The Netherlands, a Nation of Cars too

I love this picture. It says 'The Netherlands' all over it: the kid, the bike, the guy, the no helmet, no spandex relaxedness. All ingredients are there.
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Heidi Hetzer
77 year old Heidi Hetzer from Germany didn’t hand in her driver license yet; she decided in 2014 to travel around the world in her 1930 Hudson Great Eight. See her blog at the bottom of this post. (photo from Internet)
Most of you probably associate the Netherlands with cycling, but the country is packed with cars too. Roughly the size of mainland Nova Scotia (or Massachusetts + Connecticut together or 2/3 of Tasmania), the Netherlands counts 17 million people owning a total of over 8 million cars. That is roughly one car for every two Dutch. And despite great public transport, 35,000 km of segregated bike lanes and a dense conurbanisation, that is still 1 million cars more than in 2006, ten years ago.

First traffic jam

The first registered traffic jam was during the 1955 Pentacost holidays, when Germans came to the Netherlands to admire the tulips and the Dutch went to the Veluwe, a large (for Dutch standards) natural area known for forests and heather, and later for the free bike plan. And wouldn’t you know, last year’s traffic jams were up again, as the effect of road widenings petered out and the economy is improving. Last year, there was 70 times a rush hour with a total of over 300 km of traffic jams.

Hans Moor 05
Cute cargo bike kid
You probably never guessed that, because you always see images of woonerven (not: woonerfs), car free town squares, seniors, kids in cargo bikes and young women in high heels on oma bikes. And lets face it, a photo of a traffic jam doesn’t pull readers in.

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It is not uncommon for women to cycle in high heels. Ask Catherine McKenna.
Seniors are buying
The increase in car ownership is mostly caused by what we call seniors in Canada; the Dutch call them 65 plussers (as in plural for 65+). On average, half of this group owns a car. Youth between 18-30 bought less cars. My educated guess is that 65plussers live longer, are fitter (because they cycle too?) and drive longer. Case in point, my own parents are 77 and 79 and just bought a new VW Golf. Their son drives a second hand KIA, and bikes to work (and is not in the 18-30 category anymore).

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Seniors might drive more, but they keep cycling too. And in large numbers. I think he just came back from his garden plot at the edge of town.
Cars getting older
Dutch cars are getting older too. Ten years ago 37% of the cars was 9 years or older, today over 50% is 9 years or older. The average age of a car rose in the last ten years from 8.8 to 10.2 years. The percentage of cars older than 15 years nearly doubled, from 11% to 20%.

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There is still lots of green space in the Netherlands, but it is not the Yukon either. Traditional farmland is slowly returned to nature in certain places too.
The number of gas and diesel powered cars remained the same. Growth was mostly found in hybrids and electric cars (that was also because of subsidies on these type of cars).

New cars down
The number of new cars (up to 3 years old), decreased from 20% to 16%. Cars that don’t go on the road anymore are sold abroad (often to Eastern Europe and Africa) when they are on average 12.5 years old. Cars going to the wreckers or recycling are on average nearly 18 years old.

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I love this picture. It says ‘The Netherlands’ all over it: the kid, the bike, the guy, the no helmet, no spandex relaxedness. All ingredients are there.
Well surely Denmark must do much better, with throngs of people cycling across those bridges everyday? Unfortunately not. According to Vejdirektoratet (I am guessing that means Road Directorate), never before have so many cars been sold in Denmark as was the case in 2014.

By the numbers
In 2014, in Canada, there were 21.7 million cars under 4500 kg registered. The 753,914 New Brunswickers drive 527,213 cars. That is roughly 70%. For the Netherlands that number is 47%. Canadawide, the percentage is about 62%. In Denmark, with a population of 5.6 mln on an area the size of the Netherlands, 43% drives a car.

Stay away from driving
So rest assured, the Dutch know their traffic jams, nationwide into the hundreds of km every day as few new roads are built. And if they widen a road, it is full in no time again. If you travel to Holland this summer, I recommend you stay away from renting a car with so many alternative ways of transportation. May I suggest trains between cities and bikes in the urban areas? Plus, renting a car is expensive as is the gas: 2.38 CAD on June 4, 2016: in Ottawa we are paying around a dollar.

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You can take your bike on virtually every train, as long as it is not during rush hour. You got to be quick though, the trains wait 2-3 minutes and they are gone again, not unlike subways. Look for the bike logo on the doors.
Follow Heidi Hetzger at her website:
Source: Volkskrant, HP De Tijd, AD and CBS

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