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What can The Netherlands learn from us?

Posted by on January 14th, 2008 at 11:53 am

Loek Hesemans on the
cover of Price Tags.

Because of their bike-centric policies and staggering amount of bike traffic, Portland has an ongoing love-affair with Amsterdam.

So, it might come as a shock to learn that a senior health official from The Netherlands (where riding a bike is safer than taking a shower) recently came here in search of guidance and inspiration.

Back in August, Loek Hesemans — the Senior Policy Officer at The Netherland’s Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport — made a trip to Cascadia (he visited Portland and Vancouver BC). His goal was to learn how our policymakers promote and plan for bike use, and to examine the role our bike culture plays (or doesn’t) in increasing ridership.

But wait, doesn’t everyone in The Netherlands already ride? Not exactly.

Hesemans estimates that country-wide, the number of people that ride is less than 30% — and he says, due to several factors, those numbers are trending downward.

At an presentation at Metro during his visit, Hesemans told a crowd of urban planners and bike advocates that bicycling in The Netherlands is “so self-evident to where we get complacent about it,” and that he was “impressed with the energy and the culture here in Portland.”

“I found it quite shocking to witness the negative aspects to which car-focused societies are prone.”
–Loek Hesemans

In addition to complacency, Hesemans mentioned that skyrocketing immigration rates and increasing congestion are reasons that he and other officials can’t rest on their bike-friendly laurels.

Hesemans — who told us his Amsterdam neighborhood is the most multi-cultural in the world — said that immigrants do not share the bike-nirvana upbringing of Netherlands natives and that many of them do not ride.

He also shared that auto congestion has gone up 17% since 2005 and that cars remain the “dominant form of transportation in The Netherlands.”

Amid that backdrop, Hesemans sought to learn how Portland and Vancouver, BC are doing so much with so little. He wanted to learn how, despite an extreme lack of funding, a cultural heritage that barely includes bicycles and a political environment that gives mostly “lip service” to bicycles (his words), we’ve still been able to create a bike movement.

Hesemans shared what he learned in a recently published 10-page report titled, Cycling in the Pacific Northwest (download below).

Here are a few notable excerpts.

On why he made the trip:

“Since we can no longer count on Dutch children being brought up to ride bikes as a matter of course, it is interesting to look at countries where cycling has never been a big part of life…”

“Dutch cities can learn a trick or two from North American cities…which may not boast as many cyclists, but could certainly inspire us to take interesting, less obvious steps to promote cycling, precisely because their infrastructure, public administration and culture are so different from ours.”

On our world famous car culture:

“I found it quite shocking to witness the negative aspects to which car-focused societies are prone.”

On our subculture groups:

“In some cases their purpose is to create a sense of togetherness, of companions in adversity finding support with each other…on the other hand they may put prospective cyclists off as they tend to be so ‘different’ that budding cyclists may well be scared off.”

On our political landscape:

“Many politicians now pay lip service to the importance of cycling, claiming it should be a spearpoint of transport policy. However, there is some doubt as to their willingness to foot the bill for all the steps that will have to be taken to promote cycling.”

“[Biking] is clearly a leftist thing, although it ties in with conservative North American values like independence, freedom and the ability to manage for oneself. However, it seems that the convenience and comfort provided by cars exert a stronger pull.”

A stronger pull indeed.

For a nice summary (with photos and graphics) of Hesemans’ report, download the current issue of Gordon Price’s Price Tags Issue 99 (PDF).

Or, if you’d prefer to dig deeper, you can read the original report here (PDF).

Please support BikePortland.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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    Scott Mizée January 14, 2008 at 12:04 pm

    Great synopsis. Thanks Jonathan. I especially liked the issue of Price Tags that you linked to. It was easier to read than the whole report that came out in e-mail a while back.

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    James January 14, 2008 at 12:37 pm

    And by \”Portland\” you mean \”Jonathan Moss\”, right?

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    Dan Kaufman January 14, 2008 at 12:39 pm

    Very interesting piece. Thx.

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    Dave January 14, 2008 at 12:51 pm

    Interesting; maybe gas is too cheap and drivers have too many rights in Holland as well as the US. If we created a legal environment in which the most noticeable emotion of drivers was a fear of police, we might create some more new transportation cyclists. Maybe it\’d work in NL, as well.

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    GLV January 14, 2008 at 1:29 pm


    Who is Jonathan Moss? Is he related to Randy Moss?

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    James January 14, 2008 at 1:39 pm

    Oops. My mistake. Maus. Sorry.

    My sarcastic comment towards his generalization still stands, though.

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    Matt Picio January 14, 2008 at 2:01 pm

    James (#2) – and by \”Jonathan Moss\” you mean \”Jonathan Maus\”, right? (although \”Moss\” is phoenetically correct)

    Sorry for the nitpick – I just find it a little funny, because \”John Moss\” (granted, different first name spelling) is Executive Director of the Oregon Jewish Community Foundation, another worthy organization, but not very connected to Portland cycling.

