Cycling in the Netherlands
Cycling is a ubiquitous mode of transport in the Netherlands, with 31.2% of the people listing the bike as their main mode of transport for daily activities (as opposed to the car by 48.5% and public transport by 11%). Cycling has a modal share of 27% of all trips (urban and rural) nationwide. In cities this is even higher, such as Amsterdam which has 38%, though the smaller Dutch cities well exceed that: for instance Zwolle (pop. ~123,000) has 46% and the university town of Groningen (pop. ~198,000) has 31%. This high modal share for bicycle travel is enabled by excellent cycling infrastructure such as cycle paths, cycle tracks, protected intersections, ubiquitous bicycle parking and by making cycling routes shorter, quicker and more direct than car routes.
In the countryside, a growing number of inter-city bicycle paths connect the Netherlands' villages, towns and cities: some of these paths are part of the Dutch National Cycle Network, a network of routes for bicycle tourism which reaches all corners of the nation.
Cycling became popular in the Netherlands a little later than it did in the United States and Britain who experienced their bike booms in the 1880s, but by the 1890s the Dutch were already building dedicated paths for cyclists. By 1911, the Dutch owned more bicycles per capita than any other country in Europe. After World War II, however, much like it had in other developed nations, the privately owned motor car became more affordable and therefore more ubiquitous and the bicycle started to be squeezed out. Even so, the number of Dutch people cycling was very high compared to other European nations.
The trend away from the bicycle and towards motorised transport only began to be slowed in the 1970s when Dutch people took to the streets to protest against the high number of child deaths on the roads: in some cases over 500 children were killed in car accidents in the Netherlands in a single year. This protest movement came to be known as the Stop de Kindermoord (literally "Stop the Child Murder" in Dutch). The success of this movement — along with other factors, such as the oil shortages of 1973–74 — turned Dutch government policy around and the country began to restrict motor vehicles in its towns and cities and direct its focus on growth towards other forms of transport, with the bicycle being seen as critical in making Dutch streets safer and towns and cities more people-friendly and liveable.
Besides the history and social movements, there is no single reason as to why cycling remains so popular in the Netherlands: many bicycle friendly factors reinforce each other:
- Bike-friendly infrastructure
- There is a continuous network of cycle paths, clearly signposted, well maintained and well lit, with road/cycle path junctions that often give priority to cyclists. This makes cycling itself convenient, pleasant, and safe.
- There is also a good network of bicycle shops throughout the country.
- Bike-friendly public policy, planning and laws
- The needs of cyclists are taken into account in all stages of urban planning. Urban areas are frequently organised as woonerven (living streets), which prioritise cyclists and pedestrians over motorised traffic.
- The Netherlands employs a standards-based approach to road design, where conflicts between different modes of transport are eliminated wherever possible and reduced in severity as much as possible where elimination is not possible. The result of this is that cycling is made both objectively and subjectively safe. Towns have been designed with limited access by cars and limited (decreasing over time) car parking. The resulting heavy traffic and very limited car parking makes car use unattractive in towns.
- A form of strict liability has been law in the Netherlands since the early 1990s for bicycle-motor vehicle accidents. In a nutshell this means that, in a collision between a car and a cyclist, the driver's insurer is deemed to be liable to pay damages (n.b. motor vehicle insurance is mandatory in the Netherlands, while cyclist insurance is not) to the cyclist's property and their medical bills as long as 1) the cyclist did not intentionally crash into the motor vehicle, and 2) the cyclist was not in error in some way. If the cyclist was in error, as long as the collision was still unintentional, the motorist's insurance must still pay half of the damages — though this doesn't apply if the cyclist is under 14 years of age, in which case the motorist must pay full damages. If it can be proved that a cyclist intended to collide with the car, then the cyclist must pay the damages (or his/her parents in the case of a minor.)
- No compulsory bicycle helmet laws. In the Netherlands, bicycle helmets are not commonly worn; they are mostly used by young children and sports cyclists who ride racing bikes or mountain bikes. In fact, the Dutch Fietsersbond (Cyclists' Union) summarized existing evidence and concluded that, for normal, everyday cycling (i.e. not sports cycling), a compulsory helmet law would have a negative impact on population health.
