January 31, 2022

Learn from the Dutch: Cycling for All Ages & Abilities

Chris and Melissa Bruntlett are international treasures who are sharing their lives in the Netherlands through their work in active transportation.  They have written books and many articles highlighting the advantages of living in an active transportation focused community and how it positively impacts community health.

They have also written about two cohorts of the community that don’t get championed for cycling: seniors and the disabled.

In this article published by the John Adams Institute, the Bruntletts note that cities are designed for driving, and that seniors outlive their ability to safely drive by seven to ten years. The Rand Association research suggests that seniors are 16 percent more likely to cause a crash.

That’s in keeping with Canadian statistics. Data collected from Statistics Canada in 2009 suggest that close to 28 percent of drivers over 65 years and older are driving vehicles with some form of dementia. Statistics Canada data from 2012 shows that over the age of 70 years seniors have a higher accident rate per kilometre than any other group except for young male motorists. Seniors are also more likely to die in a vehicular crash.

That is what makes the Netherlands even more interesting: people over 65 years of age are the “ largest group of adults who cycle, not because they’re super-human, but because of a combination of traffic calmed streets and safe, separated cycling networks. We also can’t overlook the role electric bikes play in this trend, allowing older adults to keep pedaling on, even when their stamina begins to diminish. Low-car, human-scale environments allow people to participate in society far longer into old age.”

There is supportive separated cycling infrastructure and correctly designed bikes for people of all ages, a way to provide accessibility to seniors and also for seniors to continue to participate in their community in a healthy way.

That is what makes this program in the Netherlands exciting: there are governmental subsidies to provide bicycles for those that have disabilities.

For people that cannot drive due to physical or mental disabilities municipal governments subsidize the purchase of three and four wheeled bicycles. The bicycles remain the property of the municipality and allow the user a way to get around their city. This is the part that is extraordinary: the Dutch have a participation rate of sixteen percent of cyclists who are disabled. As the Bruntletts conclude “This increases not only (the feeling of) freedom of those with mobility limitation massively, but is also reduces costs Dutch governments need to spend on special transport services in order to facilitate all their citizens. A huge win-win!” 

It also shows how encouraging the active transportation  of all people regardless of ability promotes a more equitable city. This video by Dutch Cargo Bike explores some of the options for adaptive cycling experiences for all abilities.



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