The Dutch cycle more. They cycle more often and they cycle longer distances. But the modal share of cycling has been more or less stable for the last three decades at 27% of all trips. How can both these facts be correct? Time to dig into some of the cycling figures in the Netherlands.
Before we get to the story for this post I’d first like to wish you all a very happy new year. May 2018 bring you good things and fulfil wishes and expectations. I will continue to try to bring you information about cycling in the Netherlands, the good and the bad, but always in a positive tone. This is the beginning of the tenth year that I will be making videos for you. When I published the first video, in January 2009, I never expected anything like the journey I’ve been on, but I like it a lot, so I do expect there will be a 10-year anniversary at the end of this year.
The Netherlands has a growing population of 17 million people. All together the Dutch own 22.5 million bicycles. This means that on average they own 1.3 bicycles per capita. More than any other country in the world. Runner up is – not surprisingly – Denmark, with 0.8 bicycles per Dane. Many people might think the Chinese cycle a lot too, but they own only 0.4 bicycles per person, just slightly more than the US with 0.3 bicycles per person. Not everybody has a bicycle though, not even in the Netherlands. The bicycles are owned by 84% of the Dutch. That means there are many people who have more than one bicycle.
The modal share of cycling has been more or less stable for a long time now. The figure is around 27% of all trips. However, that average is a result of not so stable extremes. In the cities cycling has increased a lot. The cycleways became noticeably busier after cycling increased by 12% since 2005. At the same time cycling decreased in the country side. The growing population and the increased use of motor vehicles are some other factors which make the final modal share figure deceptively stable.
Almost a quarter of the Dutch population cycles every day. The exact figure is 24%. When you look at the under 50-year-olds it is 27%. The figure is raised by the many school children who cycle every day to school. The figure for the over 65-year-olds who cycle is lower but still impressive with 17% of that age category cycling every day.
The infrastructure the Dutch have at their disposal for all their cycling is phenomenal. The figures vary a little depending on the source, but there is currently at least 33,000 to 35,000 kilometres of dedicated cycling infrastructure. That does not include the road space where cycling takes place in the same space as private motor traffic. That is another 55,000 kilometres of streets and roads. Of all the Dutch urban streets 70% has a speed limit of 30 km/h. These streets are also traffic calmed. That makes “sharing” that road space very easy and safe.
When you look at the kilometres cycled, the bicycle is only used for about 8% of the total distance the Dutch cover in a year (in their own country). The cumulative distance the Dutch cycle is around 15 billion kilometres. Some sources say it is a bit less, others claim it is well over that figure, on average a Dutch person cycles 1,000 kilometres a year in about 250 to 300 cycle trips. Again, that is more than in any other country in the world. The increased use of the e-bike is cause for an increase in the distance cycled, but there are also more people who cycle. The Dutch society ages, but the Dutch keep on cycling to a higher age, again often with the help of the e-bike. It is a myth that older people using e-bikes would be bad for the safety record. The latest investigations, from December 2017, show that cycling is not more dangerous for older people on e-bikes, compared to regular pedal bikes. This is possibly because the speed difference between the two is only small. The average speed of the Dutch on a pedal bicycle is 12.4 km/h and the speed on an e-bike is 13 km/h. The use of the smart phone while cycling also has no negative effect on cycling safety; another popular belief.
There are big regional differences in the Netherlands, both between areas of the country and between cities. Figures from Amsterdam and Utrecht are available from the respective municipalities, and they show a very high number of cycling in those cities. In Amsterdam 72,000 people cycle in the morning rush hour alone. At that time that is twice the number of private cars on the Amsterdam streets. This figure is bound to change as the car use is no longer increasing, while bicycle use is going up. Car ownership is going down especially for the younger people. The fact that both Amsterdam and Utrecht have a well-educated population (more than average for the Netherlands) increases the figures for cycling in these cities. The better people are educated the more they use the bicycle. To the higher social classes the bicycle is a status symbol, with which they give subtle signals to other people, such as “I live so close to my work that I can cycle”. The lower classes still feel more comfortable when their means of transport has an engine and they prefer the car or the scooter, when they are less affluent. This difference is reflected in the figures. Well-educated people in Amsterdam choose the car for only 28% of their journeys, for the lower classes this is over 50%.
Utrecht is a city of 345,000 people and it welcomes 125,000 people on a bicycle to its city centre on a daily basis (33,000 of them in one street alone). This is more than a third of the entire population. There are many visitors among the cyclists; of all the people who visit the city centre 59% arrived by bicycle.
And yet, with all these record figures, the Dutch national government thinks cycling should be promoted. With local governments and other parties in the transport market they have cooperated to create a new joint cycling agenda called “Tour de Force“. It aims to increase the cycled distance by 20% in 2027. Could cycling increase even more in the Netherlands? Yes, easily, when you consider that more than half of all the Dutch trips in a car are under 7.5 kilometres! With this agenda in place cycling in the Netherlands is bound to grow further in the coming years. There is absolutely no reason to stop informing you of everything that is happening in this country in posts on this blog any time soon.
With that I wish you a Happy New Year and Happy Cycling!
The first video of 2018: Dutch cycling figures.