Dutch children cycle to school in huge numbers. According to the Cyclists’ Union, of all cycle trips in the Netherlands 18% is to get to a facility for some form of education: to school, a course or university. That is much more than the 6% of trips for recreation and even more than the trips to cycle to work (16%)!
Last September there were some alarming news items about children being driven to school more and more in the Netherlands. This was about primary school children. As it turns out, two-thirds of Dutch children under the age of 12 walk or cycle to school. This is still a huge number, especially compared to other countries. That is exactly what the Cycling Dutchman did earlier this week: comparing a Dutch primary school run to those in the UK. But the figures for cycling to school are even higher for secondary school children; students in the age range from roughly 12 to 18 (after which they become university students).
Of these secondary school children 75% cycle to school! For the pupils living closer than 5km from their school it is even 84%.
These figures are mentioned in the report “How do children get to school?” (2008) and they were based on the national transportation figures. In this report the researchers also note the following.
“[Dutch] Traffic experts give little attention to school transportation. It is of a relatively small-scale, hardly contributes to congestion and consists mostly of sustainable transportation: it is done on foot and by bicycle. But it should get more attention precisely because of this: it is exemplary! How you go to school can be an important lesson in learning how to take part in traffic in an independent way. Both as a pedestrian and by cycling. There is reason for concern: traffic safety. Children, especially young children, are playful and do not always have the necessary attention for the dangers of traffic. Another factor of concern is motor traffic congestion caused near schools around the start and end of schools. Traffic safety is a concern of the government, because the government forces children to go to school and hence forces children to take part in traffic.”
Apart from good cycling infrastructure, one other important contributing factor to so much cycling to secondary schools in the Netherlands, is that in general Dutch pupils live close to their school. More than half of all children live closer than 5 km from school and another 38% live closer than 15 km from school. There are regional differences, but the vast majority (over 90%) of Dutch school children, live within what is considered cycling distance from their secondary school.
There are more benefits than reduced congestion and pollution, it is also better for the children themselves, the exercise reduces the risk of obesity and children who cycle (or walk) to school have a an increased power of concentration that lasts all morning.
In one of my earlier videos I have shown you what it looks like in the morning on a route where many children cycle to school. I would now like to show you what a school cycle parking lot looks like in the morning when the students arrive for their first classes.
So I went to the ’s-Hertogenbosch Ds. Pierson college, which educates around 1,600 students aged roughly 12 to 18. This means they cannot drive a car yet (you cannot drive a car when you are under 18 in the Netherlands) and most can also not ride a moped or scooter yet (you have to be over 16 for that). There is nothing special about this school, I only went there because it is located next to a railway station. From this somewhat higher location you have a great view of the main parking area for bicycles (one of several around the school). I stood at the same place from which the school took a photo for their website. That picture also shows a high number of parked bicycles. I filmed from about 8 am when it had just turned light, to shortly after 8:30 am when classes had started. A few pupils arrive late, but the majority of the children arrive on time and park their bicycle on the schoolyard in a very relaxed way. I sped it all up and there is something beautiful about these images of all these children parking their bicycles. I can’t get enough of it myself. I hope you enjoy it too!
Video showing how Dutch secondary school children arrive at their school in the morning.