All about cycling in the Netherlands
People cycling near the central station of The Hague in the afternoon rush hour, that is the theme of this week’s post. When I was early for an evening meeting* in the city last week, I had half an hour to film the people passing by in the park in front of the station, where we find an intersection between several cycle routes and also a tram track crossing.
The Hague is the third-largest city in the Netherlands with well over 534,000 inhabitants. Only Amsterdam and Rotterdam are bigger. Utrecht is the forth-largest. These four cities form the four corners of the Randstad Conurbation. While Amsterdam and Utrecht form the north-wing, Rotterdam and The Hague form the south-wing which is home to about 3.5 million people. In Dutch the city has two names: ʼs-Gravenhage (literally “The Count’s Wood”) and Den Haag “The wood”. Very similar to my hometown, that has the names ʼs-Hertogenbosch (literally “The Duke’s Forest”) and Den Bosch “The forest”. The difference being that in 1990 The Hague chose to use the short form mostly (except in official papers that require the legal longer name) whereas ʼs-Hertogenbosch chose to make the long form the official name.
In any other country The Hague would most likely have been the capital, but in the Netherlands that is Amsterdam. Wikipedia says the following:
The Hague is the seat of the cabinet of the Netherlands, the States General, the Supreme Court, and the Council of State, but the city is not the constitutional capital of the Netherlands, which is Amsterdam. Most foreign embassies in the Netherlands and 150 international organisations are located in the city, including the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court, which makes The Hague one of the major cities hosting a United Nations institution along with New York City, Geneva, Vienna, Rome and Nairobi. King Willem-Alexander lives in Huis ten Bosch and works at the Noordeinde Palace in The Hague, together with Queen Máxima. The Hague is also home to the world headquarters of Royal Dutch Shell and other Dutch companies.
The Hague is indeed a very international city. This is reflected in the number of ex-pats you can see in the streets. They do cycle, and one of them even told me that very evening how much better cycling in The Hague is compared to what they’re use to, but it is also clear that a number of these ex-pats brought their cycling habits from their home countries with them. One of the passers-by in the video is in a hi-viz jacket and wears a plastic hat on a virtually upright bicycle. That man definitely looks like an ex-pat!
For the Dutch cycling in The Hague is a little less attractive and convenient than average. I am always surprised by the number of streets and intersections that have mixed traffic. Even this night I cycled at places where I literally thought: “Is this really the place where they expect me to cycle now?”. That is reflected in the numbers. There is much more cycling in Utrecht and Amsterdam than there is in Rotterdam and The Hague. The figures show The Hague in third place of the four largest cities regarding cycling as a percentage of all trips (see figure). The figures for commuter trips, (to and from work) have been published in a recent report from the KiM (Knowledge institute for Mobility policies) a Dutch Governmental Agency of the Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment. When you compare Utrecht to The Hague you see quite a few striking differences. The number of cycle trips is much higher in Utrecht (13% more trips by bicycle) but the number of trips in Public Transport is again much higher in The Hague (11% more trips by PT). The numbers for car trips are much closer together, 31% in The Hague versus 29% in Utrecht.(The cycle trips in Amsterdam are 48% of the total commuter trips, for Rotterdam it is 31%. The number of commuter trips by car in Amsterdam is 21%, for Rotterdam it is 38%).
The Hague is trying hard to improve cycling. There is a website in English but that doesn’t mention the various routes that are being upgraded. The Dutch page does mention 5 of those star-routes, upgraded under the current cycle plan (that ends in 2018). It also mentions that the city has upgraded 143km of cycle path surface from concrete tiles to smooth red asphalt from 2006 to 2018. The total length of the cycleways in The Hague is 370km. The city has invested 13 million euro under the 2006-2018 plan, all to further improve and increase cycling.
The biggest project in that plan is still under construction and things don’t go very well. You can see it in the background in a few of the shots in my video. The station square is a huge building site. Early 2017 the construction of an underground bicycle parking garage started. When finished it will be able to park 8,500 bicycles here.
Unfortunately, the opening has been postponed three times already, the last time indefinitely. The facility should initially have been opened in May 2018. The biggest problems are the underground connection to the station. The public tender for this sub-project has failed twice (meaning it was so expensive that the city now tries to find another solution). Another major problem is the fact that two 90-metre-tall residential towers are planned to be built on top of the facility. The foundations for these towers were integrated in the underground parking facility but the construction firm has not yet found a way to make it safely possible to build these two towers while the underground facility is already in use. Worst case scenario seems to be that the towers will have to be finished first, before the new facility can open. This could take years, the towers and the square are planned to be finished in 2021.
There is a place to park bicycles in the meantime. The existing underground parking garage (where I got my OV-Fiets that day) and the so-called “Fietsflat”, a “temporary” steel bicycle parking facility for over 4,000 bicycles that was opened in 2015.
Watching people cycling in The Hague, this week’s video.
* I was in The Hague because I was honoured with an invitation to a reception at the Australia Residence organised for a delegation visiting the Netherlands from Australia and New Zealand. Not only the Australian ambassador was there, also the ambassador for New Zealand.
I received a response to this post from someone at the traffic department of the city of The Hague:
Nice article Mark! We are actually busy with designing a new lay-out of the bike infrastructure at the location you mentioned. It’s part of a bigger plan including the park “Koekamp” and the square in front of the station after the construction work is finished. The new lay-out has to accommodate the growth in bike traffic in general and specific the extra traffic from and to the new parking facility.