Tony reports from the Netherlands

Enschede : pedal in paradise

This story is part of our youReport series.

Tony says “It’s like cycling through paradise – Ijmuiden to Enschede.” It’s the Netherlands. Naturally. Off on the ferry and on his party went.

Tony begins: It is wonderful to find so many traffic free routes. And in the towns, there is invariably a cycle route which usually includes a lane either on or beside the road – and at junctions, priority is given to the bike. Most of the paths we followed were dedicated to cycles though sometimes motor scooters are allowed. Between towns, the paths wind between fields and across plains and beside canals in the most beautiful settings imaginable. Mostly the surface is paved and despite heavy rain, we only met mud on one occasion.

Roundabouts are amazing in the Netherlands as priority is given to cycles in that drivers stop (they really do!) at crossing roads. This confers a huge feeling of confidence to the cyclist. At junctions we encountered an innovation: a cycle-only phase on the traffic lights when all you have to watch out for is cycles coming from all four roads, at once! [Ed. we have that in Newcastle]. We also found crossings where you place your hand on a post to make the lights change in your favour. Just amazing.

Netherlands - roundabout
Photo 1 – Dutch roundabout with cycle lane

Netherlands - traffic light
Photo 2 – Signalled crossing with continuous cycle lane

Netherlands - all green
Photo 3 – All green traffic lights

Children are always to be seen out on bikes on their own and with their parents. Particularly at going to school times when they pedal along in groups. Naturally the schools, both primary and secondary, have hundreds of bike racks in the grounds. I have also seen several classes out on bikes with their teacher presumably on some nature activity. This is the only time I have seen children in high viz jackets, but still no helmets in evidence – only racing cyclists seem to wear them in the Netherlands.

Netherlands - school outing
Photo 4 – School bike trip

The noticeable difference in Netherlands is that it is normal for EVERYONE to ride a bike – elderly, overweight, fashionably dressed, young women, children, people of all colours and creeds. This starts in early childhood as babies are carried on the bike from even before they can sit. For children and young people this culture confers great freedom – you can see this from the groups of children chattering away as they cycle to school and the gossiping young women heading to work. All kinds of bike adaptations are available and we saw a man in a cycle wheelchair being pedalled at high speed along a seaside path. I think the message of this is to start early as then the lessons (and the fun and independence of cycling) become ingrained.

The Dutch keep investing in cycling. My sister in law has seen many recent developments in Enschede: new cycle paths on roads and innovations such as the bike phase on traffic lights. They don’t sit on their laurels but keep working on them.

Netherlands - bike on trains
Photo 3 – Bikes on trains are provided for