- Geography, built environment and weather
- The Netherlands is a relatively densely populated and very flat country, which means that journey distances tend to be short, even between towns. (It can be very windy though.)
- The cool climate of the Netherlands means that one can cycle short distances without breaking into a sweat. This means that people can cycle to work or school without having to shower or wash straight afterwards, as they more often might have to do in warm, hot or humid climates.
- Practical bicycles and equipment
- The long-standing bike culture has meant that most bicycles are utility bicycles rather than sports bicycles (though all types of bikes are to be seen, from racing bikes, to recumbents, right through to velomobiles.). The Dutch mainly choose to ride roadster bicycles, like the ubiquitous and infamous Omafiets, which are practical, low-maintenance and suited to load carrying, with mudguards and skirt-guards, and where the rider is seated in an up-right position, making for a comfortable, leisurely ride with the best spatial awareness.
- Bicycle baskets, panniers and load-carrying trailers are common for carrying items to school or work or for carrying shopping items back home from the shops.
- The Dutch train their children to ride so they can confidently ride in the roads when they are around 12 years of age, just before they start secondary school. Only if they pass their traffic exam are they awarded their Verkeersdiploma (traffic certificate). This training is deemed necessary as 75% of secondary school students cycle to school, rising to 84% riding for those living within 5 km of school. Even for distances of 16 km (9.9 mi) or over, some 8% of secondary school children cycle in each direction to school, though this is mainly in rural areas where the closest secondary schools can be a fair distance away. (Some 49% of primary school children ride to school, but distances are shorter and adults often accompany the younger ones.)
- Dutch motorists are also trained for interaction with cyclists as part of their driver training when going for their driving licence. For example, trainee motorists are trained to check and re-check their right-hand side for cyclists before making a turn to the right.
These factors together far outweigh the negative factors of wet and windy weather, strong headwinds due to the flat terrain, and frequent bicycle thefts. Nearly a third of all journeys made in the Netherlands are made by bicycle. Even the over 65 age group make nearly a quarter of their journeys by bicycle — though, among this age group, electric bikes are very popular. In some cities over half of all journeys are made by bicycle.
By 2012 cycling had grown tremendously in popularity. In Amsterdam alone, 490,000 fietsers (cyclists) took to the road to cycle 2 million kilometres every day according to statistics of the city council. This has caused some problems as, despite 35,000 kilometers of bicycle paths, the country's 18 million bicycles (1.3 per citizen old enough to ride) sometimes clog some Dutch cities' busiest streets. This is being addressed by building even more bike lanes to tackle a problem many other cities in the world would envy, that of bicycle traffic congestion.
In 2012, the Dutch Fietsersbond (Cyclists' Union) said that a quarter of all deadly crashes in the Netherlands involve cyclists. Research in 2013 showed that 60% of fatal cycling accidents took place at junctions and in two out of five of those accidents, cyclists were not given priority by the driver. From 2007 to 2012, the number of fatal accidents decreased in the Netherlands from 850 to 600, while the number of cycling fatalities remained roughly constant. In 2015, cycling deaths made up 30% of road deaths in the Netherlands, 185 out of 621.
Many roads have one or two separate cycleways along them, or cycle lanes marked on the road. Cycling on the main carriageway is not permitted on roads where adjacent bike paths or cycle tracks exist so, where they exist, the use of such facilities is legally compulsory. On other roads and streets, bicycle and motor vehicles share the same road-space, but these are usually roads with a low speed limit. The surface quality of these bike lanes are good and the routing tends to be direct with gentle turns making it possible to cycle at good speeds for considerable distances. Cycleways come with their own sets of rules and systems - including traffic signals/lights, tunnels and lanes.
Tunnels and bridges may or may not be accessible for cycling; if pedal cycles are prohibited, there is usually a separate facility. For example, the Western Scheldt Tunnel is not accessible for pedestrians, cyclists or moped riders. They have to use the ferry at another location, or take the bus through the tunnel. Unlike the vast majority of bus services in the Netherlands, three services that cross this tunnel carry bicycles and mopeds. There is a fee for this service and reservation is recommended.
