Government shifts cycling to a higher gear

Cycling is healthy, clean and cheap. And the more people who cycle, the more society benefits too. That’s why the government will promote bicycle commuting, provide bikes to children from poor families, and invest in good bicycle facilities at train stations and in new housing estates. These are the main pillars of the new cycling policy sent to parliament today by Vivianne Heijnen, State Secretary for Infrastructure and Water Management. She included with her letter to parliament the results of new research that underscores cycling’s benefits for the economy and the labour market.

‘Bicycles help us get ahead, literally and figuratively,’ Ms Heijnen says. ‘People in the Netherlands take this for granted, but it doesn’t happen by itself. That’s why in the years ahead I’ll be working with other public authorities and employers to make cycling an attractive option for even more people. In the interests of accessibility, public health and clean air.’

Cycling to work

Ms Heijnen wants to get an extra 100,000 people commuting by bicycle over the next two and a half years. This will reduce congestion on the roads and make public transport less crowded. People who cycle to work also report sick less often, on average. Despite working from home becoming more common, rush hours are expected to get busier in the years ahead. The coalition agreement provides the state secretary with €50 million to further improve bicycle parking at train stations, encouraging more people to do part of their commute by bike. She will also expressly seek to work with employers on this.

Ms Heijnen wants to contribute to the development of a national network of bicycle superhighways, something that provincial and local authorities have been working on for some years now. These continuous cycle paths, often connecting one town or city to the next, are designed with special attention to efficiency and safety, perfect for commuting to work or school. The state secretary will contribute structural funding of €6 million annually.

Cycling and new housing estates

There is a large shortage of housing in the Netherlands. The government wants plans for new housing estates to explicitly address the role of cycling, because accessible neighbourhoods are liveable neighbourhoods. Ms Heijnen will therefore consult with regional authorities twice a year to see where cycling can enhance residential accessibility, in addition to public transport and private cars. The Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management is providing a total of €7.5 billion for accessible neighbourhoods. In many cases, the funding will go to local and provincial plans for combined transport involving cars, public transport and bikes. In an initial funding round, Ms Heijnen and infrastructure minister Mark Harbers are providing a total of €370 million for 21 infrastructure projects across the Netherlands that expressly promote bicycle use, for example superhighways, underpasses and bridges specifically for bicycles. It is expected that resources will also be available for cycling infrastructure in future funding rounds.

Esther van Garderen, director of the Dutch Cyclists’ Union (Fietsersbond), is pleased with central government’s funding of cycling infrastructure. ‘Good infrastructure is key in getting people on their bikes, and making sure they can cycle safely. Local and provincial authorities had already drafted good plans that can now be carried out, thanks to the ministry’s support,’ she says. ‘It really is great news.’

Bicycles against transport poverty

There are more than 200,000 children and teenagers in the Netherlands whose parents are on social assistance benefit. These families cannot always afford a bicycle, meaning they miss out on the many advantages. Cycling isn’t just healthy, it also offers children and their parents freedom and independence. The state secretary wants to enable more of these children to get around by bike. The ministry is currently investigating how this could be done. An action plan will be published shortly.

Bicycling boosts the economy

Besides the many social benefits of cycling, it also boosts the Dutch economy. A recent study found that bicycle manufacturing, sales, maintenance and rental together account for 13,000 fulltime jobs in the Netherlands, divided over more than 3,350 companies. In 2020 Dutch companies sold 1.2 million bicycles, more than a million of which were sold abroad. The bicycle sector’s total export value is just under €2 billion. And the sector is earning more and more of its income abroad: between 2015 and 2020 the export value increased by 70%.