Dutch cycling figures

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.

Cycling in the cities increased with 12% from 2005 to 2016.

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.

Bicycle ownership in some countries in the world. The Dutch own more bicycles per capita than any other country in the world. Picture from Beslist.nl

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 aging population in the Netherlands accounts for a large part of the growth in cycling. Older people cycle longer and more distance.

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.

The cycled distance (in billions of kilometres) varies per province in the Netherlands. The differences mostly stem from the population differences, but when there are more urbanised centres in a region the cycled distance is also higher. Picture from the mobility figures  report 2017-2018 by RAI.

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.

At some locations the infrastructure did not grow as fast as the cycling did. If cycling is promoted even more things will have to change at these locations.

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%.

One of the major challenges in the Netherlands: providing enough parking facilities around the country’s railway stations.

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.

A page about the first years of the Tour de Force Bicycle Agenda 2017-2027. Picture Tour de Force.

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.

86 thoughts on “Dutch cycling figures

  1. Sorry but I don’t agree with your summation that e-bikes have no effect on safety.
    Please explain why cycle related deaths have increased massively over the last 10 years for those older age groups whom are purchasing e-bikes in large numbers (around 50% of all purchases in some instances) whilst whilst all the other groups have reduced death numbers over the same period?

    Can you not see that the increase in speed available to the older generation that they are not used to cycling at and the increased mass all has a bearing on safety?

    1. It is not my summation. I merely quote the results of a large scale scientific research into this matter. What you are writing is exactly what more people say. And that is precisely why this research was done. There is a link to the source of my quotes in the blogpost. Maybe you are not able to read this Dutch source, so I will translate the paragraph about the electric bicycles here:
      “The use of electric bicycles has increased in recent years. Almost a quarter of all cyclists now uses an electric bicycle. Although the age of the users decreases, most users are elderly. In view of these developments, it is not surprising that the number of victims on electric bicycles is increasing and that four out of five victims on an electric bicycle were 55 years of age or older. However, when the analysis is corrected for the use (the users of an electric bicycle cycle more distance on average and more often than other cyclists), for age and for gender, it becomes apparent that the probability of an accident on an electric bicycle was not higher than on other types of bicycles. In addition, victims of an accident with an electric bicycle did not sustain more serious injuries on average.
      The electric bicycle is in itself not more dangerous than other bicycles.
      The most important effect for road safety is that there will be more cycling by the elderly, a group which has a relatively higher risk of a bicycle accident and which is relatively vulnerable when they have an accident.”

      1. The only real change in recent times in the older age groups is the huge surge of e-bike use. As I said at the same time/over the same period deaths in NL have dropped dramatically in the younger age groups but have increased in the same manner as a polar opposite.
        The increase in distance travelled cannot in any way correlate to the massive increase (As a %) of the deaths in those older groups and there is no actual data there to support that theory.
        In NL
        Males age 60-69 deaths between 2007-2016 increased 60%
        Males age 80+ Deaths increased 50%
        Females 50-59 deaths increased 80%
        Females aged 80+, deaths increased 70%!

        Elsewhere there were decreases in deaths or or no increase/minor decrease, particularly females below the age of 50 fared better.
        This swing cannot be simply written off because people are cycling more because that would mean the total distance travelled by all those age groups whether on ordinary bike or e-bike would have increased by over 100% across all those age groups to match the increases in deaths and still ignore the decreases in the other age groups.
        This tells me that overall cycling got safer except for the only groups that were using e-bikes in great numbers.
        Either the safety of infrastructure only applies to certain generations or there is an anomaly that people are ignoring/trying to cover up.

        1. Well Tony (it’s a while ago), but I guess there has changed a lot more. there are a lot more people in 65-80 age group. The % in that age group went 10.81% to 14.87% (=+37%) while the population rose from 16.4 mln to 17.4 mln. That’s an 46% increase of 800.000 65-80 against a relative 4% drop of 0-64. Due to government policy a lot more people live independent, rather than in a care home, which requires more mobility. On top of that is the ’68’ generation now 65+. They tend not to stay in their garden and is more active, on bikes as well.
          Seniors are also often involved in onesided accidents, without other participants, like (dis)mounting or not seeing obstacles..

  2. China is probably an interesting anomaly (for now). While there is low bike ownership, there is massive bike share engagement. For the period I was in China, it really seems there is little sense to owning a bike. People on private bikes were more likely to have a kid seat or cargo-carrying bike. Bike share was so ubiquitous, for general getting around I feel it is easier to use than a private bike! It’s very much train+bike combination, so works really well.