Pedestrians use the pavement where one is available, otherwise they use the same position on the road as the cyclists: on the cycleway or lane if available, otherwise on the road (but in the latter case pedestrians preferably walk on the left, while cyclists go on the right). Roads and tunnels accessible for cyclists are also accessible for pedestrians. Most pedestrian paths are available to cyclists who dismount and walk the bike.
Separate bike paths, parallel to the roadway
When enough space is available, larger roads are fitted with a parallel fietspad (bike path) that is physically separated — for example by means of a verge, hedge, or parking lane — from the roadway. In most cases, these bike paths are also physically separated from an adjacent footpath.
Where protected bike paths exist, their use is in most cases obligatory for cyclists. Mopeds, mofas and the like are allowed and obliged to use them when their maximum speed is no more than 25 km/h (with a blue license plate) (though this has become controversial). When the maximum speed is 45 km/h (yellow license plate), mopeds are only allowed to use the cycle paths if that is indicated (mostly outside of the built-up area). Motorists are not allowed on bike paths, and to enforce this the entry of cars is often made physically impossible by using obstacles. In any case, a single-directional bike path is usually too narrow for cars to travel on.
Bi-directional bike paths on one side of the road are common in towns as well as in the countryside: they are divided into two lanes, similar to roads, by a dashed line. Occasionally bi-directional cycle ways exist on both sides of the road; this reduces the number of times cyclists have to cross the road.
The color of the pavement on a bike lane or path may vary, though red is the standard color to identify bike paths and on-road bike lanes in the Netherlands: either red asphalt or brickwork is used to visually distinguish cycle ways from car lanes and footpaths. Standard black asphalt is also commonly used and some older cycle paths are made of the square tiles commonly used for sidewalks.
On-road bike lanes
On-road bike lanes in the Netherlands are marked by either a dashed line or a solid line: lanes marked by a dashed line may be used by motorists provided that they do not impede cyclists, while those marked with a solid line may not be used by motorists. Solid lines are interrupted on crossings to allow motorists to enter or leave the road. Car parking is never allowed in either type of lane.
Bike lanes are usually surfaced with red or black asphalt. The red colour has no legal meaning, it is there for visibility; the on-road bike lane is delineated by the solid or dashed line by which it is separated from the roadway.
National guidelines advise a minimum width of 1.25 m for cycle lanes.
When a cycle lane is present on a road, cyclists are obliged to use it. Since 15 December 1999 mopeds are not allowed on cycle lanes.
Fietsstraat (bike street)
A fietsstraat (bike street) is a road where bicycles are considered to be the primary and preferred form of transport and where cars and other motorised vehicles are allowed "as guests". There are four different types of fietsstraat but they are all required to have a speed limit of 30 km/h or less and are usually coloured in the same red asphalt as bike paths.
Fietsstraat streets exist mostly in residential areas where low-traffic roads exist anyway. A fietsstraat was in most cases originally a road that had low-traffic volumes beforehand and was therefore easily converted. They are an important type of infrastructure which makes Dutch towns and cities safer for cyclists. They can also be used for route separation to enable cyclists to avoid busier roads and have direct routes into and through towns.
The unravelling of modes
In Dutch towns and cities, many bike-only routes are not alongside the roadway, nor do they run close-by and parallel to major car routes: rather, cycle routes are often completely separate from motor vehicle routes. In many cases, dedicated bike routes are far more direct than the local car routes are to common destinations, such as town centres. This complete separation of bicycle routes from motor vehicle routes is called the unravelling of modes and is an important feature of modern Dutch urban design and traffic management.
For instance, many Dutch towns and cities have a "soft" green core that is only accessible to cyclists and pedestrians. Therefore, while drivers wishing to cross the town may have to take a lengthy detour via a ring road, cyclists can take a direct route through the town centre.
Other cycle routes work similarly. On a small scale, short sections of cycle path can provide a short cut between streets that cars cannot take, while on a larger scale entire streets are sometimes converted to cycle paths to provide more room for cyclists and discourage the use of motorized vehicles.
Free-running cycle paths also exist for recreational purposes, in parks and in the countryside. These are usually bidirectional.
On busy and important routes, cycling facilities in the countryside are similar to those in the cities. Cycle paths are made where possible, and cycle lanes otherwise. If the available space is too limited even for a cycle lane, for example when a road passes through a village, speed-reducing measures are usually taken to ensure that the difference in speed between cyclists and motorists is tolerable.
