On an official visit to India during January 29-31, 2014, one of the most important assignments for Ms Edith Schippers, the Dutch Minister of Health, Welfare and Sports, was a cycling tour around the Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium in New Delhi. Considered the most cycle-friendly country in the world, the Netherlands is hoping to show cycling as a healthy and nature friendly mode of transport. Ministers Schippers talks to Parthaa Bosu, Clean Air Asia India Director and South Asia Liaison, and Faizal Khan, in an interview conducted during the visit:
How important is cycling for the people of the Netherlands?
We love to cycle. It’s fun, a healthy exercise and nature-friendly. I am very happy to see that also in Delhi there are more and more cyclists and cycling lanes. There is even a Dutch company that organizes cycling tours to explore Old Delhi. Cycling accounts for 27 per cent of all trips (urban and rural) nationwide, and up to 59 per cent of all trips in its Dutch cities.
How did cycling in Netherlands become so popular?
Cycling became popular in the Netherlands in the 1880s, and by the 1890s, we were already building dedicated paths for cyclists. By 1911, we owned more bicycles per capita than any other country in Europe. The popularity of cycling as it is now started in the 1970s when Dutch people took to the streets to protest against the high number of child deaths on the roads: in some cases over 500 children were killed in car accidents in the Netherlands in a single year. This protest came to be known as the ‘Stop the Child Murder’ movement. The success of this movement — along with other factors, such as the oil shortages of 1973–74 — turned Dutch government policy around. The country began to restrict motor vehicles in its towns and cities and direct its focus on growth towards other forms of transport, with the bicycle being seen as critical in making Dutch streets safer, and its towns and cities more people-friendly and livable.
What are the reasons behind the popularity of cycling?
Reasons for the popularity of bikes are the bike-friendly infrastructure (a continuous network of cycling paths, in total 35,000 kilometers), bike-friendly public policy, planning and legislation, the geography (the Netherlands is flat and densely populated), the practical bicycles (not just sports bikes are used) and training (as children start cycling at a young age and have to obtain a traffic certificate).
The Netherlands has about 35,000km of cycle track where as Delhi has only about 100km. What is the message you can give towards building the infrastructure for cycling and walking in India?
I cycled today in New Delhi. It was the first time ever I have cycled into a stadium. I also cycled, I think, nearly 25 years ago, through Delhi and it was a real experience, because you have all kinds of traffic around you, it is very busy and unpredictable. So I think if you want to stimulate cycling, it is important that you have special places where you can cycle and where there are no cars. So lanes, you have very broad streets, much more than in the Netherlands. So I think it is easy to make the lanes. But the main role is that it is not only good for exercising, but it is also good for traffic.
The Netherlands is rated as one of the best liveable and most happy nation in the OECD and other surveys. What is the secret?
As a politician, I don’t feel it everyday (laughs). We have hygiene, we have toilets, we have good healthcare. We have all kinds of regulations for jobs. So people have a very healthy environment to work. I think it has also to do with how developed you are.
How much consideration is given to the elderly, the children and the disabled in creating transport systems for universal access, especially in cycling and walking?
I think that access is very healthy important for everybody, also the elderly, also the disabled. Especially for the elderly, because sometimes we forget that it is also important for the elderly. We have to invest in creating possibilities for them to really exercise on the skills that are possible for them.
Facts About Cycling in the Netherlands
- Cyclists are called fietsers in the Dutch language
- There are 18 million bicycles in the Netherlands, more than there are inhabitants.
- These bicycles can be used on more than 35,000km of bicycle paths
- Popularity is still growing: in 2011 the population cycled nearly 10% more than in 2010
- There is by far no country where cycling is so popular as in the Netherlands
- In Amsterdam alone, 490 000 cyclists took to the road to cycle 2 million kilometers every day in 2012. Quite a lot, as Amsterdam only has 780 000 inhabitants. This created a problem some cities would dream of to be even called a problem: bicycle traffic congestion
- The bike is popular and very convenient indeed, as over 60% of trips are made by bike in the inner city. That’s why Amsterdam was chosen as the most bicycle-friendly capital city in the world
- The Hovenring in Eindhoven, built in 2012, is the first suspended bicycle roundabout in the world