Cycling in the US from a Dutch perspective

I laughed and cried when I first watched this video. The Dutch are at least forty years ahead of us in terms of cycling and pedestrian infrastructure.

Holland hasn’t always been a pedestrian and bike friendly place. In the early 1970s, prompted by the death by motor vehicle of his child, Dutch journalist Vic Langenhoff started a campaign to transform the streets of the Netherlands. Inspired by his articles, groups of angry mothers took to the streets and held up signs reading “Stop de Kindermoord” (Stop the Child Murder). London Cycling sums up the campaign,

‘Stop de Kindermoord’ was a powerful message, and it gathered widespread support among mainstream commentators and young urban political activists. In Amsterdam in the early 1970s, there were already organisations with the aims of demotorising cities, improving public transport, preventing the bulldozing of heritage sites and controlling pollution. These campaigners opposed the statist interventions of the Left and the laissez-faire economics of the Right, both of which they felt threatened the quality of urban life.

Is it time for a similar campaign in the US?

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  1. I’d say yes, but I’m not a US resident, so it’s perhaps not for me to say.

    I understand the narrator’s point about US cyclists looking as though they were dressed for sport rather than every day life but I wasn’t so sure about his attitude to helmets, especially as I had a big discussion with my teenager yesterday when she cycled to her grandparents house sans helmet. (We live in rural England but lots of the lanes and smaller roads get used as commuting ‘rat runs’, so not that bike friendly).
    I found this clip which shows the Dutch cycle lanes the narrator was comparing the US lanes to- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hb0QjASuuqI
    Unless those bikes get tangled together, the chance of a traffic collision is pretty low! Fair enough. But how dangerous is cycling in the Netherlands?

    http://www.aviewfromthecyclepath.com/2010/08/brain-injuries-and-dutch-cyclist.html
    Apparently, statistically, a Dutch cyclist can expect a head/brain injury once every 90 lifetimes…

    Perhaps I wouldn’t be so concerned about helmets if I lived there.

    • Thanks for those links. And I think you meant 900 lifetimes which is interesting when, as the author of that article notes, that 1 in 27 children in the UK will be killed or injured in a car accident.

      And a funny story–I was visiting the Netherlands and my host pointed to the rare sight of several people wearing bicycle helmets. She said, “that’s how you spot Germans.”

    • Haha! If we are holidaying on the continent we can tell if we’ve crossed from France into Germany because people start waiting at pedestrian crossings instead of rushing across the road in front of us…

      I think the risk of head injury is 1 in every 90 lifetimes, the risk of death from that injury is 1 in every 900 lifetimes. And yes, the UK statistics are worrying too. My eldest two children want to cycle to school, and I’d REALLY like to encourage that, but…

    • On another trip to Germany my host explained why everyone waits at the crosswalk there–”die kinder”–set a good example for the kids.

  2. That’s a great video. I’m so used to thinking of riding my bike through town as an “extreme sport” that requires lightning quick reflexes and nerves of steel. Back in my teens I rode what was called “extreme motocross” doing aerial tricks on 250# and up dirt bikes for adrenaline rushes. Now I just commute to work. :)

    • To expand on the topic of bike advocacy, I think that one of the most important things to do is make yourself visible. Not just for safety, but because it makes drivers more aware that cyclists are out there and makes people feel more comfortable cycling places as well.

  3. I’m not sure a “Stop the Child Murder” campaign would work in the U.S.

    We seem to like killing our children here: emotionally, intellectually, sexually, religiously.

    We leave them open to the evil of the streets anyway. What’s the big deal about a bunch of cars?

  4. I would bike instead of drive if there were a critical mass of bicyclists. But there aren’t, and even though there are a lot of cyclists in my city, there are a lot of cars that hit them. I don’t feel safe biking places.

  5. That is funny – the narrator talks as if he is observing the habits of some animal in the wild. That would be great if the US became more bike friendly. I live in a pretty rural area and am one of those strange creatures who bike for recreation rather than to get from point a to point b.

  6. Excellent video except that the narrator did not mention that summer in California, Illinois (and my part of Canada) can be very hot and/or humid and of course hilly. So we perspire a lot and that’s why we wear different clothing.

  7. we were on a little road trip to partners home town area in MN and his mom and i happened upon a free bike sharing program in Stockholm WI…

    also at the locks on the mississippi the guys were using vintage bikes to ride back and forth from one end/building to the other end.

  8. Being from Davis, living in Germany, and having visited the Netherlands, I was interested to hear his conclusions about the different locations.

    Davis thoroughfare streets (that are not primarily residential or that have a speed limit above 25mph) usually have bike lanes and are pretty regularly used by people without helmets (college students, usually). There are also greenbelt pathways (car-free) connecting neighborhoods. So it was a little surprising to hear the narrator talk about lack of “infra” in Davis. Maybe he didn’t really explore it? It is, by far, the best town for bicycling I’ve ever seen in the US – though hot summers are killer.

    Where I live in Germany there are many streets with a bike path on the sidewalk – color coded to keep pedestrians & bikes separate. There are just as often, though, no lanes or paths and when bikes have to mix with traffic and parked cars on narrow old streets (sometimes cobblestone), it can be a little nerve-wracking given how people drive fast and come to sudden stops here.

    I wouldn’t have the guts to ride in Amsterdam (at least not in the central part, though rural areas of the Netherlands are biking paradise – flat so you can get away with super heavy, VERY comfortable bikes on designated, separated bike paths.

    And I second the “die Kinder” comment – a friend had exactly that yelled at him when he crossed against the light.

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