  3. Thanks for the interesting post!!

    As an American expat living in the Netherlands, there was a certain stigma that came with cycling and no longer owning a car as the US considers it a sign of poverty to not drive.

    Additionally, in Houston, Texas (where we moved from) they have increased security regulations, but in a city where cyclists and motorists seemingly hate each other and police can’t be everywhere, cyclists are doomed to bike in the gutter and hope they aren’t involved in a hit and run (in 2015 there were 34 fatal hit and runs in the city alone, yet only 9 arrests).

    But we’ve absolutely fallen in love with biking and freedom it provides, and hope to continue whenever we move back. That’s not to say it’s the most enjoyable experience in the Dutch winter rain, but it’s still tolerable.

      1. I assume scenarios like: ‘car overtakes bike too close by, bike swerves into curb and falls, car doesnt stop’.

          1. But they do not go after bicyclists intentionally, right? They leave the scene of the crime after an accident without identifying themselves.

            1. Yes, but it is almost never an accident. Usually due to alcohol, drugs, cell phone use or just plain negligent aggressive driving. Car drivers know that they can kill someone and the police will devote very little time to trying to find and prosecute them if they then drive away.

  4. “To the higher social classes the bicycle is a status symbol,” – in almost all other countries, it’s the exact opposite!

    Does anyone know, if you dress appropriately how long can you casually and comfortably bicycle for in the Netherlands at 4C with winds at 20 km? An hour or two?

    1. Most people wouldn’t find cycling for two hours ‘casually’ or ‘comfortably’. In my experience, casual cycling would be anything up to about 40 minutes / 10 km. Above that, people will start being surprised if you arrive on a bicycle. (That 40 minute mark might be higher in some regions, and in certain weather conditions).

      For an avid cyclist, 4 degrees and a moderate breeze wouldn’t stop you from cycling whatever distance you normally feel comfortable with, as long as it’s dry. Whether that’s one or ten hours would depend on yourself. With rain, 4 degrees is suddenly very cold though.

    2. Two hours of cycling?! That is recreational. Something to organise in the weekend with others. Cycling for me is about getting somewhere within 30 minutes, individually. If it is further away than that I go to the station by bike and rent a bike for the last part, from station to destination. Luckily at each station there are bikes for rent easily.

      1. In the UK 2 hours cycling a day in low temperatures is done by a significant number of commuter cyclists during the colder months, 15 mile each way isn’t out of the ordinary, there are some that would be classed as extreme examples whom commute by bike in excess of 25 miles each way. I know plenty of utility riders who will cycle 30 miles round trip for a specific purpose other than ‘recreational’, I include myself amongst those number.
        Dutch commuter cycling is significantly different to that in the UK, we prefer routes that are direct, not circuitous, stop/start cycle infrastructure that isn’t wide enough for two or three differing speeds of rider to get past readily, that’s a massive failure of segregated, as well as projecting you directly perpendicular to motor traffic multiple times over at junctions and thus why NL has over 60 deaths a year at these locations! That’s something no-one ever likes to talk about.

  5. Hi Mark, Happy New Year to you.

    My comment is about the quoted average cycling speeds, which seem substantially lower and thus slower than what I had come to believe. I checked the source and these are the official figures, but I always thought the average speed was between 15 and 18 km/hour, as per this article quoting the Fietsersbond http://www.dutchnews.nl/news/archives/2017/06/dutch-cycling-centre-stage-at-velocity-2017-conference/
    I note the same article almost immediately contradicts the FB by stating aa 3km trip takes 15 minutes, which aligns with the official average speed of around 12 km/hr.

    My own intuition and experience suggests that it would be harder to cycle at 12 km/hr than 15. I know “average” figures can sometimes be a statistical distortion of reality and the “median” is often a better metric, so I’m just wondering what you think about this “speed” thing? In Australia where I live, Dutch cycling is often termed “slow” and therefore somewhat unattractive as a transport mode, which is just another barrier to normalising cycling here. My limited experience cycling behind Dutch omas in Amsterdam has led me to believe that Dutch cycling is anything but slow!

    1. I don’t have any hard numbers, but my feeling is that the 12 km/h is the average speed over the full trip and would include waiting times at traffic lights for example. 18 km/h feels more in line with the average speed while people are cycling.

      1. Thanks very much for that. Yes I can see now that both statements can be true ie average speed for a whole trip can be 12-13 km/hr but actual speed when moving can be 15-18km/hr. I haven’t cycled in NL for 5 years so I forgot about having to stop at traffic lights (for cars!), and I nearly always cycle in Australia on continuous off-road paths, as our streets and roads are not subjectively safe.

