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Arriving in Amsterdam, summer of 2016, enthusiastic to fully integrate myself into Dutch culture on my much-anticipated study abroad exchange, I faced my first hurdle. My first step to becoming a local meant that I had to master the art of cycling in Amsterdam.After some very bad bartering at Waterlooplein Market, I completed my initiation to becoming a Dutch student: pictured above, my second-hand bike purchased for €50, which enabled me to get around the busy city for 6 months without spending another penny! Riding a bike in the Dutch capital is not just a sustainable transportation option, it’s a lifestyle. With over 25% of daily trips completed on bike, compared with less than 3% in the UK, what causes such a gap in statistics? [1]

What is Sustainable Transport?
After attending a lecture presented by Alan Wann on sustainable transport methods, I was shocked and disappointed by the UK efforts to provide sustainable transport compared to my beloved Dutch second home. Transportation contributes to the highest overall share of greenhouse gas emissions than any other economic sector, therefore if you care about our planet, then you care about cycling [2]. It is first useful to define sustainability in the context of transport, so that it is clear what exactly we are trying to achieve in order to become a more sustainable nation. Sustainable Transport relies on renewable rather than fossil fuels therefore it has a low or negative effect on the environment since it makes use of energy sources that are sustainable [3]. Sustainability does also include affordability, promotion of health and low noise pollution which are all kept very firmly under control whilst cycling.

This leaves us with the 2 most sustainable forms of transportation being walking and cycling. However, with 27% of trips being made by foot but covering only 3% of the distance (averaging less than a mile each) [4], we must look to bikes as the leader in efficient, user friendly and sustainable transport. But that term ‘user-friendly’ is one of our biggest problems in the UK. How many times have you had to swerve your bike because a driver refuses to provide you with adequate space on the thin yellow line you’re keeping to because your daily commute has no cycle lanes? We must better accommodate the safety of cyclists by changing our road system, in 2018 over 1000 cyclists were killed or severely injured, compared to just 27 car drivers in the UK [5]. Its about time we prioritised cyclists.

Have you ever seen a Dutch cyclist wear a bike helmet? Probably not. This is based on the notion that helmets inhibit the convenience of everyday cycling, meaning less people would cycle, which makes cycling less safe. It’s safety in numbers! Their wide designated cycle lanes, keeping a clear barrier between bikes, cars, buses and trams allows for them to cycle safely without the pressing need for a helmet. Taking the safety of cycling away from protective gear or a high-quality bike draws the attention to our roads. The Netherlands have two-way cycle lanes, completely segregated from car traffic and their own traffic lights to ensure cyclist safety even at busy junctions.This brings me onto even bigger problems (literally), with England ranked as the 40th most obese country in the world, compared with our Dutch friends coming in at 117th place (out of 190), we clearly need to start moving more [6]. Cycling to work alone is linked to a 46% lower risk of developing coronary heart disease, which would incredibly assist with lowering the 37,000 deaths caused by physical inactivity in the UK per year [5].

This blog post might have made you reconsider your daily commute, and I really hope that it did. However, in order to make a difference on a regional and hopefully national scale, our government must be behind us. They must provide funding for adequate cycling infrastructure; they must keep us safe. With the new conservative win, we look to Boris Johnson to prioritise cycling and with his ‘Boris Bike’ cycle share initiative back in 2010 around the city of London we had high hopes. However, with his pledge to fund just £1.18 per head per year on cycling [7], short of the £7 last year and drastically lower than the Netherlands at £25 [8], how can we possibly hope to lead healthier and more sustainable lives?

    I’ll leave the rest to you, Mr Prime Minister.


[1] Harms, L. and Kansen, M. (2018). Cycling Facts. The Hague: Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management, pp.1-5.

[2] Committee On Climate Change (2018). Government’s Road to Zero Strategy falls short, CCC says. [online] Available at: [Accessed 16 Dec. 2019].

[3] Evans, M. (2011). Sustainable Transport. [Blog] Earth Times. Available at: [Accessed 8 Dec. 2019].

[4] Evans, A., Kelly, A. and Slocombe, M. (2018). National Travel Survey: England 2018. London: Department for Transport, pp.30-34.

[5] (2019). Cycling UK’s Cycling Statistics | Cycling UK. [online] Available at: [Accessed 16 Dec. 2019].

[6] Mendis, S. (2014). GLOBAL STATUS REPORT on noncommunicable diseases. 1st ed. [ebook] Geneva: World Health Organisation, pp.200-240. Available at:;jsessionid=2BDE5B22727667F28589671BA67714DD?sequence=1 [Accessed 8 Dec. 2019].

[7] Laker, L. (2019). Which party’s general election pledges are best for cyclists?. The Guardian. [online] Available at: [Accessed 16 Dec. 2019].

[8] Bruntlett, M. and Bruntlett, C. (2018). Building The Cycling City. Washington: Island Press, pp.15-16


Image References

[1]  Verkeer & Meer (2016). World’s biggest bicycle study: The Bike Study Week in Amsterdam Region. [image] Available at: [Accessed 16 Dec. 2019].

[2] Landes, N. (2017), My Bike.

[3] Bicycle Dutch (2015). The new bi-directional cycleway on Reitscheweg in ʼs-Hertogenbosch. [image] Available at: [Accessed 16 Dec. 2019].

One response to “Welcome to The Netherlands, Where There are More Bikes Than People!”

  1. Thank you, Nadine, for shedding light on the importance of prioritising cycling in achieving sustainability goals. I agree that when analysing the status of sustainable transport in England compared to the majority of our neighbours in Europe, it is really shocking to see the difference and to realise how underdeveloped we are in terms of sustainability, despite being more economically developed than countries such as The Netherlands (Nation Master, 2019). 27% of trips in the Netherlands are made by bicycle (Harms & Kansen, 2018), compared to only 2% in England (Department for Transport, 2019). Such difference is hard to ignore, and for two countries which are similar in so many ways, how could there be such a huge discrepancy?

    I also definitely agree with your perspective about the government – there is only so much that we as individuals can adjust in our everyday commute to be more environmentally friendly, without the government supporting these adjustments. For as long as the streets in the UK are designed for ease of vehicular movement, people will continue to use vehicles as the primary mode of transport. A shift in traveling hierarchy, to make cycling more convenient and accessible than traveling by car, is required to allow the UK to become more sustainable, and this is the responsibility of the government.

    Whilst the Dutch government spends 487 million Euros every year on cycling (Hembrow, 2010), the UK government’s identification of £1.2 billion of funding between 2016-2021 (Dollimore, 2018) – equating to £240 million per year – which “may” be invested in cycling and walking (Department for Transport, 2017, p4) seems, to me, simply inadequate and unreliable.

    The positive correlation between government funding and prioritisation of cycling and the country’s percentage of trips made by bicycle cannot be deemed as coincidental. If England wishes to rival its European counterparts in achieving a more sustainable future, it is down to the government to fulfil its responsibility in subsidising and enforcing such measures. It really is as simple as introducing more cycle lanes to make a step in the right direction…


    Department for Transport (2017) Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy, p4.

    Department for Transport (2019) National Travel Survey: England 2018.

    Dollimore, D. (2018) Rebalance transport spending to invest more in cycling, walking and safer streets: why wouldn’t you?, Available at [Accessed on 23/12/19].

    Hembrow, D. (2010) 487 million euros for cycling, Available at [Accessed on 23/12/19].

    Nation Master (2018) Netherlands and United Kingdom Compared, Available at [Accessed on 23/12/19].

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