How the Netherlands Built a Successful Bike Infrastructure

By: Miovision Team | Feb 02, 2024

Image source: Canva


Even if you’ve never had the pleasure of visiting the country, you’ve probably heard about the Netherlands’ bicycle culture. Dutch bike lanes are full while the roads themselves are hardly ever crowded—there are more bikes than people

It’s not because Dutch bikes are special. Rather, the amount of Dutch people cycling is a reflection of the Netherlands’ bike infrastructure, which was a long-term investment by the country’s government that has paid safety and sustainability dividends. 

So, how did they do it? Can other countries implement similar measures to stay ahead of mobility challenges? Keep reading to learn more! 


A History of Dutch Bikes and Cycling

The first golden age of Dutch biking was in the 1920s and 1930s, as residents found getting around on two wheels fast and affordable. The country recorded having an astonishing 3.5 million bikes compared to only 91,000 cars in 1937! 

However, the Nazi-German occupation, which began in 1940, made it extremely difficult for everyone to have a bike. The invaders imposed tire rations, stole bicycles from the innocent, and brought with them destruction that destroyed transportation infrastructure. 

The Netherlands emerged from World War Two as a changed country. Instead of rebuilding what they had lost during the occupation, people in European cities like Holland and Rotterdam took advantage of the decreased price of cars. 

However, with more cars came more congestion, and with this congestion came many accidents and fatalities—especially children. These deaths prompted the now infamous “Stop de Kindermoord” anti-child-murder protests, which, along with the rising costs of gas in the 1970s, prompted the government to consider bicycle paths instead.

Dutch cycling triumphantly returned in the 1980s, supported by the new infrastructure that has been further developed and refined over the subsequent decades. Let’s now look at the key elements of this infrastructure in its current form! 


The 4 Pillars of the Netherlands’ Bike Infrastructure

1. Dedicated Bike Lanes

The Netherlands’ bike lanes run parallel to the roads themselves to provide cyclists with a car-free path to travel. The use of these cycle paths is mandatory. While some on-road bike lanes also exist, these are roads with a low speed limit and are made visually distinct with red asphalt. There are more than 35,000 km of cycle routes across the country for Dutch bikes! 

2. Bike-Friendly Intersections

Dutch cities have also redesigned intersections to prioritize safety for cyclists. Clear signage, advanced stop lights, and dedicated signal phases create an environment where riders can safely navigate intersections. This approach not only minimizes potential conflicts with motor vehicles but also enhances the overall efficiency. 

rows of Dutch bikes parked in a sunny bike parking facility

Image source: Canva

3. Bike Parking Facilities

Dutch cycling is now also supported by a myriad of bike parking facilities. Strategically placed near train stations and commercial areas, these well-organized facilities accommodate the high demand for proper and convenient bike storage. Storage is often free within the first 24 hours, with flexible passes and payment options available for long-term use. 

4. Integration With Public Transport 

Broader bike-friendly policies extend to trains, buses, and trams, allowing commuters to seamlessly combine cycling with other modes of transit. Dedicated spaces on public transportation for bicycles, for example, facilitate a smooth transition between cycling and public transit, improving the ride for everyone involved. 


How the Netherlands’ Policies Encourage Cycling

While there’s no doubt the Netherlands’ bike infrastructure is great, it has been further supported by bicycle-focused policies and initiatives

The Dutch government encourages employers to provide their employees with a tax-free mileage allowance for cyclists. They have proposed that this go up to 0.19 EUR/kilometer, which is the same rate available to those who travel to work by car. 

Furthermore, the Dutch government has simplified the tax processes for those who use a company bicycle for private purposes. Every year, employees must simply add 7% of the recommended retail price of their bicycle to their taxable income. 

When considered together, it’s clear that the Netherlands is doing its part to make cycling an attractive option from a financial standpoint, too. Choosing to travel via bicycle routes rather than by car can have serious benefits! 


The Success of the Netherlands’ Bicycle Culture 

When the Dutch government shifted its focus back towards bicycles in the 1970s, its goal was to create a safer and more sustainable future. By many metrics, the Netherlands bike infrastructure can and should be considered a resounding success. 

In 1970, the Netherlands’ rate of 245 traffic fatalities per million people was almost as high as that of the United States. However, the Dutch number dropped to 34 per million people in 2019, which is 70% lower than in America. 

Beyond safety, Dutch cycling has also laid the groundwork for environmental change. 

If all other countries cycled like the Netherlands, it would lower global carbon emissions by a staggering 686 million tonnes per year. This would only require the average person to cycle an average of 2.6 kilometers each day. 

So, with all that being said, it seems as if perhaps the true golden age of Dutch cycling is happening right now—they’re racing ahead in their bike lane! 

a bike leaning up against the base of a street light

Image source: Canva


Technology to Support Better Bike Infrastructure

So, are Dutch bikes special? No, but their infrastructure sure is! 

Unfortunately, as more governments and urban planners look to Dutch cycling for inspiration, they’ll likely find themselves fighting an uphill battle to convince their leaders and constituents to embrace ‘Complete Street’ design principles—but that’s where we can help. 

Miovision provides data-driven solutions that help bikers and drivers share roads more safely. From reliable multimodal data collection devices to cloud-based analysis platforms, our family of offerings can provide what your municipality needs to make data-driven decisions and become a cycling city. Our tech will help you run better studies that inform actionable changes in your road networks. 

If you’re looking to make your roads better for bikers, contact us today.