Dutch Voice in Portland

Christine posted these comments in response to an earlier thread about our time in the Netherlands. I thought they merited their own post!

It’s interesting reading you comments about the Dutch bike and car situation in the Netherlands. I’m Dutch and recently moved to Portland.

A few comments:

You have to understand that there is one big, very basic difference in the bike infrastructure in the Netherlands and the USA, and that is the state of mind.

Everyone you’ll see driving a car in Holland has started out driving a bike as his/her only way of transportation. -EVERYONE- needs to learn to ride a bike when you’re 3-4 years old. Reason for this is that there are no school buses, no parents who drive you to school. As a 4 y.o going to pre-school you will of course sit on the back of you mom’s or dad’s bike or ride you’re own bike accompanied by one of your parents.

Most children at 6 – 7 y.o will ride their bike alone to school. I’m sure you have seen the large groups of kids when school is out, riding bikes in groups, sometimes very dangerous 3 or 4 next to each other taking up a lot of space on the road.

On the contrary to the US it’s not common in Holland to have 2 cars in a family. Most families will have 1 car that serves for transportation for long distances.

Driving permit age is 18 in Holland, until that age you either ride your bike or ride your scooter(from age 16 and you’ll need a permit too).

You’ll see a lot of young moms riding bikes with a small child on the front on a bike in a child seat, sometimes even a child on the back as well and even have 2 shopping bags with groceries on the bike.
For pics see:

Very popular the last few years are the ‘fietskar’ (bike cart) to transport the kids, groceries, dog etc.
For pics see:
Kids: http://www.fietskarren.nl/Groepen/kinderkarren.htm
Luggage or groceries: http://www.fietskarren.nl/Groepen/bagagekarren.htm
Pets: http://www.fietskarren.nl/Groepen/hondenkarren.htm
Seats for toddlers to place in the carts: http://www.fietskarren.nl/Eind-pag/Accessoires/schelpen.htm

As you can see from the prices, they are expensive, reason for this is that they have to be extremely safe and sturdy and are subject to very strict regulations. http://www.fietskar.com/kinderkarren.htm

The first choice of transportation in Holland is a bike, cars would be second. Towns were build with a infrastructure for bikes in place from the start. Cars came later, on the contrary to the US where infrastructure of a town or city is build for cars from the start.

Holland is a very small country with a lot of people living and working(approx 18 million) if all people who are legally allowed to drive a car also would drive there would be no space to live anymore. Car pooling(sharing) is very much promoted, employers (or the tax system) only reimburse public transport as commute cost where driving your car to work would have to be paid by yourself.

Families with children, having a one salary income are still very much the norm, one of the parents will stay at home. Part-time work for parents is also very much standard, a lot of alternative ways of work sharing will be created like ‘duo-baan’ (dual-job) where you will share a job with a colleague who will work half of the full time position. All of this is heavily subsidized and promoted by the government with child day care etc, because of this it’s less common to have 2 cars simply because the budget wouldn’t allow it.

Holland did have it’s share of car industry, which ended somewhere in the 80’s. (Opel, DAF) However, it’s not the industry that decides how the country is governed and developed, on the contrary to the US, but the people, for the people. Politicians do not depend on contributions from the industry for their elections as this would only cloud the way they would govern.

So the biking situation in Holland is something that is heavily embedded in your upbringing, it’s part of your life like driving everywhere by car is embedded in the US way of life.
Unfortunately for people living on a limited income or wanting to downscale, being without a car in the US is nearly unthinkable while being without a car in Holland is a common situation and does not have to be disruptive.

Feel free to ask me anything you want about the biking in Holland. I, like many other kids rode my bike to school all the way through University, rode my bike with child in front and shopping bags and cartons with milk on the back, in rain, snow and ice storms. ;-) Raised a bike riding child. So I think I qualify as an experienced bike person ;-)

I must say that living in Portland now I feel seriously limited in my movements, I’m not free to go anywhere, anytime I like to as it’s not safe to ride my (Dutch) bike here and we only have one car at the moment that my husband needs to commute to his job and to be honest, doing my shopping on my bike would get me strange looks from others ;-)

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