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? 
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 . 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 . 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) , 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 . 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 . 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 .
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 , short of the £7 last year and drastically lower than the Netherlands at £25 , how can we possibly hope to lead healthier and more sustainable lives?
- I’ll leave the rest to you, Mr Prime Minister.
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