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How the Dutch created a casual biking culture (vox.com)
388 points by jseliger 9 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 383 comments

As a Dutch person I am pleasantly surprised by this article, it gets basically everything right. One thing though is that our geography works well with biking. I visited the US recently and you can drive for 30 minutes in a car and you are still in LA, if you drive for 30 minutes in the Netherlands you're in a completely different city. Everything is just closer and hence more bike-able.

As a dutch person I would absolutely NOT want to ride a bike in the US, it's simply too dangerous. There are so many cars that are not looking out for cyclists. For example, I never saw my Uber/Lyft driver peek over his shoulder. In the Netherlands we fail our driving exam if we forget this even once. Another example is the insane speed cars fly past the "share the road"-bikelanes. It's crazy. I would feel really unsafe on a bike in the US.

> As a dutch person I would absolutely NOT want to ride a bike in the US, it's simply too dangerous.

I understand this perspective, but as a counter to this, if no one bikes in the US then this won't change. I ride all over San Francisco. In the last 18 years of me living here things have gotten better and better for the cyclist, but there are still many areas that can be improved. I encourage you to support local organizations, like the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, which can pressure local governments to make changes that improve safety for all cyclists.

For too long in the US we've designed our roads with the idea that cars have some right to the road that others do not. We're finally starting to rectify that in cities across the country, and it's only getting better.

In the last 18 years of me living here things have gotten better and better for the cyclist, but there are still many areas that can be improved

I just visited SF, and it was notable to me how much of the city's infrastructure is given over to cars and parking: https://jakeseliger.com/2018/08/19/what-santa-barbara-says. The rhetoric on the Internet made me think the reality on the ground would be different.

Knowing what it was like before, and how much improved it is since then, definitely shouldn’t be taken to mean that it’s ideal by any means.

The point I was making is how much things like SFBC and Critical Mass over the years improved things because of the community involvement.

I’d like to see bicycle boulevards and dedicate roads to bikes, but what we have is better than when I got here, and feels like it’s improveing at a rapid pace now.

You would also fail your driver's test in SF if you don't check for bikers when making a right turn. However, this isn't the case if you do your test elsewhere. SF has pretty good bike infrastructure and awareness.

I just did my driving test in the city, and this was drilled into my head by my instructor.

> You would also fail your driver's test in SF if you don't check for bikers when making a right turn.

Infrastructure shouldn't be designed in a way to cause these types of turning conflicts. The general rule of the road is that vehicles on the right make right turns. Vehicles on the left make left turns, and vehicles in the middle proceed straight through the intersection.

Turning conflicts, like what you're describing, are a significant hazard to cyclists. Cars need to check for traffic[1] on their right, move to the right, and then make their right turn. Cyclists need to pass right turning traffic on the left.

[1] Cyclists are traffic.

By that measure, we shouldn't have crosswalks at intersections, and walkers should walk into the street, past the right turn lane, to avoid turning conflict.

In most countries in Europe (certainly in the UK, and other places I have visited), pedestrians have a separate crossing phase to the rest of traffic.

The US is unusual in expecting pedestrians to cross while traffic is also trying to negotiate an intersection.

In some EU countries(Poland) pedestrians have a green light to go, even though cars turning right also have a green light - cars are expected to watch out for pedestrians crossing, even when they have a green light to go.

I live in UK and the part of the traffic codex that seems to be unknown to literally all British drivers is the one that says "pedestrians have priority over cars making a turn" - so if you are crossing a road near an intersection and a car is making a turn into that road you are just crossing, you have absolute priority even in the absence of a designated crossing - but drivers get really upset and honk and wave as if you are in their way.


"watch out for pedestrians crossing a road into which you are turning. If they have started to cross they have priority, so give way"

> part of the traffic codex that seems to be unknown to literally all British drivers is the one that says "pedestrians have priority over cars making a turn"

They have a very efficient system for reminding fellow road users, though. Two fingers in the air slightly apart, a pedestrian’s walking legs upside down, indicating the priority reversal.

People are generally very receptive to this, because it is quintessentially British to understand you have to live together harmoniously to get ahead in life.

Please don’t spread dangerous misinformation, even as a joke.

Note to non-UK-residents: The described gesture is, in fact, a very rude insulting gesture:


> dangerous misinformation

Oh come on, making a V sign is not dangerous. Most likely, someone shouts an original insult to you.

I've been followed home and threatened in the US for giving a driver who was tailgating the middle finger. Are you saying that in the UK this would never happen? I certainly wouldn't risk provoking random strangers, especially those who are not following traffic codex.

Very unlikely. Fuels costs are way too high for anyone in the UK to consider diverting from their regular commute.

I think pedestrians have priority almost all the time on UK roads but drivers don't care.

Wow! All along I'd been thinking that those pedestrians who cross near a junction with barely more than a glance over their shoulder were reckless and unjustified. Now I guess I think it's just reckless.

> In most countries in Europe (certainly in the UK, and other places I have visited), pedestrians have a separate crossing phase to the rest of traffic.

I don't have numbers but I think this is the other way around: UK is the exception while most of Europe have pedestrians cross with turning traffic.

As a pedestrian I prefer the "normal" way of sharing the crossing with turning cars. In UK you'll have to wait for a way too long time for the pedestrian green light, and as a result (?) people cross pretty regularly against the red light. This is the case for London at least -- could also be that people are just more impatient in such a crowded metropolis.

There's a difference between a pedestrian moving at 3 to 6 mph and a cyclist going 10 to 20 mph. This is why crossing intersections as a pedestrian at cyclist speeds is much more hazardous to cyclists (compared to pedestrians moving at typical pedestrian speeds) because drivers don't expect someone moving that fast when they're making a turn across a crosswalk.

There's no way to eliminate turn conflicts except for eliminating all grade crossings. Even on protected bike lanes the right hook is still a significant risk. Drivers need to have it drilled in to their head to look before turning. Even if a bike isn't entering from a protected lane, there could be a pedestrian using the crosswalk.

> Even on protected bike lanes the right hook is still a significant risk.

That's because the infrastructure design is deficient here (which is putting a straight through lane to the right of a right turn lane). Either the cyclist needs to stay in the lane that's meant for straight through traffic, or there needs to be some form of intersection control that only allows traffic to proceed in a phased fashion like a traffic light.

For the latter option, the light would only allow cyclists to proceed through the intersection or allow other vehicles to proceed through the intersection, but not both at the same time.

The hook usually happens at unsignalized intersections (e.g. an alleyway) in my experience. Adding more signals is not the solution. Nor is making "every lane a bike lane." Even in a wide sharrow'ed lane a driver will make a pass, followed by a right turn which cuts the biker off.

Drivers often make mistakes here, and especially bicyclists. A lot of cars try to turn from the middle lane, which makes passing on the left more dangerous for cyclists. On top of that, many cyclists attempt to pass on the right, while cars are turning right.

You are absolutely correct, but so many people don’t know the rules well enough to even realize they’re breaking them.

Cyclists also willfully break traffic rules in SF with alarming regularity. Stop signs are generally regarded as ornamental, and even lightly traveled red lights. I am reminded of this every time my seven year-old cycling companion asks why such and such a person hasn't followed the rules when they blow past us.

Both classes of vehicles have to be diligent.

As a occasional cyclist with a habit of casually breaking all possible traffic rules that are relatively safely breakable, my thinking is that if I crash with a car, it is me who dies regardless who was right. So as long the traffic culture amongst car drivers is so ignorant toward cyclists that me following traffic rules and actually trying to use the rights the rules give me results to life expectancy calculated in weeks, I keep my relaxed attitude towards traffic rules. Once the driving culture is such that I can drive safely by following rules, I start considering following them. The ball on this one is on cars, not cycles.

(To be fair, when I drive a car, I find myself driving similarly badly way too often. So I definitely do not claim changing the culture is easy)

To be fair, SF seems to have four-way stop signs at basically every intersection. I don't think we have four-way stop signs anywhere in Europe. Coming to a full stop and accelerating again every hundred meters slows you down a lot more on a bike. It's a pretty stupid road design for cars too, it kills your fuel economy.

Yep and the fact that only one car goes through at a time and drivers need to keep in mind whose turn it is.

It’s a really awful design. Just have a roundabout. It flows traffic through a lot better.

Or remove all signs and rely on right-of-way. That's the cheapest solution and works pretty well. If traffic is too heavy install traffic lights.

In Idaho it is perfectly legal for bicycles to treat Stop signs as yields, and Red lights as stop signs.

