Researchers have identified policies in Denmark, Germany and The Netherlands that have made cycling safe, convenient and mainstream in these countries. Coordinated transport, educational and land use measures have increased the popularity of this sustainable mode of transport over recent decades.
27 per cent of trips are made by bicycle in The Netherlands. In Denmark, this figure is 18 per cent and in Germany it is 10 per cent. In comparison, just 1 per cent of trips are made by bicycle in the UK and the USA.
This study analysed national data and city case studies to understand why cycling is more popular in the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany than in the UK or the USA. Cultural factors, good weather and flat lands all encourage cycling, but the researchers argue that government policies are probably even more important. The popularity of cycling declined during the 1950s and 1960s in Denmark, Germany, and the Netherlands, but the introduction of sustainable transport and land use policies since the early 1970s dramatically increased bicycle use.
Denmark, Germany and The Netherlands have made their cities bicycle-friendly and car-unfriendly. A range of taxes, restrictions on car ownership, parking and use have made driving expensive and inconvenient. Car ownership is still very high in these countries (notably, Germany has a higher level of car ownership than the UK) but these measures, together with policies that encourage cycling, have encouraged more people to use their bicycles when they can.
Lack of safety and inconvenience are often considered important barriers to cycling and Danish, Dutch and German authorities have actively worked to overcome these obstacles.
The most important pro-cycling measure has been implementing extensive and coordinated cycle paths and lanes and short cuts. Where separate paths and lanes are not possible, traffic calming measures play an important role in cycling safety. For example, the speed limit in most residential areas in Denmark, Germany and The Netherlands has been reduced to 30 km/ hr (19 mph). Road junctions have also been extensively modified to make them safer and more convenient for cyclists.
Extensive bike-parking facilities, especially at train and tram stations and bus stops, have increased cycling's convenience and encouraged 'bike-and-ride' travelling.
Danish, Dutch and German schools give thorough cycling training to young children, enabling safer cycling. Car drivers are also trained to be aware of cyclists. Traffic laws further promote safety by prioritising non-motorists: drivers are generally held responsible for most collisions with cyclists, which forces motorists to drive more carefully.
Safety levels are consequently much higher in these countries with measurable results. For example, the number of bicycle fatalities per 100 million km cycled in the USA is 5.8 and in the UK it is 3.6. In the Netherlands, it is just 1.1, even though very few cyclists wear safety helmets.
Many other government policies have indirectly encouraged cycling, notably land use policies. In the UK and the USA, land use is often segregated, so cars are needed to travel between home, work/school, shops and amenities, for example. However, mixed-use of land keeps trips short and easy by bicycle or foot. Uncoordinated land use and transport policies in the UK have encouraged low-density, suburban sprawl, often around motorways, creating unfavourable cycling conditions. An interesting British exception is the London congestion charging scheme, which has helped boost cycling levels by 30 per cent in the city.