  6. I have a serious idea how to get even more Dutch people to give up their cars. My friends in France have a car but rarely use it. They use public transportation and bicycles instead. The car stays parked somewhere. A public library parking lot I think. When we went to get it the first time, the battery was dead. 😊

    I wager that a lot of Dutch people are in the same situation. What if a shared-car service could be established? Cars would be parked in a nice convenient indoor location. People participating in the service could go get one of the cars, use it and bring it back. Maybe someone would even bring a car to you. People could even donate their cars to the service, perhaps for a tax incentive or to pay their membership fee.

    Tons of details would have to be worked out, but the Dutch are good at things like that, aren’t they!

    1. There are several car sharing programmes in the Netherlands, even some electric car sharing ones.
      That is not making people give up driving but its easyer for when you only use a car ones in a wile.

  7. Obviously ownership of a bicycle is no obstacle to ride a bicycle. Concurrent ownership of a car next to a bicycle is. It is tempting to take the car for a short distance if it is parked in front of your house or in your garage. Especially in rural areas, especially for the lower classes. Note that owning a car in the Netherlands comes with a considerable amount of monthly costs (taxes, insurances, etc.) You don’t save money by leaving it unused, you already paid for it and the incremental costs per kilometer (especially on small trips) are small, rather insignificant. Paid parking is not the norm in rural areas, it is even a hot topic of conversation for them after a visit to the city.

    Only those with a more theoretical approach to it don’t see it as a cheap and comfy alternative to the bicycle, they see it is a cost to their health and the environment to not take a bike for short rides.

    To make matters worse, many employers also arrange a car for their employees instead of a ‘mobility solution’. And if you own one, you will use it.

    Certainly rural areas are more and increasingly ‘car centric’. Not by design, but because of post offices and atm’s disappearing, local swimming pools merging with those in neighbouring villages and so on. It is bad for your health to live in a rural area I read somewhere. Your spending hours behind the wheel. In the city you can even survive without a driver’s license!

    1. I made this statement below the video on youtube, but I live in a small town in Canada, and when I first started riding a bicycle again a few years ago, I had people asking me if I had been caught driving drunk, and lost my license. Also when I walk places friends I know, stop and offer me a ride because they feel sorry for me having to walk.

      You made the statement that it could be bad for your health to live in a rural area. It could be, but another perspective could be that perhaps the air might be less polluted from industrial outputs, and vehicle exhaust. One might also tend to think that statistically there should be less chance of being hit by a vehicle in the country, due to there being less traffic congestion. One other perspective is that it is not as easy to hop into the car, and drive three blocks to the nearest fast food restaurant to load up on high fat hamburger, and soda pop that has 10 teaspoons of sugar in it. You make some great points though that are thought provoking, and I agree fully with everything else you stated rrustema.

      1. I used to live in a small village in Canada too. I would often go for walks, sometimes with a destination, sometimes not. Anyway, when I would meet people as I was walking (usually as they were cutting their lawn, and not walking), they would say, “There’s that walker!” As if, there was something unusual about me using my feet to get to places. I also rode my bike two days a week into work, which was 36 kms round trip, which solidified my status as an eccentric.
        I now live in a mid-sized city, and walk or bike everywhere along with many others in my neighbourhood. I am no longer an eccentric. I feel like I am finally home.

    2. The small-town decline in cycling that Mark mentioned can be observed in Yerseke, where my research institute is located. One issue I believe is that people are also increasingly having to live in one city while working in another. This is especially true of couples who both have jobs quite far apart, and end up picking something in-between, which may still be 30-60 km away. Almost all of the permanent staff and researchers who don’t live in Yerseke or the two neighboring towns of Kapelle or Kruiningen drive to work. Increasingly, the PhD and postdocs are also buying cars because more and more of them are just not willing to rely on the train. Another problem for Yerseke is that the nearest station is 4.5 km away. While NS is a very good system to me (being from the States), a lot of people complain about the high costs and also the sometimes-frequent delays. There is only one line serving Zeeland, but most often there are issues between Dordrecht-Roosendaal, or Roosendaal-Bergen op Zoom. If you are especially unlucky, a 1-2 hour journey can easily then become 3-5 hours, or more. With a car, this can be avoided entirely. Even in the Netherlands, cars are not necessarily cost -prohibitive to own, to my surprise; there are even a few Masters students who already bought their own cars (albeit used) with the savings from working part time for a couple of years. A colleague of mine lives in Goes. The insurance is easily affordable with his salary and the yearly parking permit was either 50 or 100 Euros.

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