Led by its federal government, the Netherlands has made a huge investment since the end of the 1990s to improve the country’s cycling infrastructure – building cycle lanes, bridges, bike parking facilities etc. In the last 10 years alone, the authorities have ploughed a massive €500 million into bike transport. That’s three times more than Montreal and Paris have planned to spend on improving cycling facilities in their cities by 2020.
However, it’s an investment that offers a real return, according to a study carried out by the University of Utrecht (which is now the second most bike-friendly city in the world – behind Copenhagen and ahead of Amsterdam). By heavily promoting the use of pedal power for daily commuting, the university’s researchers have estimated that the country is saving €19 billion a year in a range of health costs.
Be a cyclist, the best way to feel good
As Professor Carlijn Kamphuis, who led the study, told the New York Times : “Biking saves medical costs since biking contributes to people’s overall physical activity levels, and getting sufficient physical activity prevents against many non-communicable diseases including obesity, Type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease and some types of cancers.” And often, taking the bike to work every morning is enough. The researchers claim that commuting by bike prevents 6,500 premature deaths in the Netherlands every year.
Other statistics show that spending on bike safety infrastructure also reduces the number of traffic accidents involving cyclists and cars. Over the past 10 years, the number of Dutch cyclists killed in traffic accidents has fallen by 21%. That’s particularly important for a country where bikes (22.5 million) outnumber the population (18 million), and where daily commuting by bike is continuing to increase: up 11% since 2008.
Frans Jan Van Rossem, who heads Utrecht’s cycling development programme, has a big-picture view of the bike’s role in the urban mix. “The progress we’ve made hasn’t just been in terms of reducing car traffic and pollution, but also in making people healthier, providing a better quality of life and increasing people’s productivity at work,” he says.