Speech by Melanie Schultz van Haegen, Minister of Infrastructure and the Environment, at Velo-City, Nijmegen
Ladies and gentlemen,
When I was made minister and became responsible for transport, it was October 2010. Back then, there were 19 million bicycles in the Netherlands.
Now, seven years later, there are over 22.5 million.
Over a quarter of all journeys in our country are made by bike.
On average, Dutch people cycle around 1,000 kilometres a year. That’s the distance from Nijmegen to Milan.
And yes, it’s true: with a population of 17 million, there are more bikes than people in this country.
Welcome to the Netherlands. Welcome to Velo-City!
In the Netherlands, bikes are taken for granted.
Perhaps too much for granted.
For a long time, there wasn’t much focus on bikes in our national mobility policy. It didn’t seem necessary. Two years ago, that changed. Bikes have been rediscovered, and are undergoing a revival.
So what’s behind this renaissance?
To explain, I first need to take you on a short bike ride through Dutch history.
Cycling is part of our culture. Everyone – in all walks of life – uses bikes.
Our Crown Princess Amalia cycles to school every day.
Our prime minister likes to cycle to work.
And the official now tasked with forming a new government – Mr Tjeenk Willink – travels by bike too.
Bikes also play an important role in the integration of migrants. It’s easier to integrate if you can ride a bike.
You might well think that bikes have always dominated the Dutch street scene. But that hasn’t always been the case.
After the Second World War, prosperity grew. That led to a massive increase in the number of cars.
Transport policy focused mainly on making room for cars.
As a result, towns became clogged with traffic, air pollution increased and roads became unsafe.
Public opinion changed. There were protests, from groups like the Provos.
This − and the oil crisis − meant that bikes were pushed up the social and political agenda. In the 1970s, they were rediscovered as a healthy, cost-effective and safe means of transport.
It was the start of a revolutionary come-back. Driven more by local than national policy. Because bike policy was largely a local and regional matter. There hasn’t been a national bike plan since the 1990s.
Nowadays, it’s impossible to imagine Dutch roads without bikes.
So why am I talking about a revival? Why did I become more interested in bikes? Why do I now look at them in a different light?
And not only bikes, I should add. Because I’ve also come to look at cars, roads, trains, buses, traffic centres and travel information systems differently.
We need smarter, cleaner, more flexible and safer transport solutions. And that’s achievable, if we allow enough scope for technological innovation.
As I see it, there are three main incentives to rethink transport.
The first is urbanisation. The Dutch population is set to increase by 650,000 over the next 15 years. And 75 per cent of this increase will be in urban areas.
We need new, smart measures to safeguard mobility in cities. I can build seven-lane roads around towns, but not in them.
The second incentive is sustainability. Something we’re focusing on more and more. The right transport systems can contribute significantly to climate targets.
The Dutch climate envoy Marcel Beukeboom is working to promote this.
Today he and his delegation will be cycling to this conference from The Hague. He’ll be arriving this evening!
The third incentive is technology and the great opportunities it presents.
I’m not just thinking of self-driving cars. Nor of increasingly smart roads. I’m also thinking of more and more innovative bike transport.
Our cities are clearly changing, along with our use of space. What will cities look like in the year 2100?
• If current trends continue, all transport systems will be linked – public transport, self-driving cars and bike facilities.
• We won’t need car parks everywhere. There’ll be more room for green spaces, water catchment and bike traffic.
These are visions of the future. But we’re laying the foundations now. We’re busy experimenting with ways of making transport smarter, safer and more flexible.
And bikes will be part of this.
Let me give you a few examples.
• One aim is to reduce rush-hour traffic. That’s something employers and regional authorities are working hard to achieve through our national programme ‘Optimising Use‘.
• Bikes have great potential. 61 per cent of the labour force live within 15 kilometres of their work. But only 25 per cent bike to work!
• We’ve set up lots of initiatives to encourage people to cycle.
• Some employees get an extra incentive: an allowance for every kilometre they cycle at peak times. They can track this using an app. And it has health benefits too!
• Employers are also offering staff mobility cards that can be used to combine public transport and bike use. That has great potential, because more and more people use bikes to get to and from train and bus stations.
• And the use of electric bikes is increasing too. Nearly one in three bikes sold is an e-bike!
• That greatly increases the distance you can travel, making bikes much more attractive to commuters. Especially when combined with bicycle highways – which we’re working hard to create.
• We’ve already constructed 400 kilometres, and plan more to build.
• And some cycle paths even generate solar power!
We’re clearing the way for smart, connected bikes.
• Wouldn’t it be great if bikes could communicate with traffic lights? So that lights stayed green for longer if a lot of cyclists were approaching? We’ve already trialling such a system.
• Or what about traffic lights with rain sensors, that stay green longer when it’s raining? There are some in Rotterdam already.
• And bikes themselves are getting smarter. One new model has a saddle that vibrates in unsafe situations!
• A new generation of apps will mean you can have your bike standing ready when you arrive by train or bus. Or when you park on the edge of town in a self-driving car in the future.
• And I believe new concepts like Mobility as a Service have great potential. You don’t buy a train ticket or a bus ticket. You buy transport from A to B. Bikes will play an important part in this. I’m sure of that.
Right now we’re thinking hard about how all this will work. Not just about opportunities, but also about potential problems.
• Like bike traffic jams.
• Or the need to redesign cycle paths because of big differences in speed and vehicle type.
• Or the dangers posed by texting while cycling. We’re trying to tackle this with a campaign aimed at young people.
• And then there’s the elderly. More and more of them still cycle. That too creates safety issues.
There are many trends and opportunities. Reason enough for a bike revival. Including in government policy.
My role will be mainly to bring parties together, remove obstacles and encourage innovation.
That’s why the Dutch government has joined with regional authorities and civil society organisations to produce a new cycle plan for the next three years.
• We want to connect cities better using bicycle highways.
• We want to link the various shared bike schemes better.
• We want to improve safety.
• And we want to increase the number of kilometres cycled by 20 per cent.
We’re keen to share our expertise with other countries. Our Dutch Cycling Embassy is now promoting bike use worldwide.
And we’re keen to learn from other countries. Some have set up great bike-sharing systems.
And South America has a lot of experience in using bikes to get people out of isolation.
There’s a growing focus on bikes everywhere.
Let’s use Velo-City to share knowledge about bikes and give bike transport the attention it deserves.
I’ve been talking for 10 minutes now. And while I was talking the number of bicycles in the Netherlands went up by another 10! Need I say more?
I wish you all an enjoyable and inspiring conference.