Cycling for Everyone
Cycling for Everyone

Cycling & Strategies

How to bring cycling into the political agenda of your community? 

In an effort to fight climate change and make urban areas more accessible for everyone, during the last decades many cities around the world have tried to boost their cycling levels. They often look towards Dutch examples and expertise. How and why the Netherlands became the premier cycling country of the world? Why were Dutch cyclists so successful in their fight for a place on the road? Overlapping conditions and coalitions among the civil society, the government, and the private sector have led to strategies that make cycling possible.

  • The urban paradigm of the 20th century was the automobile. Cities grew both vertically: to free up space for roads, and horizontally: as the car opened the possibility of travelling further and further distances. This development model has proven to be both spatially and environmentally unsustainable. Here is where the alternatives of active mobility and intermodality come to play: to shift the urban paradigm. 


    The United Nations (UN) and World Health Organization (WHO) have suggested the creation of an European Cycling Masterplan, in which 20 percent of transport budgets are allocated to walking and cycling. According to this plan, the Netherlands currently spends approximately 7 percent of its transport budget on cycling (about €30 per capita per year). However, the Netherlands still evidently leads when it comes to cycling, with no less than 27% of all trips being done by bike. Denmark places second, with a share of 17.5 percent, followed by Germany, Sweden, and Finland all below 10 percent. 

    Both the UN and WHO are aiming to double the bicycle share in Europe by 2030. Next to this, casualties per kilometer cycled should be cut in halve. To achieve this, long-term investments must be made in infrastructure and promotion, and public policy for cyclists should be a priority in the urban agendas. The plan highlights that the bicycle is much more than just an alternative mode of transport. It also contributes to health, the environment, preventing poverty, and improving gender equality. Source

  • Everyone living in a city should have access to essential urban services within a 15 minute walk or bicycle ride. A study conducted by Breda University of Applied Sciences (BUas) shows 11.7 million Dutch people live within 15 minutes cycling distance of a train station. The study was conducted to gain insight into the bicycle accessibility of all municipalities in the Netherlands. This is particularly important now, because the country, as many others in the world, is facing a major housing challenge in the upcoming years. If bicycle accessibility is not considered in housing and urban planning decisions, they will fall behind the sustainability ambition in the field of mobility. Thus, the key issue about mobility in large cities is accessibility and intermodality: diverse alternatives, including cycling, in which citizens can reach urban services and public transportation. Source

  • How can political support for cycling be translated into policy? A community’s desire for more cycling requires physical infrastructure (cycle paths, traffic lights, etc.) to make it a reality. Together, these should make it possible to ride a bicycle in a way that people perceive it as sufficiently safe and comfortable, and make it preferable to other transport choices. Therefore, infrastructure is a necessary condition for achieving high cycling levels, but not the only one. The governance of space distribution, risk, and traffic safety, and of cycling as a public good, needs to be taken seriously and be a key topic in the political agendas. In the Netherlands, there has been a positive feedback loop connecting cycling practices to infrastructure provision: The growing network of infrastructure supported cycling as a practice by making it a safer and more comfortable option, even when other mobility alternatives became more widely available. As a result, more people continued cycling and forced policymakers to keep taking cycling seriously, and consequently, investing in more and better infrastructure. Source

  • The Dutch take cycling seriously and treat it as a proper mode of transport on the  same level as the car or public transport. Policies should aim at the optimal mix of transport of which the bicycle is an integral part. An integrated cycling policy is based upon hardware, software, and orgware. It is not enough to focus only on building the hardware (e.g. development of infrastructure such as cycle paths). We need to attract cyclists by working on the software (campaigning, equity in traffic laws, etc.) and the orgware (capacity building of the different institutional actors) is needed to strengthen the strategy on a broader basis.


    People are more influenced by perceived safety than actual safety statistics. In places where the chances of a collision are statistically low, people will not consider cycling a viable transport option if the physical environment seems dangerous. Therefore, policies and design should create and promote a safe environment that invites cycling. The Dutch have long preferred promoting active safety (prevention of collisions) rather than passive safety (softening the outcome of collisions) through the creation of infrastructure rather than recommending–or enforcing–wearing a helmet and reflective clothing. Road safety is not a goal, it is a precondition for cycling!

  • A smart city has nothing to do with artificial intelligence or sensors. A city is smart when children can walk and cycle freely and safely. Technology is only a bonus. Success of cycling in a community is accomplished when policies, infrastructure and the community are engaged. Community engagement is achieved through social marketing activities, such as organized bike rides and events, cycling skills courses, the distribution of cycling maps of the area and coverage in the local press.  

    The best way to engage people in an activity such as cycling is to guarantee them safety and comfort, as well as confidence in the other road actors. Making sensitivity campaigns about the benefits of cycling, both in terms of health environment and efficiency of transportation will boost cycling levels.

  • Understanding and spreading the word about the socio-economic benefits of cycling is essential for getting it on the political agenda. “Bikenomics” studies and assesses the monetary value associated with those benefits. It helps to prioritize mobility investments, to communicate the advantages in a simple way to gather support from stakeholders, and to shift the view on cycling from recreation to transportation. 

    Bikenomics has demonstrated that cycling creates positive impacts for individuals, companies, economic sectors, and society as a whole: 

    • A financial business case assesses cycling impacts for individuals or companies. As an example, a study from the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Perú shows that providing facilities for its employees who cycle to work costs six times less than providing car parking spaces. Source
    • An economic impact assessment investigates cycling impacts on jobs and GDP. For instance, in Rotterdam, NL, there are over 300 jobs in bicycle-related activities with an estimated business volume of  more than €34-million each year. Source

    A social cost-benefit analysis shows the positive impacts of cycling on society as collective welfare. An analysis of this nature from Decisio shows that the value of the benefits of investing in cycling for commuting during the COVID-19 crisis in 2020 in Italy was €20-billion. Source

    Cycling is a sustainable economic development policy!

  • In the Netherlands, a well-established ‘cycling country’, cycle tourism has experienced significant interest since the COVID-19 pandemic. Cycling holidays are perfectly possible in the Netherlands at the moment: traveling to/from the end and start of a long-distance route can be done by train. Many cycle routes use wide cycle paths or quiet country roads. This attraction of tourism is always a boost for the economy! How can other countries make their cycling infrastructure more robust while enhancing its tourism offer?

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Portrait of Shelley Bontje

Shelley Bontje

Project Manager