Culture Matters, An On-Going Series

Dutch drivers are taught that when you are about to get out of the car, you reach for the door handle with your right hand — bringing your arm across your body to the door. This forces a driver to swivel shoulders and head, so that before opening the door you can see if there is a bike coming from behind. Likewise, every Dutch child has to pass a bicycle safety exam at school. The coexistence of different modes of travel is hard-wired into the culture.


Cyclists can’t carry six bags of groceries; bulk buying is almost nonexistent. Instead of shopping for a week, people stop at the market daily. So the need for processed loaves that will last for days is gone. A result: good bread.

It's from a piece on the Dutch and bicyles, via Bobulate.

6 comments on “Culture Matters, An On-Going Series
  • That NYT article about the Dutch and bicycles pricked my soul with the sharp pang of nostalgia for bygone youth.

    It’s a sad fact that our cultural fetishizing of the faux-cowboy and his mighty penis/steed makes eunuchs out of men who don’t own cars in almost any place outside New York City.

    Margaret Meade well described how by the ’50s the automobile had become not only an extension of the male’s ego but of his cock as well (she was better on sexual temperament here than in Samoa).

    Now, I understand that the same principle is operative among cycling enthusiasts, except perhaps for hookah-scented hipsters on their fixies, but a man without a car is hardly a man at all in the USA.

    Personally, I just can’t bring myself to join the spandex-clad cyborg brigade, so I ride my hybrid gary fisher on the beach, helmet-free and nearly naked, to get the old daily ration of cardio exercise. I walk the short distance to the supermarket every day for bread. Well, beer. Same thing.

    Generally speaking, the Dutch are as smart as they are tall, and seem to have found a balance between work and pleasure– smoking ganja with Yellowman in an Amsterdam coffeeshop is a real job.

    While Russell Shorto acknowledges that those pesky social-planning technocrats still interfere in their daily lives, nevertheless the Dutch have managed to create a more civil society than ours, if crime and poverty rates are any indication, and they are.

    Yet, I’m not sure that their politicians are less subservient to the great pirates of Rotterdam or Royal Dutch Shell than ours are to Goldman Sachs or Exxon.

    And now Apple is become our own Church of the New Revelation, and Steve Jobs is the new Jesus flogging the competition out of the Temple, which is pretty much what General Motors did, albeit more insidiously, in the Great American streetcar scandal.

    It all makes me want to cry.

  • Nice to hear your voice again, Vince. 🙂

    I'm not sure crime and poverty rates are the only indication of healthy
    civil society, but I agree generally the Dutch seem to have a pretty good
    life, and the Scandinavian socio-econoimc model has for a long time been a
    point of interest to me.

  • After living in Chicago for a year, I saw the development of a bike culture and its emergence into a more mainstream lifestyle. Go to any big city’s Critical Mass (normally the first Friday of the month), and you’ll see American individualism running rampant. A thousand or two people literally stop traffic and ride through the streets, making a tremendously public statement if I ever saw one.

    I think it’s events like these that will be the catalysts for change first, with urban planning trying to keep up. If the people say it’s acceptable to ride one’s bike, and the government keeps the ground fertile, then I think bike culture will organically grow as much as it needs to accommodate more cars, higher gas prices, and less parking spaces. 😀

  • According to the Economist, With a very few exceptions, America is no place for cyclists. Dying while cycling is three to five times more likely in America than in Denmark, Germany or the Netherlands. The bike lanes are protected from motor vehicles by a line of white paint—a largely metaphorical barrier that many drivers ignore and police do not vigorously enforce. A few feet from the cycling lane traffic moves at speeds of 30-40 mph.

    In Europe cyclists are not exposed to any vehicle moving at 20mph or more. Their cities have knitted together networks for everyday travel by bike. To start with, motor vehicles allowed near cyclists are subject to “traffic calming”. They must slow down to about 19mph, a speed that, in case of collision, kills less than 5%. Police strictly enforce these speed limits with hefty fines. Repeat offenders lose their licences.

    Calmer traffic is just the beginning. In much of northern Europe, cyclists commute on lanes that are protected from cars by concrete buffers, rows of trees or parked cars. Santiago, Chile similarly protects cyclists. At busy crossroads in Europe, bicycle-activated traffic lights let cyclists cross first. Traffic laws discriminate in favour of people on bikes.

    Nearly 6% of commuters bike to work in Portland, the highest proportion in America. But in five out of the past ten years there have been no cycling deaths there. In the nearby Seattle area, where cycling is popular but traffic calming is not, three cyclists, have been killed in the past few weeks.

  • I love Amsterdam. It is cycle heaven. There are parking garages that hold thousands of bikes. People use bikes as serious transportation. Buses drop you off right in the bike lane so you must be very careful. AND you can expect to almost get run over by bicyclists daily. LOL

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