Tag Archives: commuting

Bike to work day – the Dutch example

I have 8500 bicycles waiting for me at over 300 locations around the country

Today is the Bike to Work Day in the Netherlands. It may not come as a surprise to you that a lot of people in the Netherlands cycle to work. But have you wondered why? Pro-cycling attitude of employers is no small part of the reason for the high percentages of Dutch cycling commuters. I am fortunate enough to work for Sweco, a company that goes the extra mile in promoting cycling to work.

There are, of course, the usual things (for the Dutch, at least). Proper bicycle sheds, showers and lockers at our offices, tax-free bicycle financing scheme, access to the OV-fiets (the Dutch Railways shared bicycles) are all pretty much standard at Dutch companies. If an employee purchases a new bike, Sweco is also paying for the bicycle insurance and extra’s such as rain gear.

But here’s the extra mile – at Sweco we get paid to cycle. Yes, that’s right – I get money for cycling. The kilometers I cycle are refunded just as car kilometers are, so that even my modest commute of less than 5 km earns me almost 2 Euro each day. It won’t make me rich, but its more than enough to pay for the purchase and maintenance of my bike. Business kilometers pay even more, so that choosing for the bicycle to go to a customer actually pays.

I cycle to work because its fun. Working at Sweco, a bike-friendly company, makes it even easier to cycle to work. I hope more employers around the world will follow Sweco’s example – making the world an easier place to cycle, one bicycle ride at a time.


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How being a man almost got me killed


Since I am a man, I am blessed with tunnel vision. I can’t find my keys, my glasses or the honey jar in the kitchen cabinet. Basically, I can’t see much that is not directly in front of me. And to be honest, not a lot of what’s in front of me, either. Aggravated by my pathological absent-mindedness, and the early hour, being a man almost got me killed this week.

I was cycling to work, as usual, when I looked to the right and saw this couple. At 8 in the morning, in the December freeze, they were sitting in their garden, just chillin’. I almost fell off my bike, narrowly escaping getting underneath the wheels of a passing bus. Are these people all right? Are they alive? Should I say something?

After I regained my senses, I had a better look, and saw the big picture. They were puppets. Live-size puppets, with faces printed on cardboard attached to their heads. I also saw the huge sheet on the house wall, saying “50 years of marriage”. In Holland, as in most places, being married for 50 years is a big deal. But the Dutch have a special relationship with the number 50. The huge puppet is a part of that 50-fetish. When people turn 50, or are married for 50 years, their friend and family “bless” them with a huge, ugly version of themselves, in the garden, on the chimney, or nailed to the door, sometimes dressed in an “interesting” fashion, or other-wisely “spiced”. I’m OK with traditions, but putting a warning sign for the cyclists would be a nice gesture.

The big picture

The big picture


Filed under cycling, Small European things, Work

When is the Chrismas vacation? I just don’t know.

On my way to work I often get stuck in traffic. So far, nothing unusual for a small European country. Except that I get stuck in bicycle traffic.  I usually cycle to work, but even I have to leave home early if I want to get smoothly through the city centre. The school kids flood the cycling paths at 8:00, but the crossroads are filled with cyclists waiting for the light to turn green as early as 7:30, as the roads are swamped by rush hour traffic.

That’s why I really like the school vacations. During the school vacations I can cycle in daylight without having to swim my way through the kids, and if the weather is bad or I’m really not in the mood to cycle, I can take the car and actually be faster than if I’d cycle. The only problem is – in the the Netherlands, you never know when the vacation is due.

Chrismas vacation is a good time for a picnic on the water

Chrismas vacation is a good time for a picnic on the water

The Dutch school vacation schedule is purpose-designed to be confusing. The only vacation that starts at the same date is the Christmas vacation. Well, sort of at the same date. Depending on the day of the week of Christmas Eve, the Christmas vacation can start anywhere between 18th and 25th of December. And that’s actually the predictable vacation. The dates of the autumn, spring and May vacations are all not rigid and its an understatement (the so-called spring vacation is actually in February). To complicate the matters further, this small European country is divided into 3 regions, each of which has different dates for the vacations.

During Chrismas vacation bicycles get stuck not only in traffic

During Chrismas vacation bicycles get stuck not only in traffic

As of this year, the Ministry of Education sets the dates for the summer vacation and the Christmas and May vacation (the not-spring May vacation). They “recommend” the dates of the other vacations, but schools can and do deviate from these dates. So the Ministry of Education did not set the dates for school vacations so far? What did they do then? And why not just set the dates for all vacations, and choose the same dates for the whole country? It seems a case of Dutch megalomania, thinking the country is so big, it actually needs to divide its school vacations between regions. Being brought up in the Soviet Union, the largest country in the world, that had the same dates for school vacations across 10 time zones, I just don’t understand such complications in a small European country.

Where does it all leave me? I have no idea. I live in this small European country for 11 years already and I guess the vacation schedule will remain a mystery to me. I just try to find my way to work here. So far, I knew the vacation has started only when I noticed there are no school kids swarming the cycling paths in the morning. And since nowadays I actually go to work early, I really have no way of knowing. Fortunately, for now, I don’t care, too.

