Most Dutch people own cars. And they bike, too.
I’m reading an incredible book called Building the Cycling City: The Dutch Blueprint for Urban Vitality. It’s about a Canadian family — the Bruntletts — who decided to start driving less. Every time they had a trip of just a couple miles, they biked. After a while, the Bruntletts realized that they enjoy walking and biking so much that they may as well get rid of their car.
As a person who calls herself “car-free”, one thing that struck me is that the Bruntletts don’t consider themselves car-free. They call their approach common sense.
Why do the Dutch ride bikes when they could drive?
The Bruntletts dropped the label “car-free” after a visit to the Netherlands — the bike riding mecca of the west and the only country in the world where there are more bikes than people.
As Americans, we like to imagine that Dutch people simply can’t afford cars because of high taxes, and perhaps that’s why so many people ride their bikes.
This is simply not the case. 70% of Dutch households have cars. Hence, most Dutch people have cars and most Dutch people ride bikes. Riders there (read: almost everyone) are regular people: grandparents, pregnant women, children ages 5 and up. They don’t ride fancy bikes or wear any special clothes. They just use common sense: A quick drive to the store to pick up milk doesn’t require a 2-ton motorized wheelchair — unless you are planning to buy 650 pounds’ worth of milk. (A small sedan like a Honda Accord is designed to carry 850 pounds.)
Why did the Netherlands build bike paths while the US pursued automobile-centered streets?
The short answer is, they didn’t. After the second world war, the Netherlands was as eager to “modernize” as the rest of the world. Bombed out cities like Rotterdam were rebuilt with cars at the forefront.
But during the 1960’s, a movement arose as more and more children were killed playing in the streets by cars. Women led the charge, as thousands had lost children to the millions of automobiles taking over their city streets. In 1971 alone, 450 Dutch children were run down by cars.
Journalist Vic Langenhoff wrote an article entitled Stop de Kindermoord (Stop the Child Murder) after his own child was killed in a road accident. Stop de Kindermoord became the name of the burgeoning movement.
The idea was to make the streets safer by increasing space for cyclists and pedestrians (children, for example). It would leave room for cars while at the same time changing the highest priority to safer modes of transportation.