The Netherlands is the ideal cycling country. Over time, 22,000 km of cycle paths have been constructed in this little country. For Dutch people this all seems very normal. But if you go abroad, you will immediately notice the difference. For example, if you pass the Belgian border by bike it will get obvious.
On the Dutch side, we are dealing with three lanes next to each other: a footpath, a cycle path and a highway. Once you cross the border these three lanes merge into one main road. Suddenly, you have to share the asphalt with pedestrians, speedy cars and immense trucks, neither safe nor relaxing.
And what is possible in the Netherlands, should also be possible in the Dutch Caribbean, policymakers must have thought. You can think of a whole lot of valid arguments to stimulate and facilitate cycling on Bonaire for both residents and visitors of the Caribbean island.
The number of cars on Bonaire noticeably increased in the past years. Each month an immense car carrier drops off dozens of brand new cars at the Caribbean island. In addition, new and used cars are continuously imported by individuals with big sea containers. By now the traffic in and around Kralendijk is left in a permanent gridlock. If more people would use a bike instead of their car, the road network would considerably be relieved.
In addition, cycling is healthy for both people and the environment. Anyone who regularly cycles, develops a larger lung capacity, loses weight, loses stress and will sleep better. Moreover, cars continuously emit harmful gases, like carbon dioxide, into the atmosphere. If exhaust gases are excessively pumped into the atmosphere, the climate will change so dramatically that large parts of the blue planet eventually will become uninhabitable for humans.
Diving tourism and ecotourism are the main pillars of Bonaire’s economy. Making the island maximally attractive for these type of visitors is therefore vital. Bonaire is a small island with a lot of variety and can be very attractive for cyclists. At one moment you find yourself at sea level, between the magical salt pyramids in south Bonaire. An hour later you could be cycling in the north of the island at altitude, between serious mountains. If the island was equipped with a network of safe cycle paths, it would be an allurement for potential ecotourists.
To make cycling more attractive in Bonaire, policymakers have hired two diligent students of the ‘University of Twente’ to make a bicycle plan for the Caribbean island. They are charged with the task of improving road safety, reducing the theft of bicycles, making the purchase of bicycles affordable and learning the youth of Bonaire how to ride a bike. Recently, the results of this study were presented in Kralendijk.
Bonaire hopes to improve the road safety by the construction of bicycle paths and bicycle-friendly connections between the different districts of Kralendijk. In order to discourage thieves, there should be bicycle parking areas at strategic locations. Tax benefits and grants will be used to make the purchase of bicycles possible for everyone. Furthermore, traffic classes will be introduced in the primary schools.
But what exactly are the main priorities for Bonaire at the moment? There is something paradoxical about the situation. Talking about charming bicycle paths, while the roads in some areas of the island are riddled with deep holes and pits. At these places driving your car is more like a crazy ride on a 'roller coaster'. Especially when there is long-lasting rainfall, some parts of Bonaire are even inaccessible by car.
Furthermore, the car is an important status symbol worldwide. Even in the Netherlands the car has gradually become the most sacred cow. Most Dutch want to keep driving their car at all costs, even when gasoline would cost 10 euro’s per liter at the gas station. They would in a way of speaking rather eat pigeon food for a month, than leave their car at home for one day!
That is not much different in the Antilles. There is much status attached to cars on these islands. Let's see how that works in Sint Maarten. It seems like all the Hummers that have ever been built drive around this Windward Island. In St. Maarten they use the slogan: "The Friendly Island", but you can make that: 'The Hummer Island’. And it is unlikely that the tough and proud owner of a Hummer would suddenly hop on a bike. A cultural shift from driving around in nice pimped cars to fresh and joyful cycling is not so easy.
Another latent threat of relaxing bike rides on Bonaire are biting dogs. Part of the dog population on the island is not so sweet. The bare calves of unsuspecting passing cyclists are regularly targeted by those less brave four-legged friends. If Bonaire ever aspires to become 'Cyclists Paradise', it seems appropriate to give some attention to this problem!
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