Monday 31 May 2010

487 million euros for cycling

€30 per person year every year (based
on 2010 prices) is enough to build the
world's best cycling infrastructure but
only if it is spent as an integral part
of highway engineering, not on separate
"catch up" projects and not used for
other items such as cycle training
The Fietsberaad reports that Dutch government expenditure on cycling has now reached an annual level of 487 million euros per year. Given the Dutch population of around 16 million people, that's approximately 30 euros per person per year, over the entire country, all cities, towns and villages, and out in the countryside.

Much money is now being spent on improving regional routes, for longer distance commuters (I've covered this before), which leads to higher rates of cycling to work. Improvements of cycle parking around business areas should be done by business themselves.

To catch up with The Netherlands other countries must spend more for a short time in order to progress quickly and then drop to the same rate as The Netherlands or spend the same amount and wait a long time (quality will then approach what The Netherlands has asymptotically, fast progress initially followed by a long period of catchup up). No country can "catch up" by spending less.

Britain, with it's population of around 65 million people, needs to spend the equivalent of about €2 billion per year to match Dutch expenditure. The USA needs to spend approximately €10 billion per year.

These figures may seem large, but it has been shown within The Netherlands that cycling actually saves Dutch companies considerably more than is spent on infrastructure each year. This is quite apart from health effects and the benefit to the economy of importing less oil and lower wear and tear on the road network. Also it has been shown that when all things are considered, building cycling infrastructure works out cheaper than not building it, even when we consider just long distance relatively rarely used cycle-paths.

Update September 2013
Apparently a British politician today claimed that the Dutch government spends just €3 per person per year on cycling. This is clearly a misuse of figures.

The article linked from the top of this story refers to the total investment in cycling by and through all government departments put together in 2010 of €487 million. €77 M of this total comes from the "bikes for business ruling" (itself a government initiative) leaving €410 M from government itself. This sum breaks down as follows:
  1. €306 M spent by through local government.
  2. €7.6 M spent by the water boards
  3. €3.4 M spent by city regions
  4. €58.5 M spent by provinces
  5. €34.7 M spent by the central government
However, this can also be looked at in a different way as different levels of government cross-subsidize each other. €85 M of the total spent by local government came indirectly from city regions and provinces and €15.7 M came indirectly from central government. The same document offers the same figures arranged in a different way:
  1. €207 M spent by through local government.
  2. €7 M spent by the water boards
  3. €50 M spent by city regions
  4. €97 M spent by provinces
  5. €49 M spent by the central government
In fact, of course, this is just one of many different ways that the figures could be re-arranged depending on what point one wanted to make. A lot of the funds spent by local, city of provincial governments was itself originally collected and distributed by central government. How this is sliced and diced is immaterial. It is rarely, if ever, possible to find exact equivalence between different countries for how they arrange their budgets because there are so many different ways to do it.

€487 Million per year is not the real total
In any case, this headline figure of €487M per year in the Netherlands is acknowledged not to be nearly the total amount spent on cycling. This is not only because such things as workplace parking and secure residential cycle-parking (a legal requirement) are considered to be expenditures for employers and housing developers but also because of how things are accounted for elsewhere. The break down document quoted from above included a couple of interesting paragraphs at the bottom which translate as follows:
The small amount of direct expenditure from city regions is due to the fact that these regions don't manage the roads and cycle-paths themselves.

This is another reason why direct national government expenditure is low. National government also doesn't manage roads and cycle-paths directly.
The estimate of €406M is on the low side. This is because all levels of government include cycling components in other projects. Cycling costs are therefore often invisible. It should also be noted that cycling infrastructure which is part of new developments is paid for by the builders of those developments.

Note the acknowledged to be "invisible" cycling costs. All developments and plans include cycling and it's not usually considered to be something additional to the basic plan. Only where something exceptional is needed do the funds come from the cycling budget. That is why building an excellent traffic light junction for cycling in the Netherlands cost less than a tenth the sum charged to cycling of building a very bad one in the UK. Cycling funding in the Netherlands is not only at a far higher level than in the UK but it is also spent far more efficiently than in the UK.

Also note the required investment by developers. We see benefits from this locally. The excellent infrastructure inside, to give access to, and to provide for recreational and commuting routes reaching several kilometres outwards from the newest suburb of Assen, for example, cost nothing from the cycling budget. These are also reflections of government policy. In order to get planning permission, developers in the Netherlands must present designs which work well for bicycles.

The difference in expenditure between the UK and the Netherlands is vast. It cannot be reduced to a single figure because there is no equivalent figure to be found. It simply won't do for a British politician at no less a level than Parliamentary Under Secretary of State to make out that Britain's astonishingly low rate of expenditure on cycling is anything close to what is spent in the Netherlands. An attempt has been made to equate two entirely different things and to find an equivalence which does not actually exist. IMO, Norman Baker has used figures in a way which is dishonest.

