Shopping: The Netherlands vs Australia

In this extra post I would like to show you a video made by Paul van Bellen from Sydney in Australia, that he shot when he recently visited The Netherlands again. Paul sells Dutch bicycles of the brand Gazelle in Sydney. I’ve known Paul for some years now. In 2011, we met in Assen on the trip he organised for 30 Australians wanting to see more of the Dutch cycling environment. I accompanied the group on their tour of Houten too. Paul was also the driving force behind my talk in Sydney last September. So when he asked me to give some attention to his video, I gladly do. The video has been watched over 2,000 times in just a couple of days so it is doing quite well on its own already. And that’s great, because it is an interesting video!

Françoise in Utrecht, The Netherlands, does all her shopping and other errands on her bicycle. I pretend to be a passer-by on the left.

While I was looking from the distance, Paul asked people outside a supermarket in Utrecht in the Netherlands how they arrived there and why. He then did the same when he returned back to Australia. It is very interesting that what comes natural to the people in the Netherlands and Australia is the complete opposite. While an Australian says he used the car “cos it’s quicker” one of the Dutch girls says “In the city it’s far easier and faster to go on your bike!”

Paul calculated that the average cost of a grocery shopping vehicle in the Netherlands is Aus$ 200. In Australia it is Aus$ 20,000 and yet everyone’s journey to get to the supermarket was under 5 kilometres. The video ends with random but very telling images of cycling in the Netherlands.

Shopping by bike, The Netherlands versus Australia by Paul van Bellen.

I had looked at shopping by bicycle as well. Coincidentally I also filmed outside the very same supermarket Paul filmed at now!

29 thoughts on “Shopping: The Netherlands vs Australia

    1. Klopt, video was inmiddels verwijderd door de uploader, maar toevallig vandaag weer opnieuw op YT gezet. Dank voor de herinnering. Er staat nu weer een werkende video! 🙂

  1. Distance is not the problem for me in Australia, it is the shopping centres: most of them ban bike riding and provide inadequate space to lock them up – usually a fair distance from the store.

  2. The comparance is funny but not quit objective. The Dutch AH-superstore is at the Twijnstraat in Utrecht. This is definitely in the downtown area and even within or on the rim of the commercial shopping area. As said, it is virtually impossible to park there your car within 200 meter. If you would take a supermarket in living areas like the AH XL (my “shop around the corner”) at the Roelantdreef more than 50% is coming by car. For most of them the traveling distance is certainly below 5 km. Going there by bike can be a struggle through a car parking area when you arrive from the north.

    1. Yeah, they should have interviewed at similar stores, but I believe the difference would still be obvious. The arguments for bikes would also be less because cars are bad, but because bikes are so much better in so many ways.

  3. I would love to ride my bike to the supermarket here in my small aussie town, except for the cat 4 climb to and from :-/

      1. Cat 4 climb = category 4 climb, the easiest climbs hard enough to be considered for the King of Mountains jersey in the Tour de France. It means there is a height difference of approximately 100 to 300 meters, with a minimum climbing percentage of 3%.

  4. Los Angeles is an example of what can happen when a large city has a transportation policy that puts car use as the main focus and top priority.

    LA is reported to have the most traffic congestion of any U.S. city.

    A national household travel survey results indicate that 84.4% of the trips under 3 miles in the Los Angeles metropolitan area are made by driving and only 1% by bicycle.

    When it comes to trying to take a motor vehicle lane away on a congested street to install bike lanes, this not surprising often meets strong resistance by the vast majority who drive and do not bicycle.

    More than three-quarters of Angelenos spent over $6,000 per year on car ownership.

    Only 35% of Angelenos live within a 1/4 miles of a bike path or bike lane and only 46% live within a 1/4 mile of a frequent and reliable transit stop. How is that competitive to traveling by auto, which has parking and roadways conveniently located throughout the city?

    When a public roadway routinely becomes congested during peak commute hours, those that can afford to drive, and are able to, make it difficult on those that can’t by fighting any attempt to take any of the space away to give it to any other mode of travel. The politicians frequently don’t have the courage to go against the will of the majority and therefore prevent most changes from being made.

    Over a year ago, there were 40 miles of streets that needed the approval of city council members before bike lanes could be installed because of the level of congestion. Only 8 miles have been striped so far.

    Another 40 miles have been proposed, I expect approximately the same percentage of success as the previous group of streets. This makes a situation of very slow progress towards having a network of bike lanes. You have to get the needed space first before installing bike lanes and cycle tracks would require even more space.

