By Hugh Finlay
Netherlands is among the most bicycle-friendly countries in the world, and now they are beginning to build underground bike parking lots, to cater for the tremendous Dutch appetite for biking. There are more bikes than people in the Netherlands. The population of the Netherlands is 18 million, and the bicycle population is over 22 million. Over 25% of all trips made in the Netherlands every day, are by bike. And the Dutch government is continuing to build facilities for bikes, spending 500 million euros ($600 million) a year on the project which they realize saves money for the country, in the form of reduced health costs, and other costs to society. As a keen cycling supporter put it "All politicians now take cycling seriously."
Deaths from cycling accidents in the country, have decreased by 20% in the past 20 years, as a result of the growth in the popularity of cycling and the government sponsored schemes to make getting around by bike easier.
Another reason why biking has become more popular in the Netherlands, is that electric bikes are also being used, giving people with less physical robustness no excuse for not using a bike.
The infrastructure created for bikes encourages more people to use bikes. This has been the experience of the vice-mayor of the dutch city of Utrecht, Lot van Hooijdonk, who said "We found that if you build it, people will use it." Utrecht has created the biggest parking lot for bikes in the world, enough for 6,000 bikes, and is continuing to build more, along with many more cycle paths and lanes, to satisfy the continued demand for biking facilities. Netherlands has gone bike crazy!
Utrecht now has 250 miles of bike lanes, where motorists are allowed, but must not drive faster than 20 miles an hour. According to a research carried out by the University of Utrecht, cycling saves an estimated 6,500 lives every year, because of the health benefits of cycling. This means a saving of $23 million per year in health costs. The project's lead, Dr. Carlijn Kamphuis said "Biking saves medical costs since biking contributes to people's overall physical activity levels, and getting sufficient physical activity prevents against many noncommunicable diseases, including obesity, Type 2 diabetes,coronary heart disease and some types of cancers." And this is seconded by the city of Utrecht's biking campaign, Jan Van Rossem, "Our revenue is healthy people, less traffic and beautiful living." The city reckons that it has saved $300 million through the benefits produced by more cycling, benefits such as reduced pollution of the air, improved work productivity, and reduced health care costs.
$55 million have been spent on creating city improvements to favor the use of bikes. As one Utrecht resident put it "Cycling is like a piece of magic: It only has advantages." Utrecht is now the most bike-friendly city in Europe, apart from Copenhagen (which is twice the size of Utrecht).