It was attempted to get a similar law passed in CA: AB 1103.


Many cyclists would agree that a rolling stop allows them to get through, when there is no traffic, the intersection much faster and more safely due to the dangers of an intersection. I'm not arguing for blowing through at top-speed, and they must stop when pedestrians are in a cross-walk.

Just because it's the law, doesn't mean it's correct.

Coming to a full stop on a bike is downright dangerous. The act of unclipping from your pedal, stopping, and then starting again and having to clip back into your pedal is far more dangerous than just slowing down sufficiently to make sure there's no oncoming traffic. You're more likely to fall over when transitioning between moving and stopped on a bike than any other time, and falling over at an intersection is very dangerous.

There's nothing dangerous about stopping, I do it all the time and have never fallen. Cyclists who lack the skills to ride with clipless pedals just shouldn't use them. Or at least switch to something like Speedplay which make it easier to clip in and out.

I ride clipped all the time in the city and don't have this problem. If you can't safely use clips in the city, it's your choice to use them anyway. Saying that due to clips, "Coming to a full stop on a bike is downright dangerous" may be precise for you and your usage, but it's not a general rule as you made it sound.

I have never had clips, clipless pedals or anything similar. All of my bikes have had flat pedals with a bit of rubber and/or protrusions to keep my feet in place.

I have literally never felt that to be a disadvantage. I'm not racing, I'm commuting.

I've never used clips on my pedals when commuting because of the fact that there are times I have to come to a stop where I may not have time to unclip.

Using clips while riding in city traffic is like using cruise control while driving in city traffic.

Riding without clipless pedals means your feet slip all around and you have to pay more attention to your feet while pedaling. Or you have to use toe-clips, which are a PITA because you have to flip the pedal over to get your toe in.

With clipless pedals, you just mash your foot in and go, and your foot is now in the perfect position and you don't have to think about it. But that transition time is more hazardous than simply having your feet on the pedals all the time.

> Riding without clipless pedals means your feet slip all around and you have to pay more attention to your feet while pedaling.

The pedals on my bicycle have some slight metal protrusions that keep my feet in place while riding and work just fine with conventional shoes. Plus, in dry weather, I don't have a problem with my feet slipping off the pedals. Even in wet weather, they don't really slip that much unless I'm not careful about it.

> Cyclists also willfully break traffic rules

The same thing also applies to motorists and pedestrians. Also, generalizations like this lead to the attitude that it's somehow the cyclists fault if they get hit by the car even if they are following the rules.

I don't follow your argument. Grandparent had pointed out correct cyclist behavior at intersections to avoid accidents. Parent had commented that both motorists and "especially" cyclists made mistakes resulting in violations of traffic rules and expected behavior. I added the observation that many cyclists' incorrect behavior in San Francisco is willful, not only accidental.

Both parent and I agree with GP's point that, "Turning conflicts...are a significant hazard to cyclists"; I simply argued for vigilance in the presence of deliberate rule-breaking by cyclists. Surely you would not argue for less vigilance by motorists? SF drivers are a whole other rant...

If you meant to say that I am making a hasty or sweeping generalization, I did no such thing. I make no claim as to the proportion of two-wheeled scofflaws. Anybody who rides in SF can see it, and some riders have owned up in child comments herein. If your complaint is against motorists who justify their own shitty driving with claims that cyclists are 'always' flouting the rules, then I agree that this is dangerously fallacious. But such a sweeping generalization nonetheless starts with cyclists who clearly break traffic rules.

That's why I wish they would stop. This is about saving lives. And if you are also a rider then you know the apportionment of blame becomes moot when 1800kg of SUV hits 80kg of cyclist. I think GP is absolutely right that good infrastructure design is key to avoiding such risks, but like all transportation systems it has to be built on the assumption that traffic rules will be followed.


There's a myriad of reasons why this is the case. Traffic signals and signage aren't designed for cyclists. Google a little.

Further, this is a false equivalence. When a cyclist fails to be diligent, the risks are fairly small. When a motorists fails to be diligent, other people die.

You are being unnecessarily abrasive.

I ride the streets that I'm speaking about. San Francisco has a team of engineers who redesign road infrastructure, markings, and signage to promote safe cycling. I think they do good work and I benefit directly from their work. I think the infrastructure is better suited to cycling than your dismissive comment implies.

I disagree with your characterization that the risks to motor vehicle-bicycle interactions are fairly small risks as long as motorists are diligent. But I don't suggest that you accept my risk assessment. My equivalence is grounded in California law[0]. Cyclists have equal responsibility with other drivers. Both groups of vehicles need to be operated diligently.

[0] http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/codes_displaySection....

San Francisco has a team of engineers who redesign road infrastructure...

They're adapting roads which were created entirely with motorists in mind in an attempt to promote safe cycling. The infrastructure is more well suited to cycling than it was previously, but I'm not sure that folks from Portland would agree. Folks from Copenhagen, most especially wouldn't agree.

In any case, it's a subjective assessment.

You disagree with my characterization and feel like the law somehow proves you right?

Yes, it is equally illegal for a motorist and a cyclist to blow a stop sign. If a motorist blows a stop sign and has a collision with another motorist, cyclist, or pedestrian, then likely outcome is injury in one of those cases, and death in the other two.

If a cyclist blows a stop sign and causes a collision, the likely outcome is that they'll end up a stain on someone else's car. It's possible they could injure, or even kill a pedestrian, which has happened all of once that I can tell.

The risk is vastly different. Bicycles aren't really ever considered to be deadly weapons.

Cars also willfully break traffic rules in SF with alarming regularity. Almost no one signals, cars rarely come to a full stop at crosswalks (instead inching forward, implying the pedestrian needs to hurry up), and even though I don't have a radar gun I'm pretty sure I see drivers operating at speeds far above the speed limit. Not to mention the drivers who shout out death threats at bikes for merely occupying the lane...

I have a very simple rule. Traffic laws and enforcement of said laws should be proportional to the accident rate.

If the average car driver has 2x, 10x, 100x or anything like higher accident rate than cyclists, and car traffic is several time larger than bike traffic, then it make logical sense that most traffic law and enforcement is put on addressing car traffic and drivers. The only consideration is when funding for such enforcement and laws don't follow strict scaling, in which you have to find the point where putting more funding in bike traffic laws actually produce lower accidents.

This works only on roads where cars and bikes go the same speed. There are many roads where cars want to go faster than that.

Cars and trucks and buses don't really go the same speed and it still works for them. Plus, on city streets where traffic is going 40 mph or less, the speed difference isn't really that great.

Buses and trucks are a bit bigger and less vulnerable than bikes, and their speed difference with cars isn't remotely as big as that between cars and bikes. It's really not a comparable situation.

Bikes taking up the place of a car, would really slow car traffic down to a crawl. There's a good reason they get separate lanes.

> and their speed difference with cars isn't remotely as big as that between cars and bikes.

Cyclists can go between 10 to 20 mph. Some faster ones can go 25 to 30 mph. On a city street, you have cars going between 20 to 30 mph. On other roads, they may be going up to 40 mph. Given typical speeds, you have a 0 to 30 mph difference.

On highways, there are trucks that are limited to 55 to 60 mph amongst cars that go 70 to 85 mph. In that case, you have speed differences ranging from 10 to 30 mph.

> Bikes taking up the place of a car, would really slow car traffic down to a crawl.

Not really. If there are multiple lanes of traffic going in the same direction, then they don't slow down traffic any more than a bus would. If there's a single lane of traffic going in that direction, then cyclists are far more easy to pass compared to a bus or truck. In many states, it is legal to pass cyclists by crossing a double-yellow line when safe to do so. Second, it's much easier to see around a cyclist compared to a bus or car.

  > Cyclists can go between 10 to 20 mph. Some faster ones can go 25 to 30 mph. On a city street, you have cars going between 20 to 30 mph. On other roads, they may be going up to 40 mph. Given typical speeds, you have a 0 to 30 mph difference.
Are you talking about cyclists or motorcyclists here? Racing bikes, recumbent bikes or e-bikes? Because regular cyclists do not get anywhere near those speeds.

Average cycle speed is about 15 kph, which is approximately 10 mph. 40 mph is more than 60 kph. Muscle-powered cyclists might reach those speeds if they're professional Tour de France racers going downhill, and even then only the downhill experts.

Also, on highways you've got multiple lanes, allowing for easy overtaking.

> Are you talking about cyclists or motorcyclists here? Racing bikes, recumbent bikes or e-bikes? Because regular cyclists do not get anywhere near those speeds.

