shortest routes. I agree with you that it can sometimes be hard to find your way around. One of the reasons could be this: signs are put there by local councils and they all have their own priorities so it is different in every municipality. Some show distances, some don’t, some show destinations outside the municipality and some don’t. Also they all make different choices as to which local destinations they show. I think it is best to always be prepared. I use the website of Fietsersbond* to plot routes on unfamiliar territory (and you can choose between direct door-to-door routes and the recreational routes) and I bring a print. As for Rotterdam, I thought the directions were not bad at all there. When I shot the footage for the videos shown in the last couple of weeks it was the first time I ever cycled in Rotterdam too. * Cycle Route Planner click the green button for recreational routes and the red one for the door to door version. 25 March 2011 21:11
Daniel Sparing said… two comments: Good public transport can really have a negative effect on cycling but this is a non-issue. The main societal goal is to limit private car use, public transport is almost as good as cycling. Rotterdam is the example that simply encouraging cycling (infra and such as having the Tour de France Grand Départ last year(!)) is not enough: you really need to discourage driving too. Rotterdam is way too car friendly as it is now. (now of course it is much easier to make a historic city car-free, as then you have the heritage and tourism industry in the same boat.) 16 April 2011 12:04
Daniel Sparing said… If I could freely choose how other people travel I would choose bicycles over public transport any time. But I still do believe that the big step comes from getting out of the car. Energy inefficiencies like those you mentioned are an issue, and they should be fixed. I do have some ideas/examples, but it is maybe off topic. But apart from energy and health (although public transport users still walk more than drivers), there are considerations like scarce space (car parking is virtually a theft of urban space) and all-age accessibility (kids and the elderly can take a – low floor – bus but maybe can’t drive). I see cycling and “OV” as a natural alliance. To give a Rotterdam example, I took my sister by OV-fiets from Rotterdam Centraal to Kinderdijk recently, and that was quite a distance so she was relieved that we could take the fast ferry back. What I mean is that Rotterdam is big enough that public transport has to help out with too long cycling trips. Greetings from Assen 🙂 (I am on the train to Groningen..) 16 April 2011 20:11

2 thoughts on “Rotterdam remedies a lower cycling rate

  1. Cycle infrastructure can only go so far. Even perfect cycle tracks can only convince some people to cycle. More would cycle if the car was not so fast or if it could not make such a direct journey. That is why David advocates repeatedly for unraveling too.

  2. Hi, I’d love to know where reliable mode share figures for Rotterdam are to be gained. I’ve seen 15% for cycling and 55% for driving, and I’ve seen 20-25% for cycling. Is there census data perhaps? Rotterdam is especially interesting to those of us living in cities with wide roads and underground car parking.

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