Highways and "provincial roads" (main roads for which a province is responsible), are usually fitted with separate cycle paths. Motorways, on the other hand, rarely have cycling facilities associated with them. If a cycle path is bundled with a motorway it usually lies at a relatively large distance from the road, outside the traffic barriers and noise barriers.
Apart from these utility paths and lanes, many recreational paths are available in the countryside. Their pavement varies from gravel through asphalt. Crushed seashells are a popular variant.
Snelfietsroutes (Fast Bike Routes)
A bicycle-only route intended for cycling longer distances for practical reasons such as commuting or for sport and exercise can either be called a snelfietsroute (fast bike route) or a fietssnelweg (cycle highway). Some characteristics of these cycling routes mentioned by governments (both national and local) and traffic experts are: bi-directional paths with recommended uni-directional lane widths of 2 metres and minimum widths of 1.5 metres; very level and straight stretches (i.e. few ups and downs, curves or turns); the absence of traffic lights and level crossings with motorised traffic; and superior pavement quality.
Cycling interest groups and national and local governments advocate such routes as being a solution for the further reduction of vehicular traffic congestion: this is because, as cyclists can achieve higher average speeds on these routes than on the usual types of cycling infrastructure, so cyclists are better able to compete with the car for longer commutes on them.
As of 2012, cycle highways currently being constructed include one between Rotterdam and Delft, and one between Nijmegen and Arnhem. Most fast-cycling routes/cycle highway projects are not entirely purpose-built, but consist of upgrading existing infrastructure and adding missing links between them.
Some roundabouts have cyclist lanes around them, with signposts directing the cyclist to a destination. Traffic on roundabouts in the Netherlands usually has priority over entering traffic, and when a cycle lane is bundled with it this priority also applies to the cyclists. This means that cars have to give priority to bicycles both when entering and exiting the roundabout.
Other roundabouts have separate cycle paths around them. Signs indicate whether the cycle path or the crossing road has priority. Many authorities give priority to the crossing roads, as this is thought to be safer. For fairness, others retain the priority that the cyclists would have had if they had not been using a separate cycle path (which they are obliged to use).
A very busy roundabout in Eindhoven uses tunnels and an interior roundabout for cyclists to keep the two traffic streams completely apart.
The Hovenring is an architectural first for bicycle infrastructure. Opening on 29 June 2012, it is an elevated circular suspension bridge and bicycle-only roundabout built in between the localities of Eindhoven, Veldhoven and Meerhoven (thus the name, being Dutch for "Ring of the 'Hovens'") in the province of North Brabant. Built over a large and busy road intersection, where before its construction cyclists had to cross busy roads, it is the first suspended bicycle roundabout in the world.
Crossing rivers and motorways
To protect cyclists from motorised traffic when they need to cross motorways and other busy roads, dedicated cycling bridges and tunnels for cyclists are built. Such facilities are often shared with pedestrians.
The small waterways such as canals, which abound especially throughout western Holland, will often have dedicated bridges for cyclists or ones that they share with pedestrians. However, to cross large waterways, cycle paths are often situated alongside roads (for instance the Hollandse Brug) or sometimes railroads (for example the Nijmegen railway bridge). Long road tunnels are rarely open to cyclists.
When roads and railroads are too far away, ferries often provide an alternative in the Netherlands. In many cases, ferries operate exclusively or primarily for cyclists and to a lesser extent for pedestrians.
Because of their constant use, cycleways are complete with their own system of traffic signals. These are present at junctions, one set for motorised vehicles and a visually smaller set for cyclists. Sometimes this is similar to a pelican crossing, where the cyclists wait to cross the junction. These lights come in two forms - firstly the miniature version of the vehicle lights and secondly a regular sized signal with bicycle-shaped cutouts.
In many locations more direct cycle routes exist which bypass traffic signals, allowing cyclists to make more efficient journeys than motorists.
Occasionally, cyclists are explicitly allowed to pass a red traffic light if they make a right turn on an intersection. They are also allowed to ignore a red light if they go through the top of a T junction on a cycle path, as there is never interaction between motorists and cyclists, and cyclists can negotiate easily with other cyclists and pedestrians.