I'm talking about cyclists. On a hybrid/commuter bike, I have no problem cruising at 15 mph (and I'm middle-aged and a bit overweight rider). Most people who regularly commute can maintain speeds similar to what I can. Could you cite your source about the average speed of 15 km/h?

> Also, on highways you've got multiple lanes, allowing for easy overtaking.

There are many streets in cities that have multiple-lanes for same direction traffic.

Average cycling speed depends a lot on how hard the cyclist is willing to work for it. Most aren not willing to work at all, and on a regular city bike, that means most people will go about 15 km/h. Speed maniacs (like me) will have an average speed of over 20 km/h (on a cargo bike) or even 30 km/h on a sport or racing bike.

I'm completely unable to not work myself into a sweat when cycling, but I'm not remotely average. Average cyclists include children, elderly people, disabled people. People with kids, people with cargo, and many, many people not in any kind of hurry.

  > There are many streets in cities that have multiple-lanes for same direction traffic.
In Amsterdam, there's about a handful, and some of those have higher speed limits. They're the main thoroughfares that you don't want obstructed with slow traffic. The vast, vast majority of streets have only a single lane for cars in each direction, and a bike lane or bike path next to it.

Drivers tests in the US are a joke.

That you think it's easy to pass drivers tests in the US is a joke.

It actually is a joke how bad some tests are. In a lot of cities in Florida your test is done in a parking lot with no real world driving with other cars, and it omits a lot of things, like parallel parking. Ideally licenses should be able to be transferred across states, but tests like the majority of ones in Florida mean drivers from there may be inadequately prepared for driving in some other states like CA.

I really hope this is an exaggeration.

Still, the US is not the only place with very mixed standards for driving tests. I once heard that the easiest way to get a Dutch driving license was on the Caribbean island of Saba, where you'd get your license if you could drive around the central square without causing an accident. I knew someone who got his license there, and he didn't dare to drive a car in Netherland. Fortunately he had a Dutch motorbike license.

It's not an exaggeration. Taking a look at Hillsborough Country[1], two of the three DMVs have "on-site test tracks".

1: http://www.hillstax.org/services/services-driver-licenses.as...

The biggest problem, to my mind, is that there is no process for retesting.

IMO you should have to re-take the test every 5 years starting at 50... and maybe ever year starting from 70 or 75.

Here in NC, the road test was maybe 10 minutes long, in very light traffic. No parallel parking.

The written portion of the test consisted of sign identification and a few very easy multiple choice questions.

I did this when I was 15. That as almost 20 years ago. Have never, and will never, need to do anything else.

Your comment is ignorant and insulting, since you're basically calling him a liar.

My US driving test was a joke. I pulled out of a parking space, pulled up to a road, took a right turn, drive 100-200 feet to an intersection, took a right turn, then took another right turn into the same parking lot I had just left, then parked. That was my entire driving test.

The original comment is ignorant and insulting, since it's implying I'm incompetent enough to have failed a joke of a test twice.

The original comment never stated that all driving tests everywhere in the US are all a joke. Believing that is ridiculous: the US is a big place and things vary dramatically from locality to locality.

"Drivers tests in the US are a joke." is referring to arbitrary driving tests, and implies any driving test (including the two I failed) is a joke.

The guy is correct. MY driving test was a joke, and other people have testified their tests were a joke too. Therefore the statement is correct. He never said ALL driving tests in the US are a joke.

It sounds like you're taking this personally, and have some kind of issue because you failed two driving tests.

  > For too long in the US we've designed our roads with the idea that cars have some right to the road that others do not.
This used to be the case too in Netherland. Until the 1990s, cars had right of way over bikes in most (not all) situations. A car coming from the left would have right of way over a bike coming from the right. This was only fixed in the 1990s.

Bikes have always been popular, but quite a lot of the things described in this article have been fairly recent developments.

Agreed. I don't blame anybody for not wanting to ride in the city. But I've been in SF since 2000 and I'm amazed at the progress that has been made in this direction. (Thanks in no small part to the SFBC.)

And these improvements are happening all over the US. I've been pleasantly surprised to re-visit places and see how much progress has been made.

I've lived here for 20 years and I think you probably just have Stockholm Syndrome. The built environment is still trash and hasn't changed noticeably the entire time. There have been a few tiny marginal improvements, such as a handful of signals for bikes. Bike share I guess. Otherwise total stasis.

Which area of the city do you live in? I’ve seen numerous improvements to major commuter corridors over the years. Some examples:

- Valencia street being narrowed and bike lanes on both sides, improved protection is being worked on.

- protected lanes continue to be improved on Market, but it’s still not great.

- the wiggle through the lower haight is nearly a bike boulevard

- Ceasar Chavez, still not very safe, but traffic has been slowed down and bike lanes added on both sides.

- folsom street now has protected or very wide bike lanes to third street, and Howard now has wide bike lanes starting at 6th.

I mean yeah, it’s not amazing, but it is safer and is continuing to be improved. It will be a long time before we’re like Holland.

Completely agree. I've lived and biked in SF for over a year, and have seen great improvements in this short time.

Not to mention the coast, Embarcadero to Marina to the presidio, all super bike friendly. In general I think the city is quite bikeable. Sure I wouldn't want my kids to bike around it, but I wouldn't want them in SF in general lol.

Biked all my life in the Netherlands, now in (suburbs of) Toronto.

It's completely different here, I wear a helmet, go much faster, have a much nicer bike, have to pay more attention and would never ride drunk.

I still take it over sitting in traffic any day.

Change will happen faster if the decision makers realize induced demand - building car capacity (supply) induces more demand of drivers... building safe bike infrastructure induces more people to ride.

> One thing though is that our geography works well with biking. I visited the US recently and you can drive for 30 minutes in a car and you are still in LA, if you drive for 30 minutes in the Netherlands you're in a completely different city.

That's not geography, that's urban planning, or a lack of it. America's geographic size meant that we could sprawl, not that we had to.

And indeed, especially in the post-WW2 era, we collectively chose to sprawl out far and wide, greatly favoring the automobile at the expense of walking, biking, and transit.

> I would feel really unsafe on a bike in the US.

That makes sense, since yeah, it's dangerous as hell. Got hit twice the last year before I moved to Munich.

> That's not geography, that's urban planning, or a lack of it.

You're basically right, but it's land use regulation. We have plenty of 'planning' in the US, and it mostly keeps in place what's already there. If you look at the places built in the US before zoning codes and 'planning', a lot of them are actually quite nice because they were built more to adapt than things these days, which are "built to a finished state" to borrow a phrase from the folks at Strong Towns.

I seem to recall from a geography A-level course about 35 years ago in the UK that historically Los Angeles' spread was something to do with the city fathers offering incentives to adjoining communities to become part of Los Angeles - something like 'call yourself Los Angeles and we'll give you access to our water or electrical grid'.

Is that right? A bit hazy after all this time.

Los Angeles had the water supply from Owens Lake, which enabled it to dictate terms to a lot of surrounding land whose owners wanted to develop (e.g. the San Fernando Valley).

It's a huge, fairly flat coastal basin, and although the city limits don't cover the whole area, Los Angeles itself is 500 sq mi, which is larger than Phoenix, or 50% more land than New York City. It's really, really big.

I visited LA for the first time last year, I remember descending to LAX and being absolutely blown away by the sheer scale of LA stretching for dozens of miles below. The same approach into London Heathrow/Gatwick seems positively rural in comparison.

I used to think the opening city shots in Blade Runner were an obvious exaggeration but apart from the Tyrell Corp building it looked pretty much the same.

That doesn't sound right at all, it's almost the opposite of the current situation. Only a small part of the Los Angeles sprawl is officially in the city of Los Angeles. Another hundred communities aren't officially called Los Angeles, but might as well be.

Nah, it's basically right. The process just ended before it was complete, apparently triggered by the collapse of the St. Francis Dam.

It's history. In medieval times European villages were an hour's walk apart at most. Then they grew. So now we have towns that are within half an hour relaxed cycling.

The US was still rather empty by the time faster transport came along.

And no one ever drove you off your bike in Munich yet? Lucky you!

I use my bike every day and I don't mind the winter either. I still can count the times I've been hit. Near misses though happen almost daily. Especially with cars turning right not watching bike lanes.

Good luck and keep on cycling!

Bavaria is basically the Texas of Germany. They love big cars and traditional gender roles, and they hate any vehicle not powered by fossil fuels.