    Here’s a report on a recent meeting–where approximately 350 people showed up–about one of those first 40 miles of streets that are going through more rounds of meetings with a newly elected council member:

    1. Remember that most cars can carry four or five people, so another consequence is that five seater vehicles are more common than single seaters, and in a individualistic society such as California (the birthplace of the internet and where many major websites are based) most of those family cars only carry one person.
      If more people travelled in groups of four or five, than a focus on family cars might make more sense.

      If most people travel alone, as in an individualistic society, the the main focus ought to be on single seater vehicles, particularly ones than can be operated without a licence, and much less training than a car.

      The U.S, especially California, is so individualistic (including with respect to car journeys) that they even have bi-optic driving programmes, so that people with vision less that 20/40 in both eyes can still go by car without people with better vision coming along with them. Paradoxically, they don’t allow bi-optic motorcycling, even though motorcycles are more individual than cars.
      Also, bi-optic drivers are technically allowed to have as many passengers in a private vehicles as any other private motorist. The maximum number of passengers that a fully sighted driver can take over there, is 15, more than most private vehicles can carry. It’s technically the same with bi-optic drivers, despite their not meeting the vision standards for driving in the commercial or for-hire segment.

  5. After sending that I realised that I needed to dust my very rusty mathematics skills off to calculate the average travelling distances according to the given Melbourne vs Randstad population densities. So now I’ve now got approximately 1.9 x the *average* distance needed to travel in Melbourne vs that in the Randstad (though that’s the whole Randstad area, not the average distances for people shopping within their local communities.)

    If anyone can verify this or correct it, please do so.

    1. For any given area, if the population is spread evenly, the average travelling distance will be the same whether 10 or 10 million people live there. So you’ll have to work from the area instead of the population density. If you assume the Randstand and Melbourne are circles (which they are not), the average travelling distance to the center of the circle will be 1.5 times greater in Melbourne.

      Not sure how this is supposed to be relevant though; without some knowledge about the number and distribution of supermarkets in the respective areas it is pretty useless information.

      1. It may be a useless or pointless calculation but it is clear to me that the distances needed to travel a much further in Australia. I just don’t know how much further they are or where to find such information. Sure, there would have to be a study into that in order to prove anything definitively.

        What I was trying to do was give some rough indication of the differences in the distances but it’s obvious that I failed in providing even that. Still, the point is that the video didn’t even acknowledge that there are differences in these travel distances between NL and AUS. That’s what I was tying to point out.

    2. You are probably right, I once talked to a Melbourne woman and she said that Melbourne is so vast. That she was riding a train and 1 hour later she was still in Melbourne. If I take the train from Utrecht North to Amsterdam, 1 hour later I am well north of Amsterdam= outside of the Randstad.

  6. Melbourne population density: 430/km2
    Randstad population density: 1,500/km2

    How many grocery shops and supermarkets did these Dutch people pass on the way from their homes to the shop where they were interviewed? Probably quite a few till they got to the supermarket of their choice.

    How many of the same did the Australians pass? Probably just a milk bar or two, a fish & chip shop and a few petrol stations selling milk, bread and snacks. Plus, when they got to the supermarket quite often there’s not much else there: just other food/grocery items such as a bread shop, a butcher’s, a bottle shop and an independent greengrocers if you’re lucky. Certainly not a whole couple of street’s worth of mid-end clothing and specialty shops (booksellers, toy shops, bike shops) as well as at least a few bistros, cafés and pubs.

    This video glosses over the differences in the urban structure and distances travelled in many of the middle and outer suburbs of Australia. Then there’s the hills too here, such as when you have to cross a creek valley.

    I’m all for shopping by bicycle — and I myself am active in campaigning for better & safer bicycle access in my suburb including my local shopping area — and I do it all the time myself, but I wish this video would’ve provided a more accurate comparison between the two urban environments. It seems to imply the average distances are the same. They are not.

    Even if we successfully got halfway-decent Dutch bicycle infrastructure built here we still have (at a guess) approximately three times further to travel (based on the population density) to the shops and in a lot of places there are often very steep hills to climb in a 4km or 5km journey in the middle and outer suburbs here.

    1. You know, one day, as a Dutchman from flatland, I’ve got to go to these mythical countries where the hills always go uphill.

      1. You miss the point, Peter. The hills are not just an inconvenience, they are a barrier. The streets around here can be so steep that only fit, young cyclists can go up them.

