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Does One’s Origin Affect One’s Bicycle Use?

Thijs Koolhof

A study on the similarities and differences in bicycle use between immigrant and native inhabitants of two Dutch neighbourhoods. Thesis by Thijs Koolhof.

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Dutch cycling culture differs from that of the rest of the world. It is supported by policy measures but also by society and therefore everybody seems to cycle and even the prime-minister and queen do it. It is therefore safe to say that cycling is truly part of the Dutch habitus. According to previous research this has three main reasons: almost the entire country is flat, the Dutch cities in the past did not create a pro-car infrastructure and also the protestant ethic of the Dutch is said to be part of the reason why the bicycle suits the Dutch in their transport needs. It is also safe to say that in many other countries around the world cycling is perceived less normal. It seems a combination of hilly terrain, low urban density and cultures who regard cycling as inappropriate for women or only suitable for the poor. This seems to be the case in the Orient but also the Western world.

To accommodate the five million daily cyclists, Dutch planners created 35.000 kilometres of bicycle paths and 4700 kilometres bicycle lanes. Thought is that when a bicycle path / lane is created one will cycle. Dutch cycling policy is therefore predominately focused on influencing one’s rational choice. However not everybody is affected by these arguments. Therefore, by marketing and social policy, Dutch planners try to influence the people’s emotional choices. However effects by the afore-mentioned measures are either not known or rather small. And although every year a total of 487 million euro’s are spent on cycling related policy, not everybody cycles. Certain groups in society remain behind. Research indicates that lower educated and inhabitants with a non-Western background cycle below the Dutch average. It is said that the bicycle has a negative image among them or that they, and especially non-Western women, are afraid of cycling trough (busy) traffic. It is import to question whether these are the true reasons, as these findings might help in writing better cycling policy, necessary because Dutch inner cities might not be able to accommodate a growing group of non-cyclists. Also, cycling is perceived as the most healthy and non-polluting mode of transport and might overcome personal problems as for instance obese.

To indicate if an inhabitant of non-Western origin truly cycles less than his neighbour of Dutch origin a survey is conducted among inhabitants of two neighbourhoods. The survey also examined if higher educated inhabitants of non-Western origin cycle more than lower educated non-Westerns. De Fietsersbond proposed the first neighbourhood, i.e. Hoograven in Utrecht. The second neighbourhood, Boschveld in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, was chosen for a number of reasons. It are neighbourhoods that are comparable by origin of its inhabitants, urban problems and lower than average bicycle use. But both neighbourhoods differ in size.

The study done indicates that cycling policy in Hoograven focuses on different aspects, it is both hard (infrastructure) as soft (social policy). Furthermore it found that non-Western youth cycles and does not regard the bicycle as a vehicle that undermines one’s status. However bicycle use of especially Hoogravens youth is found to be mostly within the neighbourhood, as for trips outside the area more comfortable options are available and chosen. Participants of cycling lessons for non-Western woman organised in the neighbourhood claim that the cycling lessons are successful, but exact figures are not known. Bicycle shop-keepers from Hoograven claim that everybody in the neighbourhood cycles but argue that there are differences in attitudes to the bicycle. In Boschveld was found that the municipal government tried (and succeeded) to stimulate cycling in the neighbourhood and ‘s-Hertogenbosch as a whole. This was mainly done by infrastructure changes. However also by social policy id est cycling lessons is tried to increase cycling levels. According to the teachers and municipal government policy advisor these lessons are successful, but exact figures are not known.

Answers from the respondents indicate that bicycle use in Hoograven is higher than in Boschveld: the percentage of respondents that does not cycle is higher in Boschveld than in Hoograven. In Hoograven 27.19% does not cycle, in Boschveld this is 39.45%. In Hoograven a quarter of the respondents answered that cycling suits their way of live, in Boschveld this was only 16.5%. This might indicate that Hoogravens cycling culture is stronger than in Boschveld, which explains the differences in cycling. Also the lower employment number in Boschveld might by one of the explanations to why is cycled less as well that inhabitants of Boschveld claim to have more reasons not to cycle.
The general survey outcomes make clear that Dutch respondents indeed cycle more often and over longer distances. Respondents of non-Western origin cycle less often and fewer kilometres, these differences are statistically significant. Respondents of non-Western origin often (almost two out of three) do not cycle more than five kilometres. In contrast to respondents of Dutch origin. Answers of the Dutch respondents indicate that only one out of three does not cycle more than five kilometres. But one must keep in mind that non-Western respondents do cycle, this is opposed to findings from previous research. Also it was found that higher educated cycle more than lower educated. But the higher educated respondents of non-Western origin do not cycle more than those who participated in a study at a lower level, this is opposed to findings of previous research. Important to note is that this research found that non-Western inhabitants of Hoograven and Boschveld do cycle, but not as much as native Dutch. They, however, do not have negative thoughts about the bicycle and in most cases can ride and have access to a bicycle. They just do not do it as much as the Dutch.
The difference might be explained by the influence of the habitus. Pierre Bourdieu described habitus as the product that produces strategies on how to deal with daily business. It is unconscious and is influenced by history and social structures one is in. Historically, the bicycle does not have a dominant position in the habitus of the non-Western immigrant. This is simply caused by the fact that cycling is perceived different in their (or their parents) country of origin. Dutch kids are taught by their parents how to cycle, this is often different for the non-Dutch. They grow up in countries where the bicycle is not used as a daily mode of transport, therefore, when coming to the Netherlands, learning how to cycle is not one of the priorities, neither is teaching their children how to cycle.

To overcome the differences the following recommendations are given. More research should be done on the differences in the perceived cycling comfort and ease, as well as that more research should be done on the successes of the cycling lessons and which changes are needed to encourage one to cycle after the lessons. Improvements in bicycle infrastructure should be continued, as well as discouraging car use. The last recommendation is to focus bicycle marketing on youth, instead of on adults. Introduce the bicycle at an early age, so the bicycle gets an active role within the habitus, or an active habitual role. Not growing up with a bicycle might be the reason the differences in bicycle use exist.

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