I was tempted to say the same, but urban planning is certainly an aspect of geography. It's just not necessarily to do with the physical landforms, though the parent here could have been referring to both the flat nature of the Netherlands and the urban planning.

Aside from this , it's overall pretty repuslive to see how my hometown continues developing with the expectation that people will just drive out and drive back.

As an American, whenever I see articles about Dutch cycling culture, the thing that stands out to me is that nobody is wearing helmets.

In the US, I wouldn't dream of doing that - it's just too dangerous, because there's too much risk of being involved in a high speed collision. But, after having spent some time in the Netherlands, it's come to feel like a minor injustice every time I put my helmet on. It's a little reminder of how, in the US and much the rest of the world, we have blithely turned our public right-of-way into a space that's fundamentally dangerous for humans to be in.

I've broken two helmets over my years of cycling, quite possibly saving me from at least one skull fracture. So a helmet is mandatory to me.

However, I don't want it to be mandated by law. That has shown to keep a lot of people from cycling.

I've a funny anecdote about this:

I'm Dutch and do my daily commute on my casual bike without a helmet. In the weekends I ride my road bike and wear a helmet. I've once had an accident on my road bike and broke my helmet (along with my collar bone). A few weeks later I went out on my casual bike (not wearing a helmet) to buy a new helmet for my road bike. On my way back, holding the new helmet in my right hand, my steer got tangled up in the helmet and I fell. Undeniable conclusion: Having a helmet with you on a casual bike actually causes accidents!

You'd think the logical thing would be to put that helmet on your head, but that just feels silly on a casual bike.

As a dutch person I'd most definitely make assumptions about an adult on an ordinary bike wearing a helmet. No one does that here except tourists sometimes or people who need a helmet all the time.

I'll take your baseless judgment, and enjoy my non-cracked skull, thank you very much :-)

But were you on a racing bike, going at speed? In that situation the Dutch use helmets too.

For normal traffic use, people in the Netherlands use bikes where you sit in an upright position, and they don't go very fast (like 15 km/h). You can take quick evasive action away from the road, or put a foot on the ground to prevent a fall. It's hard to imagine breaking a helmet on a non-racing bike here.

Normal riding, once was on a flat road on an ordinary city bike (saddle ~same height as handlebars, not full tuck like a racer), the other was downhill on a mountain bike (on asphalt). In both cases I flipped over the front, because the front wheel turned perpendicular to the direction of travel.

I average around 20-22kph on my 8km commute riding my current bike. It's nothing particularly special, just an 8-speed city bike, and I certainly don't go all-out, I ride at what feels like a comfortable speed for the bike.

Biking in Copenhagen, I definitely see a fair share of people on granny bikes dawdling along, they're much more likely to crash due to sudden mechanical failure, or due to inattention from staring at their damn phones.

But either way, we're only talking about solo accidents. You can certainly also hit your head against the hood of a car, for instance.

Besides, I like wearing the helmet. It concentrates airflow across the top of my head, and it gives me more area to put stickers on.

Note that in the USA, it's possible to see children in a playground wearing helmets.

That's something nobody should ever do, because the danger of being strangled is significant. https://helmets.org/playgrou.htm

That URL certainly looks like it didn't make it. For a minute I thought you managed to cut out a part somewhere in the middle but the link works!

It's a DOS 8.3 filename :-)

Most children you see wearing bike helmets on playgrounds rode their bikes there and just neglected to remove them. There are also a few children with seizure disorders who routinely wear helmets for protection.

An idea that, thanks to US mass media exports, seems to be spreading to other parts of the world...

But is such casual cycling something uniquely Dutch? How is it different from the cycling culture in China, Vietnam, India or much of the third world?

It's not, the overwhelming majority of cyclists in Denmark don't use helmets either.

I know that Denmark is trying hard to overtake Netherland as the best bicycle country in the world.

Also, according to some reports[1], there are 9 million bicycles in Beijing alone.

[1] Melua (2005)

Put Japan on that list

Something I frequently see in the Netherlands and surprises me is how some driver parks his car, takes the child from the special seat with two belts, put him into a wood box in the front of his bike, and gets into traffic while checking his phone.

I have a friend who takes her three children in a bike because she does not have a big enough car for three children seats.

Ah, the Bakfiets. Couple of toddlers, the family dog, and some groceries all rolling around in a box.

I believe in countries/cities like these its safer to not use a helmet. Drivers see that your being unsafe and give you much more room and are more aware of you. Less accidents and less deaths in total by not wearing a helmet!

I couldn't find the study that was posted on hn, but there are lots of articles.

It's complicated.


The short answer is, "wear a helmet if you have one, and try to get one, but if you don't have one, you should still bike anyway."

Not in the Netherlands, see the article ;)

I also remember reading this.

I think even safer (i.e. drivers keep more distance while overtaking) than no helmet was pretending to be female by wearing a wig with long hair.

Also making it mandatory to wear a helmet means fewer people use bicycles, so fewer people get the health benefits of cycling.

Helmet does not help in high speed crash with car and is not designed for it. It helps in small falls.

I've seen that stated many times. As far as I can tell, it traces back to a news article that did fun things like cherry picking individual observations from a study to support a claim even though the study's overall findings were contradictory.

My own sense is that the science seems pretty clear that, provided you are in a wreck, wearing a helmet greatly reduces your risk of serious injury and death. Helmets aren't perfect, and they may primarily be designed for lower-engery impacts, but even insufficient energy dissipation is better than zero energy dissipation.

There's a secondary claim that not wearing a helmet results in safer behavior than wearing one, and that outweighs any potential benefit. I'm not aware of any quality research to back that claim, and you'd never be able to get a study to pin the question down past an institutional review board, so I'm inclined to say that cuts very close to what we called a fundamentally unanswerable question back in my class on experiment design. (Well, actually we used the acronym most the time. ^_^ ) My personal sense is to think that expecting your garden variety distracted, chronically fatigued, or nonzero BAC driver to notice whether you're wearing a helmet in the first place, let alone modify their behavior accordingly, is giving them more credit than they've earned.

> I've seen that stated many times

Including on bike helmet safety labels. Fact is, they really are designed for falls and not for collisions with motor vehicles. In that situation, they may just be a "better than nothing", possibly not enough to make any difference to the outcome.

> provided you are in a wreck, wearing a helmet greatly reduces your risk of serious injury and death

So . . . you wear a helmet when driving? Because people get head injuries all the time in car wrecks.

My bicycle doesn't have nearly as many air bags as a typical car.

You're right, though. Cars are fundamentally dangerous. High risk of violent injury or death, and, even in the best case, they subtly harm your health and longevity by encouraging a sedentary lifestyle. Damned expensive, too. Perhaps we should all just move to Rotterdam so we wouldn't have to deal with them so much.

https://hovding.com/ - bicycle airbag.

> My bicycle doesn't have nearly as many air bags as a typical car.

yet statistically per-passenger-mile you're more likely to get a head injury while in a car than on a bike.

It's really not an unreasonable point. As a society, we make rules all the time about safety )that may or may not be rooted in actual statistics). I certainly did lots of things as a kid that would be seen by at least many people I know as reckless today in terms of safety equipment.

An argument can be made that you should wear a helmet of some sort in many circumstances where it's not required (or expected) today. Look at downhill skiing. It's still far from universal but no one (besides racers) wore a helmet until 20 years ago or so. I still don't wear one.

The same could be said for pedestrians (slipping on ice, getting hit by a car).

On a motorcycle, yes. Otherwise, I'm surrounded by a cage of metal.

Assuming you are landing on a horizontal surface, it's only the vertical component of the fall that you have to worry about. A fall from 2 meters accelerates you to about 22 km/h (27 km/h for 3 meters). Helmets are design to protect you from a 2-3 meter fall onto an anvil (depending on the standard). As long as you don't hit anything vertical (the curb, a telephone pole, a car, etc), a helmet will give you good head protection no matter how fast you are going (and will also give you some protection against abrasions).

Depending on how fast you are going, a helmet may even help for hitting things. Quite a few people don't exceed 25 km/h on their bikes, especially in city situations. Similarly, if you are aware of a dangerous situation, then slowing down may give you some protection. It's absolutely not going to help if you are bombing along at 40 km/h and get doored, but at that point, nothing really will.

> It's absolutely not going to help if you are bombing along at 40 km/h and get doored, but at that point, nothing really will.

One thing that would help is taking the lane when going at those speeds. People don't normally drive their cars going 40 km/h in the door zone, so the same thing should apply when riding a bicycle.

> I've seen that stated many times.

The Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) impact testing procedure for bicycle helmets does not account for collisions with motor vehicles [1]

[1] https://www.law.cornell.edu/cfr/text/16/1203.17

Absolutely not true. Concussions are always a threat, and a helmet provides limited protection even in a high speed collision.

Helmets have limited ability to prevent concussion. What they do help prevent is cracking your skull or scraping your scalp off.

From experience I came off in London at slow speed an definitely had concussion that night.

I still managed to walk to train station with the bike which had a puncture - only in the morning when I got up did I notice I had dried blood all down one side of my head

Consumer Reports does excellent research, I recently discovered, not only their own original research on products but they provide the background literature too:


The majority of serious injuries from cycling have one thing in common, says Fred Rivara, M.D., M.P.H., a professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington. “Two thirds of hospitalizations and three quarters of deaths from bicycle injuries are due to head injuries,” he says. “The most effective way to prevent that from occurring is to wear a helmet.”

Indeed, extensive research has demonstrated that a helmet is the best way[0] riders can protect themselves against head injuries—especially those that are potentially fatal.[1]


Statistics bear it out: According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, in the majority of bicyclist deaths the most serious injuries are to the head, highlighting the importance of wearing a bicycle helmet. Helmet use has been estimated to reduce the odds of head injury by 50 percent and the odds of head, face, or neck injury by 33 percent.

Tangentially, here's how they test bike helmets:

In our tests we strap helmets onto head forms and use an apparatus that drops the helmets at about 14 mph onto a flat anvil to find out how well they withstand impact. An electronic sensor inside the head form monitors the force that would be transmitted to a rider’s skull in an accident.

We also test the strength of helmet chinstraps, attachment points, and buckles. We drop an 8 3⁄4-pound weight 2 feet so that it yanks on the straps to simulate the force that might occur in a crash.

EDIT: Add a paragraph and footnotes

[0] http://www.cochrane.org/CD001855/INJ_wearing-a-helmet-dramat...

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27450862

I generally agree, but I want to point out that there is a huge range of impact protection depending on the general shape (e.g. 'aero' vs 'skater' style), construction (hard shell downhill MTB helmet vs typical road helmet) and fit. I can't count the number of times I've seen a cyclist with a terribly ill-fitting, poorly positioned helmet. I've seen many completely exposed foreheads, thanks to too much rearward tilt, and mostly exposed skull bases thanks to the impractical aero/race-inspired design that's dominated the road market for decades.

Personally, though I ride a road bike, I wear a fairly standard MTB helmet. Really, I like the visor more than anything, but I do think it has better protection all-around.

I also use MTB (Shimano SPD) pedals: they're easy to clip in and out of, and I can wear normal-looking shoes that I can actually walk normally in.

The racing stuff is just ridiculous: it gets you a tiny improvement in performance at a huge penalty in usefulness. If you're not actually racing, it's pointless.

Some "racing" bike helmets are wonderful though - they block minimal airflow and are very lightweight, so you don't even notice wearing them.

Yeah, but surely that comes at a cost, of less protection for certain types of falls. See the parent's comment about mostly-exposed skull bases for instance. Personally, I'd rather have better protection even if that means a little less airflow and a few grams more mass. (Of course, you can go to an extreme here; those full-face MTB racing helmets are really too much IMO.)

I know about fit and positioning, but I haven't heard there are differences in safety due to shape or the "aero/race-inspired design". Where can I find out more about it? Has any research been done?

It's not just high speed that makes helmets useful: you can get a brain injury just falling over when you're stopped, if you hit your head on something hard (like asphalt or concrete, which most roads and sidewalks and curbs tend to be made of).

People's bodies simply were not evolved for a concrete environment. Helmets are how we deal with that.

You'd be surprised at how good people are instinctively at not bonking their head on stuff. In an ordinary bike accident -- e.g. swerving for something unexpected, and then falling -- you'll not hit your head on anything. Road rash is no fun either but you're not more likely to hit your head on a bicycle than you are when just walking around.

>In an ordinary bike accident -- e.g. swerving for something unexpected, and then falling -- you'll not hit your head on anything.

You can't say that with 100% certainty. There could be a curb there, and you might not catch yourself properly, and hit your head on it.

Sorry, but I'm not going to bet my life on your feelings of "how good people are". Putting on a helmet isn't some kind of huge burden; it's no different than wearing a seat belt in a car.

>Road rash is no fun either but you're not more likely to hit your head on a bicycle than you are when just walking around.

When you're walking around, your head isn't traveling 10-30 mph. The relative likelihood is irrelevant, what's important is velocity.

I'm a long-time bike commuter in the U.S (Portland, OR suburbs). Your comment reminds me of a Dutch colleague I once worked with. He was adamant that cycling conditions were too dangerous here. As a relative statement compared to the Netherlands, I'm sure that's true. For me personally, the health benefits and general enjoyment make it worthwhile. Also, it's important to know what you're doing when cycling in traffic, even in a "bike friendly" city. Unfortunately, there's no formal education in the USA around that topic, like there is for driving an automobile.

>>> As a dutch person I would absolutely NOT want to ride a bike in the US, it's simply too dangerous.

A lot of Americans also think it's too dangerous. It's an obstacle to getting more people on bikes.

When people at my workplace see me with my bike, or find out that I'm a cyclist, they beg me to be careful, promise to wear a helmet, and so forth. I have friends who are avid cyclists, but who limit their riding to dedicated bike paths or off-road trails, because they don't feel safe riding on the roads.

Just looking at pictures and videos, it's apparent to me that cyclists in the US and Netherlands have very different riding habits due to the differences in conditions. The Dutch seem so carefree. Americans seem to have a much more wary, defensive, and sometimes aggressive style, and may prefer more maneuverable bikes for a reason. You'd probably get used to it, as lots of us do.

We also probably have to pay more attention to planning our routes to avoid the worst of traffic. I know all of the dedicated bike paths and side roads in my town. Google Maps gives different routes for bikes and cars. Residential streets have lots of cars but not a lot of traffic volume. I actually encounter relatively few cars on my rides.

Much as I defend cycling in the US, I'd still prefer the Dutch environment.

> A lot of Americans also think it's too dangerous. It's an obstacle to getting more people on bikes.

Well, in the Netherlands it was supposedly the reason for demands for safer infrastructure, which in turn led to people starting to cycle more.

> Google Maps gives different routes for bikes and cars.

It does the same in the Netherlands, but I guess that's for a different reason: often roads are one-way only for cars, and bidirectional for cyclists.

Google Maps for bikes is notoriously bad around Amsterdam, though. Open Streetmap is generally better. Google tends to avoid bike-only routes and prefers to send you along car routes.

(It's not as bad as it once was, but it still has the annoying tendency to avoid the Sarphatistraat, for example.)

>I have friends who are avid cyclists, but who limit their riding to dedicated bike paths or off-road trails, because they don't feel safe riding on the roads.

That's basically how I am. I live in the DC area, and luckily for me there's tons of really nice bike paths like the W&OD trail. I can easily ride 50+ miles in one ride here just sticking to these trails, and see a lot of different parts of the area. Or I'll ride on subdivision roads that are very low-traffic. But there's no way I'm riding on normal high-traffic roads around here; it's just too dangerous.

> The Dutch seem so carefree.

I think the helmets are a big part of this.

If you go around telling people, "Body armor required," then they are not going to feel laissez-faire.

The other side is the presumed liability on the part of the car. Cars have almost all the responsibility to ensure they do not collide with a bike in the Netherlands. That makes cycling more pedestrian, you can just go and overall not worry about things around you.

In my view, when you're on the bike, what you're thinking about is riding, and you have to be a lot more wary on US roads, helmet or not. I think the statistics back that up. Sometimes I go out without a helmet, and I still have to be ready to dodge a car or an obstacle in the road.

But I do think that helmets get more attention than they deserve. Oddly enough, among experienced cyclists, a helmet is just part of the equipment. You either wear one or you don't. But non-cyclists (the folks who "advise" me at my workplace), the helmet is the first thing they ask about.

Oh, one more thing, European roads tend to be in a lot better condition. I had a near-accident last week because I didn't notice a gaping hole in the road that would have sent me over the bars.

> I visited the US recently and you can drive for 30 minutes in a car and you are still in LA, if you drive for 30 minutes in the Netherlands you're in a completely different city.

But what difference does that make? Why would I be more likely to visit a different city rather than another part of a bigger city?

It's cultural, as well. One time a car of people in Houston drove me off the road onto the curb. They screamed out of their window "why you biking out here, you trying to die?"

