The Netherlands is home to about 16.7 million people. Depending on whom you ask the Dutch own between 14 million and 18.5 million bicycles. Whichever number you take, that’s a lot of bicycles squeezed into 33,800 sq km of land. My biker chick and I fit the demographic at the upper end of the range. Two people and three bikes.
Every year in April some 200,000 twelve year-olds in the Netherlands take a “Verkeersexamen” (traffic test) that includes a section on safe cycling. I wasn’t twelve at the time but thought it would be a good idea if I also got a proper introduction to cycling safely on Dutch city streets and bicycle paths. I signed up for an individual half-day “Cycling in Den Haag” session run by Het Fietscollege.
As soon as our freight was unpacked I “Dutchified” my Trek with mudguards, a rear rack and a rack box. A chain guard and panniers followed soon after. This was the bike for riding to the supermarket and for doing errands on. Rain or shine.
So this was the bike I rode to the Valkenboskwartier to meet Marja Popper, my cycling instructor for the morning. She took me on a loop around Kijkduin as she explained how to ride in the city. For example to always signal before making a turn by extending your left or right arm. And that cyclists can proceed when the bicycle traffic lights are green without worrying about other traffic crossing their path.
And how to negotiate junctions with an advanced stop box like this one, where cyclists can occupy the space in front of motor vehicles while waiting for a green light.
Marja explained the meaning of the road signs that cyclists encounter. “Uitgezonderd” means “except”. In this case the sign indicates no entry for all vehicles except bicycles. I saw variations of this sign a lot. Very often there are short cuts accessible only by bicycle. Just one of the ways that the Dutch make cycling the most convenient mode of transport in towns and cities.
This sign means that cyclists must use the bike path and not cycle on the road.
This sign means cyclists can turn right on a red light.
These “sharks teeth” markings indicate who has the right of way. If the teeth point toward you then you must give way to whatever is coming from your right or left. At this junction cyclists have the right of way.
She talked about the rules of the road for cyclists. For example cycling on the pavements is forbidden. If there is no cycle lane or path, cyclists must use the road. Interestingly in these instances cyclists may occupy the center of the lane and other traffic has to follow behind.
Marja made one final point as our lesson came to a close. Paul Simon may have 50 ways to leave your lover. The Dutch have 53 ways to fine you for breaking the rules of the road. On a bike without a bell Mel. €30. Riding in a bus lane Jane. €45. Didn’t give way to a tram Sam. €85. Ran a red light Dwight. €130.
That knowledge alone was worth the cost of my Cycling 101 session.