Bicycle Culture in Europe

It’s no secret that western European countries have developed some pretty amazing bicycle infrustructure. During a recent trip to Europe, Belgium, Holland, and France in particular, I was once again blown away by the extent to which people uses bicycle as a part of their everyday life, without thinking twice about doing so. I’m sure part of that is cultural, that’s just always how people have operated. Another significant part of the equation is infrastructure. To the Americans in the crowd, when was the last time you saw a traffic light for bicycles?

Belgian bicycle traffic light.

The biggest difference between European cities and US cities is the conscious decision to integrate cycling infrastructure into every roadway project undertaken. If you’ve not had the opportunity to experience this extensive infrastructure, just picture bicycle utopia. Dedicated bicycle lanes and paths throughout cities, dedicated bicycle paths paralelling roadways throughout the country, and, at a minimum, most roadways will have a bike lane painted on the shoulder. This infrastructure makes getting just about anywhere by bike extremely easy.

Cyclists waiting a red light

Gary Fisher and I happened to fly home from the Trek mountain bike launch on the same connecting flight, so we had a chance to chat over breakfast at the airport. Gary relayed a story to me about how the city of Amsterdam was forced to make a decision to embrace automobile culture and infrastructure or stick with bicycle transportation in the ’70’s. The decision to stick with the trusty bicycle came down to just one vote. To Gary, the moral of this story is that bicycle friendly cities don’t just happen organically. There must be a conscious decision made to embrace the bicycle and provide the proper infrastructure to facilitate its use.

This also means that any city, even US cities, could decide to transform themselves into highly bicycle friendly communities in just a couple of decades. Fortunately, we have advocacy groups fighting the good fight so that we’re all able to uses our bikes more, and in a more safe way. If you’re not already a member/supporter of your local advocacy group, please consider doing so. If you’re not sure how to get in touch with your local advocacy group, go the Alliance for Biking & Walking’s website to find out how to do so. These organizations are working hard so we see more of this on our local bike paths and streets:

cyclists in belgium




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