I was in the bike lane...

The cyclist vs motorist dynamic in NL is skewed because practically all motorists are cyclists too.

I would say the dynamic is skewed in the US because so few motorists are cyclists. Just perspective.

There is no natural origin to be skewed from. It's relative. both statements are equally correct, and leave out the relative context.

The natural origin should be walking (except for motorways, some tunnels, etc., and I guess in most cases also outside city/village limits). But I read that in US suburbs, many streets are not even suitable for that, which boggles my mind.

The natural origin is a pedestrian, which is much, much more common in the Netherlands than most of the USA.

You are right, I was searching for words and couldn't find the right one.

I am not sure that's true. I (a Dutchman) know plenty of motorists who won't touch a bicycle.

No, but most of them used to ride a bicycle at some point in their lives, and know of the dangers that cars pose to them. Also Dutchman here.

Very select cities are pretty good for biking. Boulder CO, for instance is pretty great b/c most people there bike. But yeah for a lot of places it's a nightmare.

Also our metro areas tend to spread out quite a bit, so to get from one area to another typically involves biking >5 miles.

I'd also like to congratulate Utah for recently completing over 100 miles of commuter-friendly bike trails that connect nearly all of the most populous cities.



Portland, Oregon is another great example. It has the best biking infra I've seen in the US mixed with a driving culture that, for the most part, actually affords priority consideration to pedestrians and bikers. While not perfect, a lot of best practices can and probably should be derived from what Portland has done to improve bike infra.

I no longer live there, but do you know where they ended up on the Folsom bike lane? There was a lot of back and forth, drivers getting really angry at bikers protesting the removal of the bike lane.

Ah, I haven't lived there since 2014. Couldn't tell you.

The geography is fine, really. LA is flat and has decent-ish weather (too hot at times though)

The buildings and motorways are an absolutely hellscape of trash design, though. Whole damn city is an asphalt desert with a building sprinkled here and there. Why? Because laws force businesses and homes to have parking that often takes up more space than the building itself.

Another thing is that Netherlands (most of it) is flat. Much nicer to ride bike on even ground than where there are even small hills.

A lot of the good road bike trails in the US are built next to slow-moving rivers and canals for that very reason. Rivers tend to carve the land or reroute until the slope is gentle and nearly constant. My favorite way to find road bike trails in the US is by looking near large rivers.

For bikes replacing cars, you need flat paths to places you want to go (your home, shopping, work) not to places you go to ride a bike.

That is nice if you're riding bike on trails you can pick, for fun (thanks for hint).

For those of us commuting to work, to move from place A to place B and back, that is unfortunately not always feasible...

The wind there is much worse than small hills!

No it's not. As a Dutch person who moved to Switzerland I can say that it's much easier to bike against the wind than to bike up-hill.

Down south (Limburg etc) is a lot more hilly (like a LOT); how is the cycling culture there? I've only been there on vacation once :p.

There is a lot of cycling in Limburg as well. Especially sport cycling ("wielrennen"), not despite but rather because of the hills!

I grew up there and my friends and I used our (regular) bikes a lot to get from town to town. Because of the hills it was exhausting but doable. When I went to study up north, I remember being surprised how easy cycling is in the rest of our (flat) country: you can easily go on for hours!

>"One thing though is that our geography works well with biking."

And the topography doesn't hurt - its flat as a pancake.

Also isn't it possible to basically ride between every city in the Netherlands? I once biked from Rotterdam to Den Hague using only bike paths and protected bike lanes. I got the impression that I could continue riding to Amsterdam in the same fashion if wanted to.

> I got the impression that I could continue riding to Amsterdam in the same fashion if wanted to.

You definitely could. A couple of years ago I've actually done a trip like that, Rotterdam to The Hague to Amsterdam (then onwards to Amersfoort) — it was about 150 km long, and all of that was on designated bike paths and lanes.

That sounds like a nice trip. Yeah the bike paths between Rotterdam and Delft were particularly memorable, you were basically biking through open farm land following a canal. It was like riding through a postcard. Cheers.

I wouldn't be surprised if this were true of continental Europe as a whole. It was actively surprising to me that this wasn't possible in America until I remembered how damn big that place is.

Ive nearly been hit by cars twice as a law abiding pedestrian in the 6 months I have been in Seattle,so theres no way I am cycling here. And as a city on the West Coast, I am sure it is more bike friendly than most in the states. Fortunately, I work and live near downtown, so I can walk my daily commute.

Another factor is the population density. I live in a region that is geographically just a bit larger than the Netherlands and has a population of about 300,000 (The Upper Peninsula of Michigan).

Of course that doesn't apply in US areas that do have higher population density, but there's a lot of country over here.

I’ve stopped peaking over my shoulders ever since I’ve gotten a car with a bunch of sensors and cameras. Now it seems like it is more dangerous to take the time to look back and instead just rely on the fairly reliable sensor indicator in the side review mirrors. It’s not even like you can do both, unfortunately, since you either look here or there.

I wonder how much driving will change with technology before we get full self driving cars?

But ya, the USA still sucks for bikes. It’s not just the cars, but that you are in the same road with the cars in the first place. Netherlands is much better in that regard, with bike trails everywhere and intersections heavily engineered with an eye towards cyclist safety. Not to mention the laws are heavily biased toward cyclists.

I’ve stopped peaking over my shoulders ever since I’ve gotten a car with a bunch of sensors and cameras.

When I ride in newer cars, I'm always surprised at how poor the outward visibility is. Front pillars have gotten enormous in order to house airbags, and the rear pillars seem to always be absurdly think with tiny, useless corner windows (for crush/rollover strength?). It's no wonder that you're more dependent on technology.

Yes. Front pillars are thicker both for airbags, and also for crush/rollover protection, and rear visibility is bad because the beltline has increased, for crash protection and also for aerodynamics. Basically, cars now are MUCH safer than they were 10-20 years ago with these changes, but like anything, there's a price to pay, and it's visibility.

Luckily, rear cameras and radar sensors give me much better visibility now than I ever had with older cars that had more glass.

Yeah that's a bit shit nowadays; I've almost hit a cyclist at a roundabout the other day because he was behind one of the pillars, staying behind there thanks to the combination of his and my speeds. Always check twice.

That is totally true! I’ve noticed that even if did turn my head, I wasn’t seeing much compared to the last car I bought twenty years ago. The rear window is also much smaller than I’m comfortable with, but the sensors make up for it.

> (for crush/rollover strength?)

That's correct: a car's roof (or rather the pillars that hold it) has to be strong enough to not get crushed in case the car gets flipped. That's why pillars are so thick nowadays.

What car has sensors that can detect bikes or pedestrians? My Subaru has rear radar, which is great at detecting vehicles that I literally can’t see, but I would never trust that to alert me to bikes or people.

Mine detects pedestrians and cyclists easy enough. This is 2016 Acura sense, with both side and rear sensor packages. There is also the backup camera, which works really well, but I’m generally get the pedestrian warning before they enter my camera or mirror range. I still turn my head while backing up, it’s when I’m changing lanes at speed where the sensors really start to change behavior (where there is a cost to looking back and not forward).

My Mazda's rear radar sensors alert me if there's pedestrians walking towards me when I'm backing up in a parking lot.

Most parking sensors will detect cyclists, pedestrians, small children etc easily enough, it's just that the range is very limited.

Basically everything, except one thing: the speed threshold where physically separate bike lanes are mandatory is 50km/h, not 30. That happily coincides with the in-city speed limit for cars.

You will still find many physically separated bike lanes even on 50-kph roads if they carry heavy traffic, but it's not mandated by law. It just happens that sharing a road with cyclists also slows down cars, and that decreases traffic throughput.

> It just happens that sharing a road with cyclists also slows down cars, and that decreases traffic throughput.

The equation is not so simple if you consider that one person in a bicycle is one less car on the road, thus occupying a lot less space for the overall traffic.

> As a dutch person I would absolutely NOT want to ride a bike in the US, it's simply too dangerous.

well, while it's very safe to ride a bike here in Netherlands, sh*t still happens regularly and crazy drivers are there. Past year I had this accident : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lUY7psClcbQ

In which the cyclist is at fault, as the minivan is on the intersection before the cyclist and thus has right of way. Right of way only counts when arriving at the same time, often neglected in analysis.

I‘m pretty sure this is wrong. If the van can‘t make the turn safely before the cyclist arrives/collides he has to let him pass. The question of who arrives first at an intersection is irrelevant in europe.

