Do It For The Children
This post in A View From The Cycle Path gives a bit of background to the changes in Dutch society in the 1970s that led them to build the infrastructure that they have today. Up until then, both the UK and the Netherlands had similar numbers of cyclists, but both were in decline.
Unlike the UK, the Dutch invested in the infrastructure that made cycling safe and convenient for pretty much anyone. The results speak for themselves - riding a bike is a normal way for most people to get around, rather than the minority activity it is in the UK, where less than 2% of trips are made by bike.
The real catalyst for this was the attitude to road safety. In the mid-seventies, both the UK and the Netherlands had similar road traffic casualty figures. With 450 children killed on the Netherlands roads in 1973, they decided that something must be done. But whereas in the UK, where we opted for solutions based on [driver-] fault-tolerant infrastructure, and making it harder and harder to get anywhere under your own steam, the Dutch re-designed their street-scapes to be person-friendly. The UK has seen a 50% improvement in road traffic deaths in the last 35 years, yet the Dutch have achieved a 78% improvement in the same period.
Now the killer fact: In the UK, providing your child doesn’t have an inherited / genetically based disease (congenital defects, child cancers, etc), then the thing that is most likely to kill them, most likely to stop you becoming a grandparent, and most likely to stop them reaching their full adult potential . . . is still a road traffic incident. [Update 11/1/11: source at http://www.statistics.gov.uk/articles/hsq/HSQ28_death.pdf]
To improve this, we have two choices - either ferry them around in an SUV arms-race (which will help them forget what their legs are for, and ultimately lead to obesity-related early deaths), or decide that we need to copy a solution from just over the North Sea.
Much more on this later.