Sunday 13 February 2011

Who cycles in the Netherlands ? Everyone cycles in the Netherlands !

Average number of bicycle rides per person per day for the entire Dutch population for all seasons combined broken down by age and sex
To a first approximation, everyone cycles in the Netherlands. The graph above shows how cycling rates vary with age and sex within the Netherlands, expressed as the average number of cycle journeys per day made per person.

It shows a number of things: that cycling is very popular with school age children, for instance, and that it drops off a bit for working age adults as for some the commute is "too far" by bike. Males between 20 and 50 years of age cycle the least. This is because they're most likely to have a job requiring a long commute. Women follow a similar pattern, but there is a jump in cycling between "25 to 30" and "30 to 40" as this is the age at which women have children, and having children allows women to return to cycling. This first happens with children on their mother's bike and later with women accompanying their children on their own bike before at eight years old they are able to ride unaccompanied to school. Men don't get this chance so often so men cycle less.

This is due to women being more likely to be at home looking after children than their male partners. As a result, they more often cycle with young children to school, or make shopping and other utility trips by bike. This is what leads to the Netherlands uniquely having 55% of trips overall by women. Men cycle less on average than women because they are more likely than women to be making the longest commutes in Europe, and doing so by other means of transport.

Cycling stays with people through their entire life. Even the over 75s are predominantly still active. They make an average of around 0.3 trips per day by bike, or more than two trips each week.

The Dutch use their bikes for exactly the same purposes as people in other countries use their cars
Here we see the reasons for bicycle journeys. Only 16% of all cycle journeys are commutes. The largest percentage, 22%, are shopping trips, 18% are school journeys, 14% are social, and 11% are to go visiting.

This level of cycle usage, across both sexes, all ages, and for all purposes, requires infrastructure which has a high level of subjective safety.

But let's go back to that figure of just 16% of cycle journeys being for commutes. In all too many places, commuting rate figures are touted as "modal share". Actually, commutes make for just a small percentage of total journeys in any country, and that should be the case for cycling too. However, in many countries there is not the required subjective safety for everyone to cycle. In these countries, promoting cycling as just something for commuters and ignoring the other 84% of potential cycle journeys removes the need to make conditions suitable for everyone to cycle. This can never be the route to mass cycling on the scale that it is seen in the Netherlands.

I am not impressed with people touting "commuting" modal shares because they have missed out the big picture. What is important is that everyone should be able to make every type of journey by bike. We should be cautious of figures designed to impress which emphasize the easier demographics to attract to cycling - one of which is the confident young adult, often but not exclusively male, riding to work and back.

These figures came from the same source as last week's post, the Fietsersbond. Marc has also written about these statistics.


timoohz said...

That first diagram looks very much like the regional travel study made here in Oulu. Except for young boys cycling more than girls, that diagram could almost be a copy. The middle aged men (not wearing lycra ;-) do not start cycling again when women do, so women cycle twice as often.

What surprises me a little is that except for kids under 12, the development of cycling rates are very similar. We get about 0,3 trips less by bikes in all categories! Every single one, from teenagers to retirees! Of course, the age limits are different so the comparison is mostly guesswork, but that's really interesting.

r s thompson said...

14% are social, and 11% are to go visiting.

what is the specific difference?

Mark W. said...

@r s thompson. The graphtext in Dutch is: 11% for "visits or staying with friends" and 14% for "other social recreational reasons". So the total of social activies is 25% of which 11% is visiting friends and the rest is riding with friends rather than going to them. At least that is how I understood it.

Ezra said...

Very interesting. Thanks for the data. In Denmark, cycling rates pretty much just go down from age 25 onward. Also, people don't really make as many shopping trips. The only data I've seen breaks trips down into commuting, shopping, and recreation with commuting being the biggest chunk.

I'm doing research on what the explanation is for these data and what could be done to increase these rates. It would be interesting to know what explains these differences between Holland and Denmark.

One thought is that Dutch all use those lovely big panniers/saddlebags whereas Danes only have little baskets. However, that could itself be because shops in Copenhagen at least are so close to residences that you can easily walk to them. It is not uncommon to be less than a few blocks from upwards of 10 or so shops to buy a liter of milk. So why not just walk instead?

I think transport planners tend to focus on commuting because they have traditionally been focused on congestion and "flows" during peak hours, not reducing CO2 or improving quality of life. Now we have to figure out how to plan for bikes since they aren't pedestrians (urban design) or motorized vehicles (transport planning). It would be interesting to hear more about how Dutch conceptualize cyclists and who plans or designs for them.

Yokota Fritz said...

Sorry you're not impressed. We use commute numbers in the USA because that's all we have available in most locations. I sometimes (not always) make a point of explaining that when I use those numbers.

David Hembrow said...

Yokota, I'm sorry if I've offended you as that was really not my intention. If the only figures you have are for commuting share, then those are the only ones you can accurately quote.

My irritation with quoting of commuting shares as being equivalent to the share of cycle journeys as a whole was stirred more from the frequently exaggerated claims coming from a few hundred kilometres North of here than it was from claims from the other side of the Atlantic.

The problem with only the share of commuting journeys being collected and quoted is that it so easily lets the government off the hook. How good conditions are for the entire population to cycle matters less if you count only the commuters, who are adults of working age and actually amongst the easiest people to attract to cycling. The result of a concentration on commuting can be seen in Denmark, where a combination of boasting about high commuter share while building less than ideal infrastructure has led to a 20 year decline in cycling. It's not a path to follow.