The Washington, DC region is great >> and it can be greater.


Pre-Sandy video: Why the Netherlands went bicycle

Speaking of another part of the world even more prone to coastal flooding, someone recently shared a link to this video about why a top-notch network of bike paths came to the Netherlands. I often hear the question, why do other parts of the world do bicycling so much better than we do?

The video argues that the country was on the path of wider and wider roads and more driving following World War II, but after the pedestrian death toll started to mount, especially among children, residents demanded another transportation approach.

Why didn't the same happen here? The US is much larger, and during the interstate highway building boom, most of the roads were going in areas with few or no pedestrians. That would have meant a very different political dynamic around a national policy of road-building.

However, even in the cities there wasn't this push for bicycle infrastructure until fairly recently. Why not? Perhaps that is because the politically powerful classes at the time were moving to suburbs and not caring about the cities? What do you think?

Americans might not have made a fuss about the hazards of poor road design or reckless driving 50 years ago, but some are today. Cyclists rallied on Pennsylvania Avenue Friday to raise awareness of the dangers of illegal U-turns on Pennsylvania Avenue. Local bike shop BicycleSpace organized the event, and officers from the Metropolitan Police Department attended to speak with cyclists about how they can enforce the law.

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. 


Add a comment »

Even "pro-cycling" politicians here too often lack the sort of ambition to make cycling a more reasonable transport option. The "gold standard" cycling cities (like Arlington) tend to rest on their laurels, and invariably appease drivers and NIMBYists rather than make the hard decisions necessary to expand cycling as a transportation choice. Too often, the advocates (though well meaning) are play-along types that don't call out this political cowardice.

by Virginia Biker on Oct 28, 2012 12:04 pm • linkreport

The clicheed answer is largely the truth in this case. The US is considerably more spacious than the Netherlands, and we still have a ton of space left.`The automobile is the primary form of transportation because it's what allows us the take advantage of all this space. The kind of cultural change necessary to make biking a respectable primary form of transportation is a long way off.

by Shane on Oct 28, 2012 12:28 pm • linkreport

I'm a cyclist in the city during the week but on the weekend I'm a full time driver. I drive to see my family in Wilkes-Barre, in Delaware, in Baltimore, all over the place. I used to resent that I had to drive to see people in the suburbs but I've gotten over that. What I don't understand is how there's not a huge body of suburban drivers who want to fight aggressive driving. The amount of reckless driving you see on an average weekend is astounding. When I'm in the city these people are endangering my life when I'm on a bike but they're no less endangering my life when I'm driving from city to city.

The amount of dangerous driving bothers me far more than the amount of driving.

by Steve on Oct 28, 2012 1:13 pm • linkreport

The US is considerably more spacious than the Netherlands, and we still have a ton of space left.`

True in general, but not true in tge most desirable job centers like DC, NY, and San Fran. Those are places where the bike revolution's trajectory has much farther to go.

by Falls Church on Oct 28, 2012 1:56 pm • linkreport

I agree. Many inner city areas across the country have yet to scrape the surface of their cycling potential. My own home city (Richmond VA) is a particularly egregious example.

by Shane on Oct 28, 2012 2:09 pm • linkreport

Wow! Massive cyclist civil disobedience. I'm just trying to picture that here.

by Kevin Diffily on Oct 28, 2012 2:36 pm • linkreport

Here in the USA, waste=profits, and there are powerful political forces that promote wastefulness in the name of economic progress.

by Mark DeLatch on Oct 28, 2012 6:44 pm • linkreport

One man's waste is another man's treasure.

by Shane on Oct 28, 2012 7:15 pm • linkreport

Sandy Rant: ALL WMATA services canceled Monday??? Can someone here explain to me why even the underground trains shouldn't be running tomorrow? Especially considering the highest winds aren't scheduled to hit until tomorrow night AND since the underground system was able to operate through past hurricanes and blizzards?

I get that this is going to be a big storm, but this seems to me to be an even bigger overreaction.

by JW on Oct 28, 2012 7:27 pm • linkreport

I think Metro's worried about people getting blown away going to and from stations.

by A Streeter on Oct 28, 2012 7:47 pm • linkreport

What I want to know is why is there so much attention given to driving or biking but none to walking. We have a bike to work day where is the walk to work day and stuff. Many parts of the world developed and developing people will walk way longer distances to get to places than they do in the US.

by kk on Oct 28, 2012 10:07 pm • linkreport

The US political system disproportionately advantages smaller, more rural states. For example, Wyoming has two Senators, and Massachusetts has two Senators. One very rural state, and one very urban one. That pattern likely carries over to state legislatures, so California's urban centers are probably underrepresented relative to rural ones. Rural areas don't have the density to support high bicycle and transit ridership, and so their legislators may not think of bicycle infrastructure ... and when it comes time to do things like the highway bill, you can imagine the result.

