On June 28, our family set off on a five-week adventure in The Netherlands, starting in Rotterdam, a former industrial city that had to rebuild itself after being levelled in World War II at the start of the German occupation. Although not known for being as bicycle-friendly as other, more prominent Dutch cities, Rotterdam offered its own impressions of what a city that makes cycling easy can look like.
With that, here are five key observations we made during our first five days in The Netherlands:
From the moment we exited Rotterdam Centraal train station, it was clear that riding bicycles in the city was going to be as easy as we had dreamed. Surrounded on all sides by completely separated cycle tracks, the station becomes the origin point for any journey through the city, connecting with countless cycle tracks taking you along arterial roads to wherever your destination lies.
As we joined the fray, we felt completely at ease finding our way around, even with our children leading the way. There was never a moment where we felt unsure or anxious, comforted by the fact that almost every route was either completely separated from car traffic, or was designed to slow or restrict motor vehicles while giving priority to people on foot and bikes. We quickly realized that happiness is never having to check the bike map, because there’s space for cycling on every street you want to use.
Like many European cities, the Intercity Rail network in The Netherlands is a thing to make many North Americans drool, with regular trains running to and from most cities as regularly as 10 minutes apart. What makes them work, though, is not just a well connected, nationwide rail network, but also the start and end of trip transportation options.
Rotterdam Centraal houses underground secured parking for 5,000 bikes, allowing residents commuting to nearby cities for work to simply ride up to the station, drop off their bike, and hop aboard their train, safe in the knowledge their bike will be waiting for them at the end of their day to take them home quickly and with ease. And when that area fills up, which it inevitably does, there is an outdoor overflow area to house yet another five thousand bikes. Kind of makes the dozen or so spots at Commercial-Broadway station look like child’s play.
One thing is certain, the Dutch take for granted how amazed we North Americans are at the way they use a bicycle to do just about everything. From the school run, which, from what we’ve been told, are almost always done by bicycle, to people of all ages riding abreast, chatting about their day, to parents hauling children of all ages in all manner of ways.
Instead of getting strange looks from the onlookers, we were getting strange looks for wanting to photographs them. For the Dutch, riding a bike is just seen as a means to make getting around easy, and so, while we may marvel at their ingenuity, to them, it’s just another day.
In Vancouver, we are still coming to terms with the novelty of the Compass Card – our one-stop shop for all things SkyTrain, West Coast Express, and bus in the region. Well imagine having one card that gets you on the subway, light rail, buses, intercity rail and even bike share, no matter which city you are in?
Here in The Netherlands, they have the OV-Chipkaart, a loadable card that gives you access to nearly every form of transportation available throughout the entire country. It works in almost the exact way as the Compass Card, but with the added bonus having access to end of trip transportation like the OV-Fiets (OV-Bikes) that Dutch residents can pick up at any train station and ride to their final destination. Mobi, we’re looking at you!
Of course, being a cycling family ourselves, we couldn’t help but notice all the parents and children riding together throughout the city. Everywhere we looked, no matter the time of day, we saw families of all ages riding along, enjoying a conversation about their day or singing songs to keep toddlers happy throughout the trip.
The bikes varied as much as the families – be it child seats attached to the front and/or back of a bicycle, to bakfiets (cargo bikes) and event older children ‘dinking’ (what the Dutch call ‘doubling’). It was so encouraging to see them enjoying time together while travelling through the city, making active transportation a normal, everyday act they can do as a family.
#CyclingAbroad’s nest stop: Eindhoven, a city once known for industry, and the former home of Philips Electric, now a centre for technology and innovation. Follow our travels on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.