Walking Lost in the “We’re Not Amsterdam” Shuffle

The Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management put out an April 2018 report entitled “Cycling Facts” authored by the Netherlands Institute for Transport Policy Analysis. Here’s the cover and typical photo from this short, easy-to-read, yet info/chart-filled report:

dutch cover

dutch curve

An American’s first reaction to the photos above is most likely a repetition of the oft-uttered “We’re not Amsterdam.” This is true even for many of us in love with non-motorized transportation. “Why should we even bother reading the report, Scot, especially as the price of gasoline right now is around $1.80 a gallon?”

I’ll admit it, on the surface (and quite a bit below the surface, too) it’s hard to look at the photos above and the reality of today’s American/Albuquerque roadways without just throwing up one’s hands and using them to firmly grip the steering wheel of a pick-up truck with a “lift kit.” That’s true even for those of us who recall Amsterdam was not always Amsterdam, so to speak, in terms of its high percentage of daily cyclists.

Still, the report is worth investigating as an American, and not just because of its data on cycling. Here’s a fascinating page from the report including a chart on travel mode both for native Dutch and non-native Dutch residents.

dutch native non-native riders

You could spend significant time pondering the facts and numbers on this page, but let’s just spend a moment or two with the graph itself.

dutch chart

While main emphasis of the chart is on native v. non-native use, American readers are, of course, struck by the amazing percentage of Dutch who walk and bicycle. Eyeballing the above, those modes account for about half of all trips! Also notable is the relative low mass transit use. Then there’s the sizable split in preference between native and non-native Dutch, with natives cycling more and non-natives choosing to walk and take mass transit more frequently.

Which gets us to one more graph from the report, one with more definite affinity with the current American viewpoint:

dutch joy

In short, the Dutch don’t get much “joy” from public transport. “Dislike” is also relatively low compared to what American numbers would probably look like, but the car and bicycle are considered highly more enjoyable in the Netherlands, with the bicycle reigning pleasurably supreme.

And it is this last point that sticks most with us here in car-centric ‘Merica. Why do Dutch folks like bikes over cars? What gets lost in that “We’re not Amsterdam” shuffle, however, is the 20% of Dutch trips that are walking according to the report. No doubt Dutch bike infrastructure is roadway engineering sexy. Titillating to say the least. But those improvements, and all the other factors leading to heighten bike “joy” and usage seem to have pleasant impacts on walking as well. And this despite the acknowledged conflict possibilities of trying to walk in milieus like this:

dutch curve

The Dutch report information on native and non-native preferences also reminds us that we need to incorporate better demographic understanding and appeal in studying American roadway usage. In addition to all the other differences here (density, size, hills, weather, toxic roadway masculinity, etc.), there are important demographic factors that will further take the American journey away from its car-centricism, if that journey ever happens, from that experienced by the Dutch.

It’s just about universally agreed that simply copying the Dutch to become less car-centric isn’t a good idea. The Dutch report adds more evidence to this view, both in terms of cycling and walking, right down to its helmet-less, basket-filled, sandal-wearing, 100% White cycling models.





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