Dutch Cycling Is High in Low Country

Whether it's over the stone bridges and through the hectic traffic of Amsterdam, or across the windmill-dotted pastures of the countryside, the Dutch cycle everywhere.

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Published July 9, 2007 by The Guardian Uk
By TOBY STERLING

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands (AP) – Whether it's over the stone bridges and through the hectic traffic of Amsterdam, or across the windmill-dotted pastures of the countryside, the Dutch cycle everywhere.

And their love of two-wheeled transport has reached new highs in the low country.

The distance that the Dutch cover on their bicycles every day has increased by nearly 10 percent in the past five years, the country's Central Bureau for Statistics said Monday.

Every man, woman and child in the Netherlands biked an average of 1 miles per person per day in 2006 – more than 8.7 billion miles in all, the agency said.

Bureau spokesman Michiel Vergeer said the agency had gathered the data from surveys across the country, but he didn't have a clear picture of what caused the increase.

Two reasons were “nice weather and more interest in recreational biking,'' he said, although there probably were other factors.

He was cautious about attributing the increase to the high price of gas or concern about global warming, because “the number and use of personal cars continues to rise as well,'' he said.

Miriam van Bree, spokeswoman for the country's Biker's Union, agreed that good weather and more recreational use played a role, and she was skeptical that Dutch bikers are especially environmentally conscious.

The union thinks rising bicycle usage is tied to increasing traffic congestion and the difficulty of finding parking places in city centers.

“What you see is that it's in the cities and busiest areas that the use of bikes has increased the most,'' she said. “If this were an environmental issue, the rise would have been across the board.''

Artist Marieke van de Boogaart rides to and from her studio in an industrial area of Amsterdam every day, her bicycle decorated with flowers and a makeshift basket in front.

“It's heavenly,'' she said. “Easy, cheap and fun – what more can I say?''

She acknowledged that biking has its drawbacks on a day like Monday, when the city was drenched by rain. “I guess you could say I'm a fair weather biker, by preference,'' she said.

Many Amsterdam cyclists took the wet weather in stride, clutching an umbrella in one hand and the handle bars in the other.

When the weather is nice, Dutch couples often ride double, with one sitting sidesaddle on the back rack, arm around the driver.

Van Bree said cities were increasingly promoting bicycle use as a way of meeting pollution and energy-use reduction targets.

“There's evidence that Dutch people are healthier and less fat than in some of our neighboring countries because we get more exercise by biking,'' she added.

“When you bike to work every day, it's easier to keep up that habit than it is to make it into the gym.''

Other factors also may be affecting bike usage. In 2002, the Transportation Ministry introduced a tax deduction of up to $950 for bikes purchased for use in commuting to work.

Another noteworthy trend is the growing popularity of the “bakfiets,'' a bicycle with a large, sturdy wooden box attached to the front capable of carrying loads of up to 175 pounds. That's plenty of room for groceries – or small children.

Bakfiets have been around for decades, used mostly by left-wing Amsterdam residents and squatters. Since the turn of the century however, they have become mainstream.

In the wealthier neighborhoods, having a high-quality model has become something of a status symbol among young urban professionals, who deck them out with chrome finishes and various accessories. Rain covers are a must.

“I see more of them all the time,'' said florist Samira Sindaba, a bakfiets owner who runs the “Happy Flower,'' a stand on a busy corner in the east of Amsterdam. “My daughter – she's 6 – she thinks it's fantastic.''

Her bakfiets, a top model, cost $2,700 new, and it's insured like a car.

She said that she's noticed more bicycles in recent years, and she believes the increase is due to the cost and difficulty of parking.

All the extra bicycles have been a boon to the industry, with sales up 9 percent to $616 million in 2006. In all, 967,000 bikes were produced here last year, roughly half of them for domestic use.

“The first quarter of 2007 looks even better: Sales are up around 20 percent,'' Vergeer said.