It doesn't matter what channels the money might be diverted through in either country. What matters is that it is spent and spent well. In the Netherlands the expenditure is at a very much higher level than in the UK and this money is also spent far more efficiently than in the UK. These are the facts. The results speak for themselves.

What is Norman Baker actually comparing with, and a challenge.
Norman Baker's comparison of total UK funds for cycling with the funds directly allocated by Dutch central government are interesting because they are so obviously a comparison of apples with oranges.

The published Dutch figures which Norman Baker referred to are funds are for very specific uses. In 2013 these particular funds were overwhelmingly used for just one purpose - expansion of railway station cycle parking facilities. This one item is allocated €38M out of a total of €44 M.

Norman Baker is comparing a fund which is almost entirely for expansion of cycle parking at Dutch railway stations with the total government expenditure on cycling in the UK.

Let's make this into a more honest comparison. Perhaps Norman Baker would be so kind as to let us know how much the British government is spending on railway station cycle parking in 2013.

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Kevin Love said...

The City of Toronto has committed $70 million over five years for cycle infrastructure. That is $14 million per year for 2.5 million people, or $5.60 per person per year.

In addition to this, as part of their "stimulus" plan, the provincial and Dominion governments are kicking in $6,660,000 each which was matched by an additional $9,964,000 by the City. This is for rail and hydro corridor bicycle paths. That comes to $9.31 per person.

Giving us a total of $14.91 per person on annual cycle infrastructure spending.

Not quite up to the Dutch standard of 30 euros per person (OK, nowhere near that standard), but we're working on it.

And the senior levels of government are making noises about "stimulus" spending being cut off after next year.

Source for stimulus spending:

I would be curious to know what the per capita level of cycle infrastructure spending is in other places. Why do I suspect a strong correlation between infrastructure and cycle mode share?

Karl McCracken (twitter: @karlonsea) said...

What's the equivalent for the UK? (cringes in anticipation of the number . . .)

David Hembrow said...

Kevin: There is a very strong relationship between long-term spending levels and quality of infrastructure as a result and the cycling level. A few datapoints are shown here.

Karl: "In January 2008, the Government allocated an unprecedented £140m to Cycling England over the next three years", or about 77 pence per person per year, and they also say "The standard amount of funding for cycling initiatives in English local authorities is around £1 per citizen, per year".

What I find a bit dishonest are the attempts to make out that this spending level is closer than it actually is to the level of expenditure in the Netherlands, by talking down the Dutch levels of expenditure in the same sentence as talking up the British, and not bothering to mention that only the British one is time limited: "In contrast, Dutch towns such as Amsterdam are currently spending around £10-20 per year. The new investment means that the Cycling City and Cycling Towns will now have a total budget of around £16 per citizen per year with match funding."

Pjotr320 said...

And let's not forget that the Dutch already have quite a cycling infrastructure.

Our money is spend, I think, on gradually expanding and maintaining, where as other countries, like Britain, have almost no infrastructure at all and have a very long way to go.

Building a new infrastructure with 77 pence/year will take a few centuries.

David Hembrow said...

Peter: Actually 77 p a year doesn't really start building infrastructure even at a rate which would take centuries. The comparison is worse than it originally seems.

While the Dutch figure is for spending on new infrastructure, the British money is not all for infrastructure but shared with things like maintenance and "soft measures" such as cycle training and promotion of cycling. These are covered by other budgets (with additional money) in NL.

Kevin Love said...

David: I followed the link. And saw outrageous statements like:

"...levels of investment equivalent to the best European cycling cities."

What a bare-faced lie.

Anonymous said...

It is great news that even with such good infra-structure already in place the Dutch are prepared to make further investment. It is easy to see that the investment pays back through reduced car operating costs and a healthier population. UK funding may be miserable but then so are the majority of projects that it is spent on. Cycle England could give us much better value.
Mark Garrett, Bristol UK

Unknown said...

Wow...Can I come live with you?

As much as I'd like to share Kevin's enthusiasm, the level of support for putting an integrated cycling network in place in Toronto is next to nil. I know. I ride it every day, commuting to work and training on my road bike. The best we can do here is painted white lines that traffic often disobeys, especially in the downtown core. Despite the apparent funding - little of it realized yet, there is very little political support for the kind of system that would actually encourage people to commute to work. The one exception is along the lakeshore and the volume of use is phenomenal. Just imagine of that were replicated across the city. The traffic congestion problems would clear up in no time and we'd have a much healthier population. I can only dream.

Patrice said...


first comment on your site; I want to first congratulate for the awesome blog you produce (now with mark).I follow you both almost religiously.

second, I would ask if you know the budget figures for the city of Amsterdam; would be useful to me.


David Hembrow said...

Patrice, good to hear that you enjoy the blog.

So far as I know, Amsterdam spends around the average for the Netherlands as a whole. The only figures I have for the city specifically are in this blog post.