The two most bicycle friendly countries in Europe are Demark and Holland. (Netherlands)
It is not so much that these two countries developed a bicycle culture, they never really opted out of it, while the rest of Europe followed the United States and gradually switched to a society dependent on automobiles.
Up until the 1960s even Britain still had a bicycle culture. Not only did the majority of the population not own cars, but most had never learned to drive. People rode bicycles to work, children rode to school. and ladies did their shopping on a bicycle with a basket on the handlebars. There was also a good public transport system.
So why did Denmark and Holland choose not to opt for an automobile society? When you look at the size of these two countries it is easy to see why. Denmark’s area is a total of 16,629 sq. miles while Holland is 15,892 sq. miles. Both these countries could almost fit into my current home state of South Carolina, at 31,113 sq, miles. Then compare this to California with 158,706 sq. miles.
If there is one thing the automobile needs it is a large amount of space, and these two small countries do not have that luxury. Car parking is as large a problem as an inadequate road system. Improving the road system encourages more people to drive creating more congestion and parking problems.
Most European cities were built hundreds of years ago, long before the automobile was conceived; houses were built in terraced rows with no space in between. They have no garages, and there is only enough frontage to each house to allow one car to park for each residence. Often the streets are so narrow that parking is not possible anyway, or sometimes on one side only.
Here in the US we have an abundance of space, but the more space we use to accommodate the automobile, the more people are forced to live further and further away from the city center, and more space is required for roads to get people to and from work.
I wonder how many thousands of acres are taken up in Southern California to accommodate the auto, when you consider the five and six lane freeways in all directions, the wasted space between and around those freeways. To say nothing of the acres of parking lots associated with every business.
It then gets to the situation you have in Los Angeles where it is not unusual for people to commute 80 miles each way to work, because the only home they can afford is out in the desert somewhere east of that city. Six lane freeways still fail to move the volume of traffic, and become parking lots during rush hour.
When I last lived in Southern California in 1994 (After I left the bike business.) I commuted 25 miles to work from Corona, near Riverside, to Anaheim. The trip took me anywhere from one and a half to two hours each way; I could have ridden that distance quicker on a bicycle. The problem was, the only direct route was the freeway, and the route that could have been ridden by bicycle was more like 50 miles.
Going back to 1980 when I moved to San Marcos, some 60 miles north of San Diego, there was mostly undeveloped semi-desert brush land south from San Marcos to San Diego; the same if you went north to Riverside. Then around the mid 1980s the Int.15 Freeway was extended from San Diego to Riverside, and by the time I left in 1994 the whole area from San Diego to somewhere north of Los Angeles was just one huge suburbia.
This area would be about the size of either Denmark or Holland, so there is no need to wonder why they still have a bicycle culture. Why build freeways when on the roads you already have you can drive across the entire country in a matter of hours. And if you accommodate more cars where will they park when the get to their destination?
One of the biggest issues I see with the automobile is not just that it burns fossil fuel and emits greenhouse gasses; in time, technology will fix those problems. The problem is the waste of space.