Signposts take on the form of road signs, with directions stating the distances to nearby cities and towns. Signposts come in two different forms: the common directional signpost which is a miniature version of the vehicle signs and a mushroom-shaped direction post. The second form is used in the countryside where it is thought to blend in better with its surroundings. Sometimes it can be hard to notice in long grass.
In contrast to the signposts for traffic in general, which feature white lettering on a blue background, the signposts for cyclists have red or green lettering on a white background. Red is used for the usual route and green for more scenic routes where mopeds are not allowed. The mushroom-style signpost can also have black lettering on a white background (as it is obvious that it is not meant for motorists). A newer style of "mushroom" has red lettering.
When a general (white on blue) signpost is not applicable for cyclists because it relies on a motorway, this is indicated with a small car sign or a motorway sign behind the name of the destination. In such cases, a separate signpost for cyclists is usually nearby.
Most road signs for cyclists that are used in the Netherlands are universal. However, some are specific to the country and may even include some Dutch text, e.g. fietspad (cycle path), (brom)fietsers oversteken (cyclists and moped riders must cross the road), uitgezondered fietsers (except for cyclists) or rechtsaf fietsers vrij (turning right free for cyclists).
By policy in the Netherlands, bicycle parking is supposed to be provided next to every shop. Bicycle stands are common around the Netherlands, an alternative to chaining the bike to a post. In most, the front wheel of the bicycle rests on the stand. As bike theft is very common in the Netherlands, cyclists are advised to lock their bicycle with a built-in lock and attach a chain from the bike frame to the stand.
There are many bicycle parking stations, some of which hold many thousands of bicycles. Every railway station has a cycle park attached and most also offer watched cycle parking for a nominal fee. These types of bicycle parking stations also exist in other places around most cities, for example, there are 20 watched bicycle parking stations situated in the city of Groningen (population ~198,000).
Most city councils enforce the parking of bicycles in their jurisdictions by regularly removing any bicycles that are not placed in the bike stands. The locks are cut and for the owner to reclaim their bicycle they must pay a fine of around €25. Cyclist journeys are made more convenient by such actions as it prevents sidewalks being littered with bikes.
Bikes for the whole family are readily available for rent across the country and most large towns have bike shops with all the necessary equipment and repair services. All cities possess multiple bike stands, mainly at the supermarkets and other commonly used shops. Bikes should also come with a lock so as to keep the bike from being stolen. A national scheme, Cycleswap, supports small businesses privately renting bicycles out for short-term use.
OV-fiets is a nationwide bicycle sharing system run by Nederlandse Spoorwegen (NS), or Dutch Railways. OV-fiets (which literally means "public transport bike") bike stations can be found mainly at NS train stations, but also at light rail stops and metro stations, right across the Netherlands. There are over 6000 bikes in 250 locations. Membership to the OV-fiets scheme is required and costs €10 per year — bikes can be accessed using the normal NS public transport card — and 24-hour rental costs €3.15.
The OV-fiets program, which started on a small scale in 2003, has enjoyed a steadily increasing popularity with over 1 million rides registered in 2011. The nature of the OV-fiets bike sharing program differs somewhat from that of similar schemes in other countries partly because the already high bike ownership of the population: its usage is highly integrated with the public transport network.
For bicycle touring, all Dutch cities can be accessed on the dedicated cycling routes of either the Dutch National Cycle Network — the (currently) 26 so-called LF-routes — or on the many other regional cycle paths. An average cyclist can typically expect to cover between 15 and 18 kilometres, on average, in an hour by bike throughout most areas of the Netherlands.
Maps of the LF-routes and other routes and are widely available and come in two forms:
- Route maps: a national map which shows route information rather than general topography. Only the routes are marked and related information are shown. They are often used for holidays and are sold at most tourist shops.
- National maps: These cover the whole country, with markings and symbols about the cycleways of the Netherlands. Most good national cycle maps will include the LF-routes and all the other routes of the numbered cycle network. They are very useful not only for cycling in unfamiliar towns and cities but also for cross-country use. These are widely available across tourist shops and, while are sometimes considered expensive, they are quite comprehensive and consist of many pages.