by Weiwen on Oct 28, 2012 10:13 pm • linkreport

Maybe Metro is worried about tunnel flooding? The NYC subway is discontinuing all service as well, presumable for this reason.

by jcs on Oct 28, 2012 10:19 pm • linkreport


Rural areas can support bike riding they can not support building bike paths but that does not mean not supporting biking riding. Whats stopping someone from riding in the road I have seen many ride bikes and walk along roads in many rural areas of the US

by kk on Oct 28, 2012 11:17 pm • linkreport

Interesting correlation between income rising and car usage (contamination/pollution).

by Jazzy on Oct 29, 2012 8:36 am • linkreport

I'm a Bikeshare member, used to live in the Netherlands and don't own a car. So I'm definitely not pro-car, but one element missing from the discussion is the fact that Holland is pretty damn flat and doesn't have temperature extremes (although it is rainy). That makes a big difference -- peddling uphill on 14th St. to Columbia Heights in the middle of summer is less than ideal!

by Colin on Oct 29, 2012 9:20 am • linkreport

I think metro is not worried about current conditions. It's worried about a bunch of people stranded if they have to shut it down in an emergency.

by Alan B on Oct 29, 2012 11:31 am • linkreport

Sandy Rant:

Heavy rains and flooding threaten to mix water and electricity in underground facilities. That's a bad mix.

by Capt. Hilts on Oct 29, 2012 12:05 pm • linkreport

The Netherlands is also about the size of Maryland, is relatively flat (as pointed out already), has mild weather compared to the U.S. (no colossal snowstorms or smoldering heat waves), has relatively dense development patterns, and violent crime is also a lot lower. Not to mention the government taxes car ownership and gasoline at high levels and thus distorts the market away from cars to bikes and public transportation. It's also hard to get a driver's license, the testing procedure is much more rigorous than the U.S. where its very easy and cheap.

Cars are culturally important to the U.S. to a level that they just aren't in other countries (almost the same as bikes are to the Netherlands or trains are to Japan). We're going to continue to prioritize them no matter what. Cars allow us to arrive at destinations quickly and comfortably. Excuse the expression, but if you suggested to your average American that he give up to car for a bike, you'd have to pry the steering wheel from his cold, dead fingers.

As to deaths due to cars, most people have just accepted that as part of the system. No one is going to suggest crippling the road/highway system with road diets, bike lanes, lowered speed limits, more crosswalks, etc. When it comes down to it, pedestrian/cyclist deaths are something we're willing to live with as a country if it means speedy auto transportation. Basically, doing anything that cuts into people's ability to drive is going to be seen as an attack on the American lifestyle from the 90% of the population whose household owns and drives a car. Cyclist commuter make up about 1% of the population, so no one much cars about offending them. If someone gets hit by a car in the street, it's seen as a personal responsibility matter, not due to violence inherent in the system, as Monty Python would say.

The U.S. has been built around the car for 60+ years and that pattern is too entrenched to change. The future of the U.S. transportation may be one built around electric cars, hydrogen cars, natural gas cars, self-driving cars, etc., but it will still be based on personal autos—not on biking, walking, and public transportation. We're not going to abandon the low-density suburbs to live in inner cities and get around on bikes.

by B.R. Tighe on Oct 29, 2012 1:10 pm • linkreport

Interesting, though I did not notice anything resembling a hill in any of that footage.

by Chris on Oct 29, 2012 1:50 pm • linkreport

any time someone makes the argument that our auto-dependence is an ingrained, unchangeable part of our culture, they're really saying "i prefer cars and project that preference onto all americans".

by nbluth on Oct 29, 2012 3:50 pm • linkreport

David: This is awesome. The real challenge is changing people's minds about how to move around the city. The more people in bike lanes, the more people will want to be in bike lanes and not in cars. Please give us more pieces like this one.

by Elisa P. on Oct 29, 2012 3:54 pm • linkreport


I don't even own a car. It's a truth you either haven't experienced enough to see or are ignoring.

by Shane on Oct 30, 2012 12:38 pm • linkreport

This article makes the same point as the video, but in a more technical fashion.

by Bob Larry on Oct 30, 2012 2:42 pm • linkreport

Add a Comment

Name: (will be displayed on the comments page)

Email: (must be your real address, but will be kept private)

URL: (optional, will be displayed)

You can use some HTML, like <blockquote>quoting another comment</blockquote>, <i>italics</i>, and <a href="http://url_here">hyperlinks</a>. More here.

Your comment:

By submitting a comment, you agree to abide by our comment policy.
Notify me of followup comments via email. (You can also subscribe without commenting.)
Save my name and email address on this computer so I don't have to enter it next time, and so I don't have to answer the anti-spam map challenge question in the future.


Support Us