No, going straight has priority over turning traffic, a bike has priority over a minivan, and it's the responsibility of everyone to not cause a collision. The cyclist is right three times over.

Nope, it was the fault of the driver, he has to let the cyclist go. It is how it works here.

LA resident here for eleven years (coming from ATL which has its own horrible traffic and is worse by miles for bike commuting, fwiw).

> I visited the US recently and you can drive for 30 minutes in a car and you are still in LA, if you drive for 30 minutes in the Netherlands you're in a completely different city.

My not-so-pedantic comments to these facts are (a) LA is freaking HUGE (if ever fly into LAX at night, pay attention to when the earth becomes a solid carpet of city lights. It's a looong way from the shoreline). We aren't constrained by water on three or four sides like say, NYC/Manhattan or San Francisco.

And, (b), at LA's 101/10/405/surface street speeds, thirty minutes may only be three or four miles (or two, if you venture to travel at The Wrong Times), while you can get to one of the major secondary cities (Anaheim, for example) in about fifty minutes if you time it well.

So, while technically true, those points aren't representative of How Things Really Are, imho. (me: exclusive transit/bike commuter here for 6+ years)

Atlanta near Midtown has dramatically improved for biking. We also have Bird scooters.

> it gets basically everything right.

Almost everything :) It says that there needs to be a separated, protected bike lane on every road that has a maximum speed over 30 km/h. This is not true (and pretty infeasible, too). The vast majority of average boring roads in residential areas have a 50 km/h maximum speed and no separated bike lanes (and often, if the road is small/quiet enough, not a marked bike lane at all). Most countryside roads have a 80 km/h maximum speed and no bike lanes.

I bet some details were left out that accidentally made it incorrect. I can imagine that there's some law/guideline going on that if a road is particularly busy, then it needs to be either max 30 kph or have separated bike lanes. But most suburban roads or countryside aren't particularly busy.

> The vast majority of average boring roads in residential areas have a 50 km/h maximum speed […]

Look closely though, a lot has changed in the last decade. Most of the residential streets are now 30 km/h, with only the larger arterial thoroughfares (which do have tend to have separate cycling lanes) and roads in industrial areas left at 50 km/h.

> Most countryside roads have a 80 km/h maximum speed and no bike lanes.

A lot of those remaining roads that don't have a separate cycling lane have been turned into 60 km/h roads.

Wherever in our country do you live that this is not the case?

> As a dutch person I would absolutely NOT want to ride a bike in the US,

It depends where you are. I used to spend a lot of time in Raleigh and Cary, North Carolina and often borrowed a bike to cycle from Cary to Raleigh and around both places, I was told by many Americans that it was dangerous but in fact I only had one slightly difficult moment in hundreds of kilometres of cycling and that was a low speed bus that came within ten centimetres of me.

It got only one thing wrong: there are roads that allow 50km/h and 60km/h without dedicated cycling roads (or with curbs). The former sometimes has no cycling indication, the latter is seen with a 1.5 width car lane with two smaller res bicycle lanes around it. These are rarely seen in cities though but are very common in rural areas (the Dutch rural, which would probably be 'suburban' in the US).

Yeah, I assumed that was a goal for the future, rather than a description of the current situation.

> One thing though is that our geography works well with biking.

Yeah, that one. Your country is ridiculously flat with highest peak of around 300m above see level.

On the other hand, there are a lot of raining days in Netherlands! I was very surprised that Dutch don't care too much about weather, they ride on sunny days same as on rainy days.

They also ride in the snow!

The Dutch rain typically comes in 15 minute blocks as bands of clouds cross the country. So most Dutch cyclists would check the Buienradar rain radar app on their phones and adjust their departure time accordingly.

Coincidentally to this discussion, last weekend I fell off my bike in Amsterdam: Cycling too fast, in the rain, hurrying to an appointment, and misjudged a turning, braked too hard, skidded, and hit the gutter.

That was my second bike crash in Amsterdam. The first was 8 years ago, when I was cycling, carrying a TV. Also in the rain.

Well part of the reason everything is so spread out and part of the reason cars drive like that IS because it is such a car-centric infrastructure. More bikers and a political push to change zoning laws and city planning would help alleviate all of the issues you mentioned

It feels dangerously unsafe to even ride a motorcycle with a helmet and skid gear in car-heavy, “share the road” areas. Biking with a 20lbs road bike and just a helmet when 3000+lbs pickups are zooming past you feels like Russian roulette.

> when 3000lbs pickups are zooming past you

Apparently a Honda Accord 2018 weighs more than 3,000 lbs (up to 3,428).

Also, and somewhat surprising given the above, you can buy a Ford F-150 that weighs just 4,000 lbs

This isn't really surprising to anyone that pays attention to cars. The safety innovations of the 90s (crumble zones, etc) added a lot of weight, and cars have just gotten a LOT bigger.

The Accord, for instance, gained almost 2 feet in length and 6 inches in width between the late 80s and today.

Of course, the trucks were smaller back then too - The Ford Ranger (1989) model weighed only 2800lbs.

Same here. The two interviewees really did a good job and the whole story conveys Dutch biking lifestyle really well. One note: they did pave over some canals in Utrecht back in the day, but they are being opened up again as we speak.

> One thing though is that our geography works well with biking

Right, 100%. I wonder if the cheap electric-assist bikes will make more countries / cities essentially “flat”

Electric assist bicycles are basically a smaller / lightweight alternative to scooters; I don't see (but I could be wrong) how e-bikes would be more prevalent if scooters already aren't.

Scooters have become quite a bit more prevalent in recent years. Actually there was a link to this article at the bottom of TFA: https://www.vox.com/2018/8/27/17676670/electric-scooter-rent... .

Edit: Huh, I hadn't read the article yet; it appears not to be about moped-/motorcycle-like scooters as I expected (because there has been an increase in such scooters in the Netherlands in the last five to ten years or so), but about electrified kick scooters. (Dutch uses different words for each (scooter and step), so I had no idea about the double meaning.)

Ebikes have become very popular in the Netherlands among the elderly. They're used to cycling but find the effort of a conventional bike harder as they get older.

Incidentally the one age group in the Netherlands with an increase in road deaths in recent years has been 65+. That's largely attributed to them using Ebikes to travel much faster, while having comparatively slow reaction times and less resilience to injuries sustained in the higher speed crashes.

You can use e-bikes on bike lanes. That makes a huge difference.

It wasn’t always this way.

There’s an interesting clip from a documentary in 1972 about the neighborhood De Pijp in Amsterdam, when it was still very much a car-centric city. At the time children in the area protested how dangerous the streets had become and how they lacked safe areas to play.


Compared to the situation now, it’s vastly improved. Fortunately the car did not win and the city did not destroy itself with a highway through the middle.


Here’s another (recent) documentary you might find interesting:


It was the same with Denmark. And especially Copenhagen. They went from a very car-centric society to a remarkably bike-centric one. Despite bad weather. All due to the Oil Crisis. Unlike other governments in the rest of EU, it seems that both the Dutch and the Danes understood a change was needed.

I've read urbanism brochures from the 1960s, when the Technical University was getting moved from central Copenhagen to a suburb (Lyngby), and it's remarkable how car-centric the design was. An old airport, where the runway was converted into a huge parking lot, and commuting by car was carefully considered to weight all decisions.

Copenhagen's history with bikes goes far back, here's some newsreels from the 20s and 30s: https://www.citylab.com/transportation/2014/05/-/9014/

I bet they're fitter too (so, lower health care costs).

Also, here is a set of photos that show how Amsterdam changed http://sustainableamsterdam.com/2015/12/livable-cities-campa...

I wonder if the fact they didn't have a significant car industry helped with this.

Actually, in 1972 the Netherlands did have a rapidly growing car industry on their own soil. Three years later it sold a majority stake to Volví after growth dropped off, but up until 1973 it was growing at a rapid pace. It was a significant source of jobs in the south, where it was based. They employed >80k people and were building a new factory.

I used to live in housing designed for factory workers of DAF. The company didn’t succeed because of other issues. But it is typically Dutch that they chose to design their cities for people instead of giving away what amounts to a subsidy paid for by lower quality of life.

Also, NEDCAR/VDL still has quite a large factory in the south of the netherlands, although it is only used for final assembly and mainly producing for different manufacturers. (also, it does some parts manufacturing for car factories in the ruhr area).

There was DAF, though. But it went out of car business and now makes trucks only.

> It wasn’t always this way.

