How the Dutch got their cycle paths

How the Dutch got their cycle paths

Ever wondered why it is that the Netherlands came to have such great transport infrastructure? I have, so I was pleased to find this wee video which explains how the Dutch got such a cycle friendly counrty.

Note that in 1971 the Netherlands suffered over 400 child deaths on the roads, that is about the same as the UK at that time, but as a result of this Dutch transport policy changed. This has brought the death rate for children on Dutch roads down to 14 in 2010. In the UK there were 55 children killed on British roads in 2010 (down from 81 in the year before, the UK stats are here), that is over four times the death rate of the Netherlands. Britain has one of the worst records in western Europe for child pedestrian safety (the most up to-date figures show the number of children Killed or seriously injured on UK roads in the year to June 2011 were 1650, 1% higher than the year before). So what is the British Government doing about it? Well, they are producing videos like this:

And this:

These videos are produced by the Department for Transport to give “tips and advice for 6-11 year olds” as part of their THINK! Road Safety campaign. Watching this stuff makes me think: “why are the British people not angry about the rate of child death on our roads?” This blame the victim approach to road safety is clearly far less effective than the Dutch harm reduction approach. Why are people not angry with a government department whose mission statement is “Our vision is for a transport system that is an engine for economic growth”, and that considers this “economic growth” to be more important than the lives of British children? These car centric policies pose other threats to our children, as if the risk of being run over wasn’t enough, British children are also prone to higher levels of asthma and obesity than the rest of Western Europe.

Why do we allow politicians in Britain to think of the lives of our children as being so cheap?

Addendum: Since this blog post was written, the number of vulnerable road users killed or seriously injured (KSIs) on Britain’s roads has increased, at the same time the rate of physical activity and the general health of the population has decreased.

5 thoughts on “How the Dutch got their cycle paths

  1. “the assumption is that roads are for cars and other road users should be kept out of the way or discouraged as far as possible.”
    This is in fact the actual principle at the basis of the Dutch infrastructure. Keep the different users apart wherever possible. The difference with the UK is that the Dutch built the additional infrastructure and the UK didn’t.

  2. UK is four times the size of the Netherlands, so the child death rate is roughly the same. It’s certainly not bad enough to reprise the Stop de Kindermoord campaign.

    Of course we’ve achieved that low death rate by not letting our children out on the streets, but any campaign has to focus on the positives of letting them out again, not exaggerate the death rate.

    It’s another matter in London, where the big roads have killed about a dozen (adult) cyclists so far this year.

    1. The UK may have a larger population than the Netherlands, but population densities are similar and if we take Child (aged 0 – 14) pedestrian deaths per million population, in 2009 (the most recent year I could find figures for), there where 3.2 in the UK compared with 2.4 in the Netherlands and 1.1 in Finland. This is not a record which the UK can be proud of, especially when you take into account that in the Netherlands and Finland most parents are happy to allow they children to make their own way to school from the age of eight. However, in the UK nearly a quarter (24%) of car driver trips by residents in urban areas during term time are ‘escort education’ trips, a.k.a., the “school run”.

      In the UK the so called “road safety” campaigns (especially those aimed at children) are aimed at clearing pedestrians and cyclists off the streets. The difference with the Stop de Kindermoord campaign, is that the responsibility for child road safety was placed squarely on the drivers. If we want safer streets we have to target those who are most capable of doing harm and change our attitude to infrastructure. Here is the other problem for pedestrians and cyclists in the UK, the assumption is that roads are for cars and other road users should be kept out of the way or discouraged as far as possible. This is reflected in the rate of fatalities of all pedestrians, deaths per million population in 2009 were 8.5 in the UK and 3.8 in the Netherlands.

      The reason I suggest concentrating on child safety is that, sadly, most drivers don’t really care about the risk they cause to other adults, especially cyclists.

  3. The attitude locally is similar. When I suggested that reducing car journeys through the town may be good, I was told: “You can’t do that, the shops will lose money”
    It is remarkable how the car has infected our thinking, and how children and other people are considered to be ‘the problem’ whenever there’s a conflict.

    1. Maybe we should be challenging these views by asking how many children they are willing to sacrifice for the convenience of parking closer to the shops?

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