Before they set sail for the New World, the pilgrims spent about a dozen years in the city of Leiden. In fact, by some accounts, the American Thanksgiving holiday, our recreation of a (perhaps mythical) harmonious harvest celebration shared by the pilgrims and Wampanoags, is actually an imitation of a Dutch feast day. Coincidentally, I’ll be in Leiden this coming Thanksgiving.

The pilgrims brought a number of Dutch ideas and practices to the Americas. From what I hear, we could still learn a few things from our friends in the low countries, especially about bicycle safety. Thanksgiving… cycling — you still with me?

The New York Times recently ran an opinion piece pointing out the enormous risks cyclists face on U.S. roadways, and the failure of our legal system to respond to bicycle fatalities. (Is it O.K. To Kill Cyclists?) As an individual in America, one might be wisest to forego cycling. Exercise on a stationary bike at the gym, not on the streets. Drive your kids to school instead of letting them make their own two-wheeled way. As a society, though, we’d be wise to make our roads, and laws, bike friendly.

45% of all trips in the Netherlands are taken by bike. 59% in cities. (so says Wikipedia) If we could replicate that in the U.S., we’d dramatically reduce traffic, air pollution, and, probably, obesity.

I’m all for feasting and thanks giving, but this year I aspire to pick up some new ideas in Leiden.  I’ll be checking out bike lanes and signals, thinking about the route from my house to my kids’ school back in the States, a distance of only a mile, along which there isn’t even a sidewalk, much less a bike lane.

Imagine if Americans put some Puritan style zeal to bicycle safety. We’d have one more reason to give thanks.

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