It’s incredibly foggy today, not a good day to cycle, so I’m staying inside instead, which gives me ample opportunity to look things up online—such as biking statistics. When it comes to cycling in bike-friendly cities versus those dominated by car traffic, the statistics speak for themselves:
- 27% of all trips made in the Netherlands are by bike (35-40% in the bike friendliest cities) versus less than 1% in the United States.
- 10% of the Dutch population are obese versus 35% in America
- Gas costs roughly $3.70/gallon in America (Los Angeles) whereas here, it’s €1.64/litre (3.78 liters = one gallon)—roughly double, or $6.20/gallon. Great incentive to cycle, no?
- For distances up to 7.5 km, (12 miles) the bicycle is the most popular means of transport in the Netherlands. In America, 94.4% of all journeys of 5 miles or less are made by car.
(*these figures come from the Fietsberaad, the Dutch Transport Ministry, the League of American Cyclists and Gaspricewatch.com)
Or I like this one from the UK:
- One-quarter of all car journeys are less than two miles. A 3km walk uses up about half the energy in a small bar of chocolate. The same distance by car expends 10 times as much energy but from the wrong source. We can make chocolate but oil reserves are finite. The Guardian (London) January 18, 2003
Even though cycling has been consciously and continuously promoted in the Netherlands since the mid-1970s—and has been a great success—it’s not perfect by any means here. The lure of driving a car, the status and so-called convenience of it, continues to take hold. Car traffic in the Netherlands has grown 7% in the last five years and 67% overall in the last 22 years.
As an American who grew up in Los Angeles where the car is definitely king, I can’t help asking myself what is a better example of our individual freedom (which we Americans tout so frequently)—is it being stuck in traffic, struggling to find a parking space, paying a hefty price for the honor? Or is freedom hopping on a bike, with the wind (and potentially rain, which is always the case here in the Netherlands) in your hair, being able to directly interact with the city you move through?
And another question: Should cycling be considered a peripheral, marginal mode of transport, something we do only during our leisure time (effectively making it a toy)? Or should cycling be seen as a safe, convenient and practical mode of transport that can be used by everyone, everywhere, every day of the week?