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    Matt Picio January 14, 2008 at 2:04 pm

    \”there is some doubt as to their willingness to foot the bill for all the steps that will have to be taken to promote cycling\”

    Especially since pro-car mouthpieces like Terry Parker and Jim Karlock would like to see cyclists paying for that entire infrastructure. This of course ignores the massive subsidies that built the existing road network.

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    Alison January 14, 2008 at 2:27 pm

    Interesting. I received a phone call about a month ago from an Amsterdam writer who was asking me how our Create a Commuter program worked. She was curious how we helped low income people get access to bicycles and that she thought that Amsterdam needed something similar.

    I was surprised because I was unaware of the shift happening there.

    Community Cycling Center

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    Cøyøte January 14, 2008 at 2:39 pm

    “[Biking] is clearly a leftist thing….\”

    Huh? In the European sense of the word, there is no left, left in this country. Look at Billary and O\’Baby, those two can barely be considered progressive and neither have any cogent transportation policy.

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    Garlynn -- January 14, 2008 at 2:51 pm

    Loek Hesemans seems like the James Bond of bicycling… 🙂

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    Burk January 14, 2008 at 6:50 pm

    Wait… the guys name is Jim Karlock…. pro-car mouthpiece named Jim [Car-lock]…

    o.k. – that\’s pretty funny

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    Joe January 15, 2008 at 12:24 am

    Interesting Thanks.

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    Jessica Roberts January 15, 2008 at 12:20 pm

    He really did a lot of otureach; here\’s the list of people he met with:

    Bert Zinn, Ministerie van Verkeer en Waterstaat, The Hague, The Netherlands
    Betty Rahman, Portland OR
    Bill Stites, Portland OR
    Bonnie Fenton, Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition, Vancouver BC
    Chris Israel, Portland OR
    Dan Bower, Portland Office of Transportation
    Dan Kaempff, Metro, Portland OR
    Darius Rejali, Reed College, Portland OR
    Deanne Larocque, Better Environmentally Sound Transportation, Vancouver BC
    Doug McArthur, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver BC
    Gordon Price, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver BC
    Greg Raisman, Portland Office of Transportation, Portland OR
    Janet Price, Portland OR
    Jennifer Dill, Portland State University, Portland OR
    Jessica Roberts, Alta Planning, Portland OR
    Jo Fung, City of Vancouver, Vancouver BC
    John Mermin, Metro, Portland OR
    John Richards, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver BC
    Jonathan Maus,, Portland OR
    Josef Oliveira Santos, Ministerie van Volksgezondheid, Welzijn en Sport, The Hague, The Netherlands
    Karen Frost, Westside Transportation Alliance, Portland OR
    Kay Teschke, University of British Columbia, Vancouver BC
    Kim Foren, Portland OR
    Laura Domela, Portland OR
    Lenny Anderson, Swan Island Transportation Management Association, Portland OR
    Lidwien Rahman¸ Oregon Department of Transportation, Portland OR
    Linda Ginenthal, Portland Office of Transportation, Portland OR
    Mark Ginsberg,, Portland OR
    Marni Glick, Portland Office of Transportation, Portland OR
    Margaret Mahan, Better Environmentally Sound Transportation, Vancouver BC
    Michelle Poyourow, Bicycle Transportation Alliance, Portland OR
    Nani Waddoups, Portland OR
    Pam Peck, Metro, Portland OR
    Pat McGuire, Portland OR
    Rex Burkholder, Metro, Portland OR
    Ria Hilhorst, Gemeente Amsterdam, The Netherlands
    Richard Campbell, British Columbia Cycling Coalition, Vancouver BC
    Robert Ingram, Portland OR
    Roger Geller, Portland Office of Transportation, Portland OR
    Ron Wagner, Portland OR
    Suzanne Anton, Vancouver City Council, Vancouver BC
    Steve Hoyt, Portland Office of Transportation, Portland OR
    Todd Littman, Victoria Transport Policy Institute, Victoria BC
    Todd Boulanger, City of Vancouver WA
    Todd van Hulzen, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
    Tom Phipps, City of Vancouver, Vancouver BC

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  • […] the Dutch love and use of bicycles for transportation all is not so rosy in the Netherlands. Jonathan Maus of BikePortlandt recently posted an piece about Loek Hesemans, the Senior Policy Officer at the Netherlands’ […]

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    Henry February 2, 2008 at 1:13 am

    I see that my Bakfiets-en-meer post already left a trackback link above, but its worth mentioning that Loek Hesemans has found my post and commented that the 30% figure seems to be a misquote. The figure was meant in reference to the percentage of trips made by bicycle.

    I looked through some Dutch national statistics and found approximately the same figure.


    the link is:

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