AFP, reported in the Age and the Sydney Morning Herald
Commuters ride their bikes in late afternoon traffic in Amsterdam. Problems all-too familiar to car drivers the world over are now also threatening to turn the Dutch dream of bicycling bliss into a daily hell. Photo: AFP
Problems familiar to car drivers the world over, from gridlock to road rage and lack of parking, are now threatening to turn the Dutch dream of bicycling bliss into a daily hell.
In a small country where bicycles outnumber people by 1.2 million, the Dutch have simply run out of space to accommodate the five million riders who take to the road every day, turning major city commuting into a nightmare.
In Amsterdam alone 490,000 freewheeling "fietsers" take to the road to cycle a staggering two million kilometres every day, according to statistics released by the city council.
"Bicycles are an integral mode of transport in our city," Amsterdam's council said on Thursday, but, in a worrying trend, "the busiest bicycle paths are too small for the growing stream of daily cyclists."
"Cyclists have increased dramatically over the last few years," Wim Bot of the Dutch Cycling Association agreed.
"In a small country like the Netherlands where almost every square metre is accounted for, we've run out of space," added Bot, whose cyclists' union was founded in 1975 and today represents 35,000 paid-up members.
"It has become a headache."
The Dutch first fell in love with cycling in the late 1880s when the first two-wheeled contraptions appeared in big cities.
Two decades later the first bicycle paths were laid in a country so flat it is often described as "specially created for cyclists".
There are around 18 million bikes or 1.3 bicycles per citizen old enough to ride in a country less than half the size of the US state of Maine.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte is often seen cycling to work.
New bike sales topped 1.3 million last year, raking in an estimated 970 million euros ($A1.16 billion) in sales.
Some 35,000 kilometres of bike path now criss-cross the landscape.
But having invested heavily in bicycle infrastructure, the Dutch are now paying the price for pedal-power's rise in popularity.
The Dutch newspaper Trouw recently said in places like Amsterdam and Utrecht, the increase in bicycles is giving rise to new phenomena that include bicycle traffic jams, pile-ups, parking problems and bicycle rage.
Around major stations such as Amsterdam and Utrecht Central, tens of thousands of bicycles parked legally and illegally hog public space and restrict pedestrian access, while leaving cyclists scratching their heads to try to remember where they parked their steeds.
More cyclists on the road means more congestion and "bicycle rage" often flies across the handlebars.
The statistics show just how dangerous it has become: a quarter of all deadly accidents in the Netherlands involve cyclists, the Cycling Association said.
Some 200 died on Dutch roads last year, the majority of them elderly, an increase of 28 from 2010.
And the problem is getting worse since the Dutch authorities decided to broaden bike path use to include over a million mopeds, which are allowed to zoom past cyclists as long as they stay under a speed limit of 25km/h.
Dated - 09.11.2012