Sunday 28 August 2011

Yes, good cycling infrastructure really does lead to people cycling more. Immigrants cycle far more in The Netherlands than most people think (also distances and fuel usage)

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.
On average, the native Dutch population uses a bicycle for 27% of their journeys. The total average number of journeys per day is 2.74, and people use a bike for 0.74 journeys per day.

Dutch infrastructure makes cycling
available as a practical means of
transport for everyone
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.

Not many people realise how successfully integrated immigrants are to the Netherlands with regard to cycling. Each of these immigrant groups comes from a nation with almost no cycling yet after exposure to the Dutch environment and infrastructure, immigrant groups in this country compare favourably with the other top cycling countries. This demonstrates how powerful it is to have infrastructure which attracts people to cycling. Source.

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.

The person in this photo most
likely to be regarded as member
of an out-group
is the racing
cyclist, not the woman in front.
If immigrants can't resist the temptation to cycle when they come to the Netherlands from countries with almost no cycling then it's quite logical to assume that if the infrastructure was taken to countries with almost no cycling then the population would be equally attracted to cycling. Cycling sells itself, so long as people don't have to ride alongside motor vehicles.

Cycling is not "in the genes", it's in the infrastructure ! Even Dutch people often make this mistake, but the success of the Dutch cycling infrastructure is obvious wherever it exists and whoever gets to ride on it. Dutch people who leave this country and no longer have the infrastructure usually stop cycling.

Exactly 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 and if duplicated elsewhere it will have a similar effect.

Distances travelled and fuel usage
Over the last few days, two of our vehicles have gone past mileposts of one form or another. It's quite clear that we've "gone Dutch" as well.

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 who's working towards a world record. 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.

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. The environment in other countries discourages cycling, and the Dutch are just as easily discouraged by unpleasant cycling conditions as people born elsewhere.


Slow Factory said...

Regarding Dutch expats, it would indeed be interesting to see the blog "A View from the Drive-thru" about former NL residents who cycle much less after moving elsewhere.

Mark W. said...

"That's only an average of 700 km per month, which won't impress anyone." Pardon!? I does impress me... very much so! I cycle about 5 km per day. With the occasional exception of 50 km some days or even none at all. But nowhere near 700km per month on just one of the bikes!
And I am Dutch... ;-)

Perth Cyclist said...

Hah! I ride for 90% of my journeys and struggle to do 600ks a month... I guess I don't get out much!

Jaap Eldering said...

A very late reply to this thread.

I am a Dutch expat living in London since 1.5 years; I found this (and other) blogs only after moving here, before I considered cycling a most normal part of life ;-)

I think that although Dutch expats probably cycle less than those "at home", you might still see a residual higher cycling share among expats. As a Dutch person you're used and comfortable to cycle, so maybe a little less afraid of "subjective unsafety".

I myself still cycle daily in London, both for commuting and other trips. It's certainly a lot less pleasant here, but still quite efficient compared to any other mode of transport!

Unknown said...

I agree its not in the dutch genes but a result of the infra why people bike so much in NL. Id also like to add that theres probably a parenting factor involved too. Im dutch but grew up in the US. As a pre-teen, every child rode a bike in the neighborhood, mostly for recreational purposes, but for some reason with the onset of puberty the american kids stopped cycling. I did not however because my parents bought me a bigger bike as i was growing and let me leave the neighborhood on my own too. The american parents did not though. So the point im trying to make is that my parents, being dutch, expected me to cycle and provided me with new equipment when i needed it. Bikes are not considered toys like in other cultures. This parenting factor might also account for the lower percentages of cycling in immigrant populations in NL.


@BehoovingMoving said...

I like the positive spin. However, continued immigration and generational change are more likely to reduce the mode change once the baby boomer generation are taken out of the picture. More needs to be done in environmental design to hedge against that threat.

David Hembrow said...

Andries: I agree that there will be some residual effect. This only makes the percentage of trips by bike by immigrants in NL even more impressive, of course.

BehoovingMoving: I agree that ever better infrastructure ia the only way to prevent a decline in Dutch cycling.

There's actually more emigration from than immigration to NL, but any swapping of population represents a potential dilution because there's nowhere else that people cycle so much as here.

See other blog posts about the fragility of cycling everywhere and how this means we need ever improving conditions for cycling and also about demographic challenges to cycling in NL - aging and immigration both are potential risks, both requiring ever better conditions to prevent a decline.