Seen many cyclists recently ? There is a huge difference between the rates of cycling in different countries.
The graph on the left shows the rate of cycling as a percentage of all journeys made in sixteen different countries. This is also known as a modal share or modal split. Australia, the USA and the UK are at the left with 1% of all journeys by bike, while Finland, Denmark and the Netherlands are on the right with 11%, 18% and 27% of journeys by bike respectively.
There is a huge difference between the numbers of cyclists you see in different countries. There is also a huge difference between their behaviours.
So, back to the question. How many cyclists do you see when you go out, and how many of them are dressed in a way that indicates that they feel they have to worry about their safety on the roads ?
Are your cyclists a small part of traffic, wearing helmets, dressed in fluorescent jackets and predominantly young and/or "sporty" ? Do your cyclists cycle "vehicularly" and identify themselves as "cyclists"? Or do you live in a location where cyclists are of all ages, both sexes, and generally ride in normal clothes with no worries about visibility ?
Cyclists are the pit-canaries of the roads. If they're numerous, dressed in ordinary clothing and wide-ranging in age you can tell that you are in a location where cycling is "normal" in society and where it is safe enough, and feels subjectively safe enough, that everyone cycles. If people feel they have to dress to be safe then this is a sign that they do not have adequate subjective safety.
It goes further. Do you see women routinely cycling alone at night ? Do children cycle long distances alone, day and night ? Do most children go to school by bike ? Do parents consider it to be safe for their children to do this ? Do those parents who do let their children cycle make them wear helmets and fluorescent clothing ? These are indicators of how subjectively and socially safe people feel and are a determinant of health of cycling in an area.
Make cycling a truly attractive thing to do and more people will do it. Here in Assen, children are regularly seen riding great distances with groups of friends. Some cycle 20 km to school in the morning and 20 km back again each evening. Take a look at a video of how children get to primary school here.
As mentioned a few days ago in "Reclaiming the streets", cyclists are also the pit-canaries of society. Societal problems can also lead to low rates of cycling. If there is a significant risk of mugging (or worse) in your area, you will see fewer cyclists. This is a problem for social safety. It is surely no co-incidence that the three countries with the highest cycling rates also have progressive social policies. You will find a very similar ranking of countries in the results of a UNICEF report summarized by the BBC with the title of "Why are Dutch children so happy ?".
We run cycling study tours here in the Netherlands on which we demonstrate the how it is that the Dutch have achieved their amazing high cycling modal share. We also run cycling holidays in this location, which we believe is the most pleasant in the world for cycling.
Sadly, since this blog post was originally written, the cycling rate in Denmark appears to have dropped quite sharply.
You've read the blog, now see it for yourself. Since 2006, hundreds of people have joined us on our Cycling Study Tours.
First hand experience is better than reading. Book a tour to see how policy and infrastructure have attracted people from all walks of life to cycle:
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The less positive stuff What not to do if you want a cycling "revolution" - Long list of interventions and policies which are not helpful. Copy the best examples from the Netherlands - a short list summarising the above. Important to copy the best examples, not just anything "Dutch". Bear in mind that the Netherlands is not perfect. Shared Space - this much hyped idea simply does not work well. It disenfranchises the vulnerable and claims of safety are exaggerated. Don't confuse the concept with far more successful nearly car free streets. Shared Use Paths designed to be used by pedestrians and cyclists together. These rarely work well because the two user groups are too different and it leads to conflicts. They are not built in the Netherlands (but cycle access to pedestrianized zones is good). Strict (or presumed) liability - If you think this is an important part of why people cycle in the Netherlands then it is probably not what you think it is. Helmets - one of several ways of scaremongering about the supposed dangers of what is actually a very safe means of transport
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Experience for yourself how policy and infrastructure in Assen and Groningen have led to the high cycling modal share in this area:
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A cyclist in a cycling family living in the capital of the cycling province of the world's greatest cycling country.
I was born in the UK, lived for over 8 years in New Zealand and have lived in the Netherlands since 2007.
I organise cycling infrastructure study tours, run an online bicycle shop, arrange cycling holidays and write a popular blog about cycling.
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