Saturday, 24 August 2019)
A myth has grown up about the Dutch being enthusiastic cyclists who live in green cities and rarely drive. In reality, the majority of journeys are made by motorized vehicles and people who live car-free are in a small and shrinking minority.
A life without motorized vehicles
Over the last year I’ve travelled about 7000 km. 6200 km was covered by bike and the rest I walked (I walk our dog 2 km a day on a normal day, sometimes much more). 6000 km is nothing to boast about. It’s by no means an extreme distance to cycle in a year – it’s barely more than enough to provide the minimum amount of exercise required for health.
It’s quite easy to arrange a life so that you don’t need to drive. When I took jobs which were too far away to cycle to, I moved closer to them so that they were within cycling distance. My shortest round trip commute was about 8 km and the longest was or we walked with them. Here in the Netherlands they made their own way by bike just like all the other kids. We’ve always made routine journeys like grocery shopping or visiting the dentist by bike because it’s more convenient that way. It’s also easy enough to carry food for a family in bicycle baskets or panniers or, if you really need a lot of things at once, in a trailer.
I work from home these days so I don’t have a commute, but I do cycle for work: Our business doesn’t make use of motor vehicles so I transport parcels with a cargo bike. That distance is included in my total (all my bikes have bike computers so its easy to add up the total).
I’ve only travelled by motor vehicle twice over the last year, both times to help a friend with his fledgling business. Otherwise all my travel has been by bike or by foot.
We did actually own a car until a year ago when I took it to the scrapyard. I’ve not missed it. Cars just are not that fantastic. I didn’t own one for most of my life and during the period when we did own a car, it would often go months (sometimes years) without either of us finding a reason to drive it, resulting in frozen brakes and dead batteries as the most common maintenance issues. It was occasionally a very convenient thing to have access to, but it was mostly a nuisance.
While we never used a car much in the UK, living without a car is even easier in the Netherlands because the excellent cycle-path network makes cycling much safer and more convenient. Conditions for cycling where we live in Assen are better than average for the Netherlands – that’s not something which happened by accident but on purpose: we chose this location after looking around most of the country. But as a result, cycling is just excellent here.
The Dutch cycle-path network goes everywhere and works well anywhere in this country for people who don’t want to have to rely upon a car. However, it would be a mistake to assume that because some people get about by bicycle in the Netherlands, and because some people make a choice not to run a car, that this means that cycling is in a healthy state in the country, or that a large percentage of people are happily living car-free because of that excellent cycling infrastructure. The willingly car-free are actually a small and decreasing minority.