Sunday, February 23, 2020

Why Don't People Wear Bike Helmets In The Netherlands?

When I saw the title question, I figured it was because bicycles greatly outnumber cars in Amsterdam and most towns in the Netherlands. But there's a lot more to it than that, due to the culture of cycling. (via Digg)


newton said...

I actually disagree with this video's points and conclusions. He needs to interview someone from the Netherlands who now lives in the US.

What I've heard from them is that they are shocked at how dangerous it is to ride a bike in the US and most of them start wearing a helmet when they ride in the US.

If you look at the shots of bikes riding in that video, you'll notice that in most of them the bikes are completely separated from traffic--either with their own, separately paved lane, or completely separated trail or road. And, yes, when they do enter an intersection, the Dutch drivers drive more safely.

In the US, bike fanatics often encourage cities to have cars and bikes 'share the road', where bikes are driving in the same lanes as the cars, even stopping at the same place at stoplights. This works for the macho bike fanatics, but you would never have your grandmother or small child ride the road like this, and you would be crazy to ride like this without a helmet. You would never see such a thing in the Netherlands.

Liesbeth en Karl said...

Actually 'shared space' is a common concept in traffic design, but it does imply that the space isn't designed for cars first and the rest as an afterthought - thus, no pavements, no marked lanes, no parking spots, a lot less road signs... and cars will slow down out of the uncertainty of their drivers. It's not just culture or mentality, it's also infrrastructure or space that dictate traffic behavior.

Bicycle Bill said...

"Bike fanatics" in the US encourage 'sharing the road' because we realize that America, like it or not, is addicted to their motor vehicles, has been ever since before WWII, and it is a conflict that is lost before the battle even starts to try to get cities and states to take space away from already-existing roadways to try to make them safer for non-motorized traffic, whether it be bicycles, pedestrians, or Amish buggies... let alone raise the money to build 'separate but equal' bikepaths, lanes, etc.  Not to mention that even in the best of situations, a bikepath or lane may not take you to where you need to go, so it will sometimes become necessary to share the road with other vehicles anyway.  So the intent is to encourage shared spaces rather than let ourselves be treated as third-class citizens or worse and be legislated off the roads entirely.

Keep in mind too that the Netherlands covers only 16 thousand square miles and has a population of just over 17 million who were not raised in a 'car culture' nation, while America is almost 3.8 MILLION square miles in area and has a population of around 325 million who for the most part cannot imagine life without the convenience of and access to a personal automobile (or several of them!).  The logistics of size of such a cyclo-centric infrastructure alone are staggering!

As noted above, however, the effects of America having been such a car-centric culture for so many years are so deeply ingrained into American society that the task of re-educating such a large number of people to think of someone other than themselves and their own interests is sisyphean.  Ask any motorcyclist you know about near-misses by inattentive drivers in cars who saw them but DIDN'T see them (if you know what I mean); you'll get an earful!  So we serious cyclists do what we need to do ... and that includes helmets, reflective/high-vis clothing, lights, etc.

Lastly, even when riding on so-called 'safe' spaces such as rail-trails or bikeways without motor vehicles around, I still wear a helmet.  There are more hazards when riding a bike than just being hit by a car — potholes, a sudden change in the condition of the trail surface (soft sand/gravel), and wet leaves can be treacherous, causing one to lose balance and fall — and wearing a helmet to provide that little extra protection for one's self is just good common sense.