I've ridden the Mango 16000 km (10000 miles) since it was new 22 months ago. That's only an average of 700 km per month, which won't impress anyone. I work just one day a week in Groningen now, so I'm not riding the Mango to commute quite so often as I was.
On the other hand, our car needed its APK (annual inspection) this week. This was a chance to take note of how much we've been using it. For the first three years that we lived here, it wasn't used at all, but fourteen months ago we started the process of getting it on the road. Since then, between us, we've driven 2400 km (1500 miles).
Let's work out some simple numbers: 16000 km if driven by car instead of ridden by bike, based on earlier figures, would have cost us about €1700 euros, and produced about 2700 kg of CO2 emissions.
The Mango isn't the only bike that I ride. Local journeys with the Xtracycle or town bike to the post office and supermarket also add up at a surprising rate. The rest of the family also have their own bikes and use them daily.
If all four of us had travelled the whole time by car, and we were using it as "dad's taxi" to take our teenagers everywhere they wanted to go, then it would have covered a considerably greater distance and the costs for us, the country we live in, and the environment that all of us share would have been considerably greater.
All around the world there are people who try to reduce their impact on the environment by cycling. However, people who cycle for this reason are never very large in number. In most places only a minority find conditions to be such that they are willing to "make a sacrifice" by behaving differently from the majority. The Netherlands is different in that the average person cycles. They may not do so as much as cycling extremists (this fraction of the population exists here just as elsewhere) but because average people are much more numerous, their contribution is far greater. 100% of the population using a bike for over a quarter of all their journeys is far more significant than 1% of the population using a bike for 99% of their journeys.
|Comparison of popularity of different transport modes for Turkish, Marokkan, Surinam and Antillian immigrants and the Dutch native population. From page 52 of this report.|
Key: Ritten = journeys. Aandeel = share. Auto = car as driver or passenger. OV = public transport. Motor of Brommer = motorbike or scooter. Fiets = bicycle. Lopend = Walked.
By comparison, immigrants from nations with much less cycling cycle less than the native Dutch. However, these figures are also very interesting. I think it notable that Turks in the Netherlands use a bike for 9% of their journeys, Marokkans for 11%, Surinamese for 13% and Antillians for 15%. While these are lower figures than for the Dutch, they're still significantly higher than cycle usage in their countries of origin.
Integration is difficult. It's relatively easy for us due to our European background, but it's still extremely difficult to move to another country and to fit in. However much some people might like to think that immigrants don't try to fit in, there is proof here that at least so far as modes of transport are concerned, immigrants in the Netherlands can be shown to have gone some considerable way to integrating, even if they never cycle to the same extent as the native population.
It also shows that the same infrastructural developments which encourage cycling amongst the Dutch native population are effective amongst people with no existing habit of cycling: If you build it, they will come. The effect on the wealth of the nation as a whole, and on the environment, from convincing people en-masse to cycle for a significant proportion of their journeys is enormous. The means to achieve this can be seen in the Netherlands.
A similar effect can be seen in reverse. When Dutch nationals emigrate to the UK or USA, they typically end up making few journeys by bicycle, approaching local norms.