There are also comprehensive maps and route planning tools available online or in smartphone and tablet apps.
Though the LF-route network is the national cycling route network of the Netherlands, some of its routes extend into the neighbouring countries of Belgium and Germany; the LF1 even extends all the way down the North Sea coast to Boulogne-sur-Mer in France.
For cyclists who don't want to explore the Netherlands on their own, there are different tour operators that offer a wide variety of organised cycling holidays.
It is possible to take bicycles with you on trains, aircraft and ferries. Buses, however, will not carry them.
Bicycles may be carried on trains under certain conditions. Folding bicycles can be taken more easily than other types as regular bicycles must be placed in designated areas. Taking a folded bicycle inside a train is free, but for unfolded bicycles and regular ones a special ticket is required. As of 2016, these tickets cost €6.10 per bicycle and are valid for a whole day. In all trains it is prohibited to carry normal size and (partly) unfolded bikes during peak hours, though this restriction does not apply in the summer in July and August when bikes can be carried for free at any time. All bicycles are allowed, even a recumbent or a tandem. However, it is prohibited to take a tricycle or a bicycle trailer on trains.
Travellers are expected to place their bicycles in the designated areas: blue stickers on or near the doors indicate where they are.
Ferries are commonplace in the Netherlands for crossing both rivers and canals, including numerous foot ferries that operate especially for cyclists and foot passengers saving them from making long detours. There are ferries as well as to the islands in the North (Texel, Vlieland, Terschelling, Ameland and Schiermonnikoog). It is important to know where ferries are and when they run.
Some ferries (such as those to Texel, Vlieland, Terschelling, Ameland and Schiermonnikoog) impose an extra charge for bicycles, while others (such as those across the IJ in Amsterdam) carry bicycles for free.
It is possible to take bicycles by air, but the airline's procedures must be followed to pack the bicycle and possibly dismantle it. There may also be extra fees as the bicycle will count as luggage. Again, travelling with a foldable bike is easier.
The Fietsstad (Bicycle City) awards
Every few years, a jury from the Dutch Fietsersbond (Cyclists' Union) hands out awards for the country's top Fietsstad (Bicycle City) from the (usually around a half a dozen or so) cities that choose to enter the competition. The main criteria for winning is not which city has the best overall cycling environment but rather which city is already great for cycling but has made a great effort to improve cycling in their city even further. Furthermore, each year of the awards has its own unique theme that the jury use to decide the winner.
|2008||Veilig en fietsvriendelijk (Safe and bicycle friendly)||Houten|
|2011||Veilige schoolomgeving (Safe school environment)||'s-Hertogenbosch|
|2014||Fietsen zonder hindernissen (Cycling without obstacles)||Zwolle|
After a new city has been voted by the Fietsersbond jury as the Netherlands' current "best" Fietsstad, the previous winners still remain a Fietsstad for the year that they won it (e.g. "Houten Fietsstad 2008") but they then are no longer considered by the jury to be the Netherlands' "best" Bicycle City, even though having won it previously they often do not re-enter the next few competitions.
- White bicycles, for free use, in Hoge Veluwe National Park.
- Riders taking a break at the St Hubert windmill.
- Cycling through rapeseed fields, Polsbroekerdam.
- A recreational cycle path made of crushed seashells, Balloërveld.
- Chauffeur-driven bicycle, on Damstraat in Amsterdam.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Cycling in the Netherlands.|
- Transport in the Netherlands
- Bicycle monarchy
- Cycling in Amsterdam
- Dutch National Cycle Routes
- Fietsersbond (the Cyclists' Union)
- David Hembrow
- Outline of cycling
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- Mark Wagenbuur (26 July 2013). "Best Cycle City of the Netherlands 2014 competitors". BicycleDutch website. Retrieved 4 December 2013.
- Pete Jordan, In the City of Bikes: The Story of the Amsterdam Cyclist, HarperCollins publishers, 2013, ISBN 9780061995200. A memoir of this American's love affair with Amsterdam and its bike-centric culture.
- Shirley Agudo, The Dutch & Their Bikes: Scenes from a Nation of Cyclists, XPat Scriptum Publishers, 2014, ISBN 9789055948994. A photobook by an American native and long-time resident of the Netherlands.