I'm curious how you though the article failed to cover this issue? In fact, that's the first example that the article covers, that car-centric planning in Rotterdam post-WWII was changed to be bike-friendly in the 1970s.

Did the article get rewritten after you commented?

>I'm curious how you though the article failed to cover this issue?

I'm curious why you interpreted my comment that way. I just added additional context.

Rotterdam is still very car-centric if you ask me.

Amsterdam is ~1000 years old. Parts of it are very unfriendly to cars simply because they were never built to be accessible.

In contrast, Rotterdam was mostly rebuilt after WWII. This gave them the opportunity to make the city more accessible for cars. Still you can get around Rotterdam by metro quite easily, and you are a first class citizen on a bike or on foot. i know lots of people living in Rotterdam who don’t own a car.

Everytime friends from outside Rotterdam cycle here, I warn them that it's not like te rest of the country. In Amsterdam it's not really frowned uppon if you go through a dormant red trafficlight, I wouldn't recommend that in Rotterdam. A lot of children in Rotterdam (in South) don't grow up with a bike, which is very much in contrast with the article imho. I'm just pointing that out that it's not a total idyllic bike-paradise here imo.

>In Amsterdam it's not really frowned uppon if you go through a dormant red trafficlight, I wouldn't recommend that in Rotterdam.

This really isn't limited to Amsterdam. Even at the zebra crossings where bikes are technically obliged to stop for pedestrians...they (and to be honest, I) most often don't.

Most people here use it as a test of whether you are from Amsterdam. You can tell the locals because they're the ones weaving their bike through the crowd at zebra crossings. I am definitely guilty of this but I use my discretion - because I know the area I have a good idea of how busy it is at which times at which lights. That's why locals do it but tourists shouldn't.

The people who make these unreasonable regulations in the first place must know that they won't be complied with, which makes me wonder if their purpose was simply revenue generation all along.

For that to be true, these minor transgressions would need to actually be ticketed and enforced. By and large they are not.

Bicycle Dutch, the blog you posted, also has a great YouTube channel detailing Dutch bike infrastructure and some of its history: https://www.youtube.com/bicycledutch

How would a highway in the middle have destroyed it?

Why did the kids want to play on the streets instead of parks or something?

A main one not pointed out: cars are always (extreme negligence would be the tipping point) liable for crashes with cyclists and pedestrians. That's quite supportive for keeping an eye out for possible danger. To support that liability insurance is obligatory for motorists.

The one on left vs. right really is not even close to an issue. I would guess most MPs of most parties cycle to work. There is literally not a (native) child that doesn't bike by 7. We even have courses for newcomers to learn how to cycle.

My Dutch law teacher explained it to me this way: "If you are in an airplane, with your bike, then parachute down to a highway and get hit by a car. The car might have a chance to not be liable, but probably still will be."

The reasoning behind this is, whatever accident happens, one of the two people involved is protected by a ton of glass and steel, one is out in the open. The one that is protected inherently has to bear more responsibility.

There’s something to be said about which parties favor encouraging or discouraging car use in cities or restrictions of motorized vehicles on the cycle paths (which the interview also did not really cover).

But you’re right...no one is discouraging biking.

Also, road design in the netherlands is specifically designed to seperate cars and bikes as much as possible. ( a crash between bikes is far less dangerous compared to a car-bike crash).

If that is not possible, they design roads in a way which forces people to slow down to "safe" speeds. (50km/h or lower usually).

That is mentioned in the article, full separation is required on any road where the speed limit exceeds 30km/h (~20mph).

>I would guess most MPs of most parties cycle to work

Can confirm. Colleague of mine met the Dutch PM (Rutte) cycling to work the other day

It isn't all fun and games. I had to ride the bike to school for 5 years. Over in the neighbouring city. A 45 minute ride. Alone. Through wind, rain, wind and wind. And rain. That's also part of the culture, because it's safe and ok to send kids, 12 years old, on their own, in the dark over unlit forest roads. Through the wind. Also wind. Saves on bus fare. Which is also typically Dutch.

I don't own a bike any more.

I would have killed to swap my 60-90min bus journey for your bike ride... and yes I regularly cycled for leisure in the conditions you mentioned. That said I know not everyone is a glutton for that kind of suffering which is why I am hopeful electric bikes will take off in a big way. The electric assist will make the wind (and hills) a non-issue and then you can just cruise anywhere if you dress right. If electric bikes replace cars for most daily journeys the world would be a much more enjoyable place to exist in.

How many transfers does that bus route have? I'd prefer being able to use a smartphone/etc than having to bike all that way.

Zero transfers. It was a school bus. Cycling for 45 minutes is much more enjoyable and rewarding than using a smartphone (which didn't exist at the time)

Subjective I suppose. In high school I had a school bus ride about 40 minutes long every day to a trade school-type place you could elect to go to instead of taking some classes at the high school. I liked using the time for either web browsing, games, sleeping, or homework. I would've surely found cycling less enjoyable.

When I lived in the Netherlands it always seemed like anyone over 30 had a war story of how they used to cycle in such harsh conditions.

I used to cycle 18km to get to work and if I would tell a Dutch person it was always "Oh that's nothing, I used to cycle twice that distance in the snow uphill when I was younger!"

Generally the rain was fine, it was the wind that can make you feel like someone is pushing against your bike that really got to me.

A lot of kids do this in The Netherlands. And as far as I can tell, not a lot have a problem with it. It's part of the culture. And as said by another commenter, most kids ride in groups. I think it's healthy to let kids ride on their own and take responsibility, both physically and mentally.

6 years, 35 minutes ride for me, admittedly mostly over a well-lit separate bike path, and most kids rode in groups of friends there. Only exception was when there was black ice on the road, then I took the bus. Strong side wind could be worse than rain, actually. Every country has its own way of building character. As we say in Dutch: we aren't made of sugar.

Good memories. I always took some extra tools with me when it was freezing, to put my bike 'back together' after falling because of those invisible ice patches. Or maybe some else's bike.

My kids ride their bikes to school. During the winter we install studded tires. And yes, it saves on bus fare. Plus, they can get up a few minutes later in the morning and still be on time at school -- what an incentive.

That all seems perfectly fine to me, to be completely honest.

I would have loved that kind of independence at age 12, but with the fear of traffic, paedophiles, kidnappers and whatever, I wasn't even allowed to walk to the end of the road unsupervised.

That's too bad. When I was 12 (late 1970s, Midwest US) I rode my bike all over the place. No mobile phone either. I'm sure there were as many pedophiles and kidnappers then as now, but I never encountered any. I think the risk of a totally random stranger doing anything is very overblown. And traffic was certainly less aware of bikes. You learned to pay attention to cars.

When I was 12 (late 70s, Australia) I rode my bike all over the place. Rode to and from school, about 25 minutes each way. And through the forest at the edge of town -- we'd disappear for hours there, riding as far as the next town (1 hour downhill :-)

We knew where the dodgy guy hung out near the public toilets in the park, and avoided him (the teacher at school was a different matter).

I think ... people were less alienated from society then. It seems different now.

There's been a few high profile cases of e.g. the van luring kids with puppies or the abduction and rape from the street, but those are edge cases - most cases of pedophiles are from e.g. teachers and family. People you trust and drop your guard around. Not "stranger danger".

When and where was this? Just curious. In the early 90's in the US at age 8-9 I was allowed to ride all around the neighborhood and to school, as long as I was with a friend and not alone. We moved to Europe in 1995 and by then most people had stopped trick-or-treating in the neighborhood due to the TV news scares of razor blades in apples and whatnot, it seemed like the public trust had hit rock bottom.

UK, 1998.

My parents were very unusual, to the point that my friends' parents would lie to them to cover for me, but the practicalities meant I still couldn't do much of what they did. I didn't own a useful bike, didn't have money for the bus etc.

Today, in the US, it's flatly illegal for kids under the age of 12 to be unsupervised in public in many states, including Virginia.

It wasn't like this here when I was growing up.

This reminds me of latvian potato jokes. Perhaps we need dutch wind jokes. Probably the dutch already have this.

Also wind.

Don’t forget about the rain suit which basically gave you the option to arrive at school wet from your own sweat accumulating inside of it instead of the rain.

> The Dutch use bikes as a tool to feed their transit system: 50 percent of all trips that take place on the transit system in the Netherlands begin with a bicycle ride.

This is why I'm still waiting for Google Maps and the likes to include an "I have a bike and am willing to use it to get to the closest train/metro/bus station" option.

That'd be so handy. Especially when going somewhere where the connection is by train or whatever and half an hour of biking at the ends is no problem.

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