Bicycling Shus

When we first landed in Amsterdam Schipol Airport in March of this year, it wasn't apparent that the Netherlands is any different than anywhere else: a busy airport terminal with International brand stores, food courts, taxi lineups, and stressed out people.

Once we made it past the airport however, it was how I envisioned it. Bicycles everywhere, being ridden everywhere, by everyone, parked and chained to everything, everywhere. It's real. I often read about this place as if it were a fantasy novel, a nation that uses bicycles on average more than any other country on earth (though equal with Denmark).

Riding home we turn right at the bicycle lights ahead. The layout is: one way automobile road, bicycle parking/median, bicycle lane, sidewalk.

These traffic lights for cyclists turning left and going straight are at most busy intersections where cyclists and pedestrians interact.

I asked our Haarlem-born airport taxi driver where the best place to purchase a bicycle is. His reaction:

"It doesn't matter! They are everywhere, you will find one you like."

Ok, well that's good non-advice. So I asked him his opinion of cyclists as a taxi driver:

"You have to watch out for cyclists always, they are unpredictable, be careful...but I know this because when I am one, you know? I act the same way on weekends or whatever."

I couldn't imagine how often bicycles interacted with cars until cycling over here. I envisioned completely divided cycling in cities, but this is not true at all. Cyclists often interact with cars; the layout from the right: sidewalk, car lane, unprotected bicycle lane, bus lane and the median (similar on the other side).

31% of "Nederlanders" say that the bicycle is their main mode of transport, but in some cities with superior infrastructure the number is as high as 59% (City of Groningen). We have noticed that from our experiences the past few months that it is often advantageous to be on a bicycle as the trip times are often less than 20 minutes to travel from home to a friend on the other side of town or in most cases 5 minutes or less to the grocery store/market.

A street in the Haarlem Centrum we frequently ride to get to the Haarlem Centraal Station which has very busy bicycle and pedestrian traffic at the rush hours.

This street is on the edge of Haarlem's Centrum area with completely separated lanes and signalling.

I spoke to a man working in a retail store about Haarlem cycling; he explained how he is from a small rural town and is used to driving most places:

"I couldn't believe it, one time it took me thirty minutes to drive just 500 meters! Pointless on most days..."

When he moved to Haarlem he realised that trying to drive small distances is futile! It takes less time than by bicycle as you often cannot just drive where you want due to: narrow roadways, traffic control based on time of day or day of the week and just a congestion of people walking and on bicycle. The infrastructure and culture in cities is advantageous to bicycles first, and then pedestrians and autos in my experience (in some cases pedestrians have the worst infrastructure due to narrow, often awkward sidewalks).

Narrow city streets like this in some places make choosing to ride a bicycle no question. Sometimes thee streets are congested with pedestrians on both sides and cyclists in the middle, making driving to these places impractical, and some days if there is a delivery truck, impossible!

Even if a third of people say they use a bicycle primarily, even those that have automobiles also bicycle when it's advantageous, for recreation, and with family in the evening or weekend (we have also noticed those who drive bicycles will drive autos when advantageous, and vice versa). It's hard to find a house or apartment block in the Netherlands that doesn't have bicycles parked in front, and if they aren't, it's because they are parked indoors, in a shed or "fietsstalling," a heated, covered public bicycle parking garage.

I would like to share more of my experiences with bicycle culture and infrastructure with you, from here in the Netherlands. This feature is called: The Bicycling Shus!!!!

NEXT TIME with The Bicycling Shus: Practical Dutch Bicycles

~ Brian