29 November 2018

If We Were Them...

If the United States were the Netherlands....

There are all sorts of ways you could finish that sentence.  Here's one:  It would have four billion people.

Yes, you read that right.  The 'States would would have more than twelve times its actual population of 325.7 million folks.

That's because, on average, about 4000 Dutch people live on a square mile of their country's land.   In contrast, only about 85 Americans live on an average square mile of their nation.

What's really interesting, though, is that if you were to randomly pick 4000 Dutch citizens, it's likely that 840 of them would be living below sea level--and about 2000 would inhabit land one meter (just over three feet) or more above sea level.

When you know these facts, it's easy to understand why the Dutch are among the leading countries in the move away from fossil fuels:  Decades ago, their policy makers heeded the warning that El Cheeto Grande refuses to believe. They understood that rising sea levels--a result of climate change exacerbated, if not caused, by fossil fuel usage--would essentially wipe out much of their country.

That, in turn, also makes it easy to understand why the Dutch have invested, per capita, more than any other country on bicycle infrastructure.  Dutch policy makers realized that it not only made sense, it was a matter of survival, to get as many people out of cars, and as many cars off the road, as possible.  One way to do that is to make it relatively easy and safe to go to work, school or just about anywhere by bicycle.

It also helps that because Dutch people are packed in so tightly, so are their cities.  In the Randstad, the largest Dutch cities--Amsterdam, Rotterdam, the Hague and Utrecht--are all but joined at the hip in a way that makes the Northeastern US Megapolis seem like a stretch of the Mojave Desert.  Thus, cycling is feasible even for people who are not athletic.

So it should come as no surprise that there are about 23 million bicycles in a nation of 17 million people--1.3 bikes for every person.  

But even in a country where, it seems, everyone cycles everywhere, more than half of automobile trips are of less than 7.5 kilometers (about 5 miles).  To be fair, many of those trips are because, well, people just don't have to go as far to get wherever they're going.  On the other hand, transportation planners agree that the best way to reduce automotive traffic is to eliminate as many of those short car trips as possible.

That is why the Dutch government has just announced plans to spend an extra 245 million Euros on bicycle infrastructure Steintje van Veldhoven, the State Infrastructure Secretary, had already pledged last year.  The money is earmarked for such things as improved bicycle parking in public areas, and more city-to-city cycleways.

Ms. van Veldhoven says she hopes to get an additional 200,000 Dutch people on bikes--and, one assumes, out of their cars, at least for those short trips.

Now, if the US were the Netherlands, she would be trying to get about 4 million Americans on bikes--and spend about 10 billion dollars, in the effort.  That's cost is less than that of a couple dozen F35 fighter jets--or Trump buildings.


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  2. El Cheeto Grande will be a rotting corpse under a very expensive pile of marble by the time the worst effects of global warming hit. I guess he doesn't care what happens to his kids.

    The car drives/facilitates urban sprawl. The car isn't going away any time soon so the only hope we have in North America to contain urban sprawl is better/tighter zoning restrictions. It's hard to find a politician with the guts to say NO to Walmart,Target and big money real estate developers who want to build out in the middle of cornfields.

    Talking with my wife's uncle who is 96, he tells me what it was like in the pre-war mid-west. Most things you needed for everyday life were within walking or biking distance. If it was really far you jumped on the trolley. They had trolleys for cripes sake! A ride cost a nickel.

  3. Phillip--I think you're right about El Cheeto Grande. I also think someone should hire your wife's uncle as an urban planner!