Health is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. —World Health Organization
Cycling culture is universal in the Netherlands. It is part of the national consciousness. They embrace all things bicycle. In a country with less than half the population of California, they have many of the worlds top cyclists including Chantal Blaak, winner of the Amstel Gold Race and World Road Race Championship, and Tom Doumalin, winner of the Giro d’Italia and World Time Trial Championship. Just as Norway’s love for winter sports was on display in the Winter Olympics, the spirit of the people of the Netherlands expresses through cycling, in sport and everyday life. Cycling is a principle value the Dutch have built their communities around. [I usually use my pictures for this blog, but the photos in this post are from the public domain, mostly of the Amstel Gold women’s race which takes place every April in the Netherlands]
The bicycle was the traditional vehicle for transportation in the Netherlands in the early part of the 20th century, accounting for about 80% of trips in Amsterdam. Car technology changed that in the 1960’s, just like it did here in the U.S. The Dutch decided in the 1970’s to comprehensively plan for providing service to people cycling, and that has made a big difference. Cities are built for people on bicycles. 75% of secondary school children bicycle to school. The Dutch educate their children to travel by bike with a traffic certificate program, which most kids complete by age 12. This is part of the planning process, to instill confidence. There is a public expectation that kids will be cycling. The urban planners work with the traffic department and local communities to ensure that the roads, paths, and trails are safe for bikes. This is very similar to the travel culture that I experienced in Japan–bikes and walking are thought through and planned as completely as other modes such as trains, buses, and cars.
The results are pretty incredible. By no means perfect, but they go a long way towards a happy, healthier and more sustainable society. We have all the seeds in America we need for this. Our Safe Routes to Schools programming started as a safe streets movement in a country nearby the Netherlands, Denmark. We have many assets we can leverage including wide streets, space and our hallmark of ingenuity guided by science and a high regard for all people. Our Constitution seeks to form “a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity”. Bicycling aids with all of these things, the American way.
Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm. –Ralph Waldo Emerson
When we celebrate cycling, I like to remember how it brings together the highest aspirations for our healthiest possible future. It is about justice, equity, inclusion, freedom, equality, and building strong and responsible communities. We can tell our young cyclists when they push those pedals the possibilities are unlimited. You very well could end up on top of the world.
Photo Credits, and References: