In the early/mid 90s I lived in Rotterdam in a suburb on the edge of the city called Hillegersberg for five years. If you went North East from our house it was 1 km to a large park called the Lage Bergse Bos and 6 km South West was the centre of Rotterdam. Our children were young, two arrived whilst we were there and the eldest began attending the local primary school in the latter years. They all enjoyed riding with us on our bikes in both directions. The eldest was given a cycle at four and was soon cycling with me to the centre of Rotterdam and the market with strict instructions to cycle like a baby whale i.e. alongside me.
During the five years there was one mishap, well perhaps two. A dog darted across in front of my wife in the park and she fell over with a baby in one of those front seats. No harm done but she took a couple of pancakes to recover. Oh! The eldest had not quite got the reverse pedaling brake on his new bike and descended down a gentle slope into a patch of nettles.
Why was it so easy to cycle there? Yes, there is a fantastic infrastructure and it’s flat but mostly its because the cycle was made the dominant form of short trip transportation and the car has been given a lower priority in the cities and towns. People cycle to school, to work, to the shops, to the allotment, to the train station, to the park, to their grannies, they cycle everywhere. Cars give way to you at junctions when you are on bike. Cyclists who want to go fast, head out of town and don’t scare the living daylights out of other road users. There is an aura of calm mutual respect which allows everyone to proceed at an equitable pace.
It was the same when we returned last year for a short holiday and cycled around some of our old routes with our now grown up children. I still don’t like back pedaling brakes. We had the last hire bikes left at Rotterdam Central station.
This BBC article describes the huge difference between our countries: “Why is cycling so popular in the Netherlands?” and why you can cycle with your family in the Netherlands.
It will take decades for the UK to get 10% of the infrastructure they have in The Netherlands but the Nation could change its attitude to cycling and cyclists overnight. Its up to you!
Is this a gap we can close in the UK?