I came across this great video the other day that presents one well accepted view of how the Netherlands became one of the best countries in the world for cyclists and cycling infrastructure. The video was produced by Mark Wagenbuur who, with blog founder David Hembrow, produce the superb A view from the cycle path... blog which documents Dutch cycling infrastructure for all the world to see. Besides the blog, if you go to Mark's YouTube channel you will find over 150 videos that will give the curious American a great idea of what a transportation infrastructure built around the bicycle can look like.
One thing that you should take away from this video is that the world class Dutch bicycle infrastructure that many think was always there, was almost lost at one point and that advocacy was a critical part of turning local and national transportation policy around in the Netherlands. Imagine what New Jersey might look like today if bicycle advocacy had been well organized since the 1970's. I doubt it would be exactly like the Netherlands but I think we would be much further along then we are today.