        I didn’t want to bring in anecdotes (that’s why I was trying to guesstimate average distances) but my mother’s street is so steep that I have given up trying to ride up it myself as I go so slowly I am at risk of falling. I have even snapped a chain, though that was on the hill directly on the other side of the same river valley. My mum’s closest supermarket is only 2km away but it’s not feasible to get there by most everyday cyclists. Even getting off and pushing a bike up it is a strain.

        My aunt lives 4.1km from her nearest supermarket. That’s an 8.2km round trip. How many Dutch people have an 8.2km round trip to the closest supermarket? In any case, again she’d have to climb a steep hill where the route crosses a creek bed.

        1. I do see the point, though I don’t understand why you focus on that point.

          Firstly, the fact that you decided on your point and then had to calculate and recalculate and be corrected on the exact numbers tells you’re working the wrong way around. You have idea and you look for evidence to support that idea. That’s really not the way to build a proper argument.

          Secondly, the focus on averages and barriers ignores the situations where there are few differences. The average distance is greater? Fine. Put your focus first on the cases where the distance is not greater. Hills form barriers? Fine. Focus first on routes with no steep hills.

          You could also focus on innovations which might negate the barrier. A 21-speed electrical assisted bike will get most anyone up urban hills – if you provide for proper infrastructure and don’t make them dodge cars along the entire route.

          If you don’t mind the cliché: Think solutions, not problems.

        2. Peter, I didn’t focus on that point. I was merely responding to your point.

          Secondly, I know that average distances are further in Australia because I experience it every day. I didn’t decide on this point (as you put it) it is made plainly evident just living here. If you want people to have verified data supporting their case in front of them before saying anything then that it is a good way of silencing them. Just because they don’t have the data (or get their calculations wrong) doesn’t mean they don’t have a point and that I’d there were such data that it wouldn’t support them.

          Thirdly, you say there are routes without steeps hills here. Surr but what percentage of routes? Draw a straight line of 5km just a out anywhere outside of near the immediate coastal suburbs (sure, it is flatter there) in the middle and outer suburbs and you will have to cross deep creek and river beds. That’s just the geography of my city. And Sydney people call Melbourne flat: it’s even hillier in their city.

          Then you bring up the argument that e-bikes / pedelecs are a solution. Yes, I think that too. But this video only shows people with their European city bikes / Omafiets type bikes, not with a type of bicycle which is more appropriate to the needs of a lot of people here in the outer suburbs, probably the only away en masse from their cars.

          Finally, I am trying to think of solutions but even those Dutch solutions that can prove of use here will need adapting to our geography and our sprawled-out (sub)urban design. I am just pointing out that this video ignores these realities.

    2. The relationship between land use (super markets) and access mode (bicycling and driving) are so intimately linked that the average distances of going to the super markets in Aus. won’t be the same as the NL until either it’s easier to access super markets in Aus. by bicycle or less easy to access super markets in NL by bicycle. One of them can’t change by itself; they have to change together.

      One likely goal of the video is to be aspirational. It’s easy to say that “Melbourne isn’t Amsterdam” but neither was Amsterdam 40 years ago.

      1. Of course things can change given enough time and effort and it is us cycling advocates self-appointed task to get these changes implemented. I just wish the video had acknowledged that the *average* distance in Australian cities was a lot further than in the Netherlands for, unfortunately, it implies that they are the same.

        1. The *average” in Australia may be longer (although I remain unconvinced) but I don’t think anybody is suggesting that all of a sudden all journeys be switchewd from car to a different mode. The fact is though that a significant propoertion of car journeys in Australi are shorter than 5km – indeed, that is exactly what each of the interviewees on the video said.

          The average journey length is really beside the point. The question is how many are bikeable distances? Answer: a lot. That is the point.

        2. Edward, I think we can safely say that Australian cities are among the most sprawled out cities in the world. Distances, therefore, are going to be greater here. (I chose the Randstad, possibly unwisely, in order to bring the two nations closer in this comparison.)

          I think we are on the same page here. I just wish the video was more realistic and didn’t blithely say that home-supermarket distances are the same in both countries.

  7. Interesting comparison! The authorities have been lazy providing an alternative to the car! Sometimes they are more than lazy. There are against alternatives. It’s the case here in Vitória, Brazil. I guess also that Dutch did fight a lot in the seventies and heighties to get space for bicycle. Without that, Dutch authorities may have also be lazy. Here in Brasil, it looks like we are in the situation of Netherleand in the seventies when things got difficult for cyclists.

    1. Yes, they have been lazy in providing a more individual alternative to a motorised vehicle capable of carrying three or four passengers.

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