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Zen and the art of bicycle searching

I have lost my bicycle. Not really lost – I know where it is, but very approximately. It is (supposedly) parked at the train station in Delft, but I can’t remember where exactly. And I’m having trouble finding it between the other 10 to 20 thousand bicycles parked there.

Like many people in this small European country I have a nice, new bicycle for comfortable commuting, which is parked at a secured bicycle shed, and an old crappy one, parked at the train station (of course, I also have a racing bicycle for triathlon training). And its the “station” bike I can’t find. I’ve parked it there a  few months back, and then I haven’t used it in a while. It was summer,  the weather was good and I used my commuting bicycle a lot. Then I was away on vacation, then it was good weather again and then I couldn’t remember where the “station” bike was.

Dude, where’s my bike?

Since all the other bicycles at the train station look exactly like the one I’ve lost (black or blue, rusty, with randomly gathered spare parts incorporated), it is rather difficult to spot your bicycle on a normal day. Let alone after a couple of months, when you can’t remember even the approximate location. By now, the search has turned rather pointless as the bicycle might have been stolen or removed by the council as junk. I keep looking though. Not because I was emotionally attached to it or can’t afford buying a new one, but because the search has become a quest. Like the search for the Holy Grail, but more practical.

Should you happen to be at the Delft train station and you see me wandering among the heaps of parked bicycles, don’t help me. The quest is much more important than the result. Its pure zen.

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Road to work in Europe, part II

In a previous post I’ve shared some of the things I encounter daily on my road to work. The city council, however, is making real progress in replacing the aged sewer, which means I need to overcome greater and greater obstacles on my usual route.

The road to work is blocked

By now, the obstacles have become so big, that I needed to switch to an alternative route. Fortunately, the new route is still full of small European things.

Flowers give color to the streets

A green field in the concrete jungle

All roads to work seem to lead past a prison. Well, to be honest, the building in the picture below is a former court, now an expensive private school. But the prison next door is still alive and kicking, right in the heart of the city.

All roads to work go past a prison

The vacation has started, so the rush hour is rather quiet these days. A busy crossroad is not that busy, the trains are less crowded and taking the highway is actually faster than cycling. But with this weather – why would I?

At the crossroads

These guys go faster yet arrive slower

Vacation time – traffic jam-free highway

A new feature on the alternative route is the airport. Despite the ambitions it has, it is still very, very local. The two benches that offer the best view to the runway are alternatively occupied by the park authorities employees dodging work, the car tuning youth getting stoned or plane spotters. There’s one plane they can always spot, no matter what.

The plane that will never leave – the fire brigade’s mock-up

Past the airport the route really gets rural. In the middle of the most populated part of Europe, there’s still some tranquillity to be found.

At the (cycling) crossroad – green is for a scenic route

What’s a Dutch landscape without a windmill?

And what’s a Dutch landscape without cows?

Another classic Dutch view along the road

And finally, just before the day starts, a small wave to the fellow commuters. Dutch style.

Cycle mom



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Road to work in Europe

A small photo post, depicting my cycle route to work. Some of the things I’ve photographed are quite typically European, like the old factory that is given a second life as an office space, the cobbled streets and the green pasture. Note how the prison is, in common with many schools, retirement homes, generally places we use to put people away and throw away the key, is painted in bright poisonous colours that signal the general public to stay away.

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My house is just 15 km from the facutly where I work. The fastest way to commute would be by car. Unfortunately, the stretch of road between the two towns is the busiest in Europe. While theoretically it takes 20 minutes to get from A(home) to B(work) and vice-versa, in practice this means leaving before 7 AM and returning after 7 PM, otherwise you spend an extra hour in traffic. And I hate being stuck in traffic. Plus, I don’t have a car.

Public transport is well-developed in small European countries and it takes just 15 minutes by train to get from home to work. But – I still need to get to and from the train station, so the total commuting time is more like 50 minutes. Also, the section of track between my home and my work is, again, the busiest in Europe. Every time there’s a glitch somewhere in the system, the travel time is dramatically affected – same effect as on the highway.

There is a bus connection, and its not as delays-prone as the train or the highway. The bus even stops a short walk from the faculty, so it is quite convenient. Unfortunately, the bus connection is not as frequent as the train and it is even slower, so it takes an hour to commute. Average speed of 15 kph – in the 21st century!

Fortunately, there is a solution – the bicycle. In good weather the route is a very enjoyable stretch of cycling. There are showers at the faculty, so the colleagues are spared the sweat smell. The down side is that my bicycle is rather old and crumbling, so that there is no time gain. But help is on the way! The university like many European employers, offers a so-called “bicycle plan“. I will spare you the details of the elaborate finacial construction, see the link if you’re interested in the details. Its sufficient to say that I can get a new bicycle for (almost) free. With a set of raingear and waterproof sidebags for my stuff I can cycle even in the small European winter. And if the weather turns really nasty – there’s always the bus. Or train. Or I can work from home.


Filed under cycling, Europe, Work