Arriving at school by bicycle

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%)!

School children parking their bicycles at school in the morning.

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%.

The modal split of transportation to secondary schools in the Netherlands.

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.

The average distance from home to secondary school in the Netherlands.

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.

The website of the Ds. Pierson College in ’s-Hertogenbosch shows a lot of bicycles parked in the schoolyard.

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.

Things are quite different on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean where you could get arrested if you decide to pick up your kids from school on foot.

20 thoughts on “Arriving at school by bicycle

  1. Mark, of those who have to ride more than say, 10 or 15 km, one way how many would ride a fast bike, such as a road bike, and wear Lycra or other sports gear to do so? I am talking about high school kids riding that distance to school or even adults riding to the office for work.

    You see, here in Australia almost everyone who chooses to bicycle commute, rides a fast bike and wears sports gear. Very few people ride a roadster and wear their work clothes.

    People here seem to think bicycle commuters here ride road bikes, wear Lycra and ride like we are in some sort of race just because we want to, because we want to get some cardio in our day. But while that is a factor, it is more that we have a long way to ride, and can’t take all morning to get to where we are going.

    So surely that is the same for people all around the world both here in Australia as well as in the Netherlands?

  2. Pingback: Get Sutton Cycling
  3. Ah, I was wondering why the kids sometimes parked far away from the school entrance (you’d expect the nearest spaces to fill up first) – but maybe people just like to park in ‘their’ place to make finding their bike easier?

    1. Yes, people tend to park around the same spot to find it back easier. What might also be the case it that certain age groups have been allocated a certain area. Because the kids parking here all seem to be a bit on the younger side. Other (older) kids take a left turn right after the entrance to go around the back of the buildings and yet other groups continue to the far right of the picture to yet another area for parking.

  4. Mooie blog, prachtig filmpje. Afgelopen woensdag was ik erg blij met drie politieagenten voor onze school die zich niet bezighielden met de fietsers, maar automobilisten aanspraken op stoppen voor de school en dubbel parkeren om zo ruimte te creëren voor de fietsers.

  5. Here around Amersfoort, NL in the morning around primary school run times, even with these cycling figures, there is a lot more traffic than just a few minutes later. Makes you wonder how many more big roads we would have had to build for just the school run if the car was the preferred mode of school transport.

    1. You need only ask a teacher in the States. Lines of cars with students being dropped off or picked up by parents. So many in fact that school buses often can’t get to the school on time. Many of these kids only live a few blocks from school.

      1. I live only a couple kilometres, 2.5 to be exact, from my sister’s school, and my mother is terrified of letting her cycle to school, even though she is 10 years old, even though the crossing of the road is pretty much the same design, at least in terms of the pedestrian crossing design, of the two lane arterial road she would have to cross, and my mother is wondering whether to tell her to go out of her way to use a traffic light instead. What? She wouldn’t have the right of way on her bike, she faces a stop sign, but that is what cyclists do in the Netherlands anyway at many crossings like that. Snow and ice, ok I will give my mother a break. That can really hurt someone, and someone in my municipality decided it would be a good idea to only require the crews to grate the local and collector roads to 5 cm off the asphalt.

  6. Ha, that brings back memories. I lived quite close to school, which meant that I was always late because I couldn’t catch back up if I left home late. That meant I was always left with the last possible place to park, which would be a different space every day – very hard to find back after class.

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