Amsterdam: The Bicycling Capital of Europe

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Amsterdam is the most bicycle friendly city in Europe with 881,000 bikes in a city of 780,559 people.  Amsterdam  has approximately 280 miles of cycling lanes, and close to 58%  of its residents use bicycles on a daily basis, 43% of them are commuting to work by bicycle.  There are two reasons why Amsterdam is such a conducive place for bicycle use:

Firstly, the topography of the city lends itself to bicycling.   Amsterdam is a small city, compact and flat, only 85 square miles in land area, approximately the size of San Francisco without hills.  Therefore, Amsterdam is an ideal city for bicycles as a preferred mode of  transportation.

The second reason for the popularity of bicycles in Amsterdam is the concerted effort by city officials and planners to promote the use of bikes for public commute over the past few decades.  Between 1955 and 1970 cars were beginning to take over Amsterdam like many other cities, many old canals were paved over to make room for cars but the traffic jams would not ease.  Then, in 1970 the citizens of  Amsterdam voted in favor of bikes and the city planners started to invest more time and money in bicycle infrastructure. Special bike lanes were created to connect neighborhoods to the city center, and bicycle parking were created at various bus and train stations. At the same time the use of cars in city center was discouraged by limiting car speeds and car parking.  To park a car in city center now costs approximately $7 to $8 an hour, and due to low-speed limits it takes longer to drive than bike.


Recently, Amsterdam has announced plans to spend 120 million Euros on bicycling infrastructure over the next 8 years.  The city will fund additional 38,000 parking spaces for bicycles, spread out over the city’s railroad and public transportation hubs, as well as other popular destinations. Most impressive, is the plan to build a new indoor storage place that can accommodate up to 17,500 bikes in the city center.

The other reason for the abundance of bicycles in Amsterdam is the relative low-cost of a bicycle.  In Amsterdam a bicycle can be picked up for 50 Euros as opposed to American and Canadian cities where bicycles are much more expensive and can not be left unlocked on city streets.

Bicycling has its benefits in reduced air pollution and better health benefits for the residents of Amsterdam but it has its drawbacks as well.  Between 2001 and 2011 as the cycling trend increased by 14%, the cycle related injuries in accidents increased to 56%.  Most of these accidents are a result of collisions on narrow and crowded cycle pathways.   There is an increased number of old cyclists and mothers with children who are less agile and are competing for the same narrow lane with racing cyclists and powered scooters.  There are suggestions by the Cyclists’ Union to widen the cycle lanes, while others are demanding that powered scooters should not be allowed in cycle lanes and instead should use the car traffic roadways.

What does Amsterdam’s success mean for American cities which are not compact and were built for cars?  May be we should not try to create bicycling networks which would compete with cars and our public transport systems.  Rather, we should create  bicycling networks and integrate them into the existing bus-subway and suburban rail networks.  The subway and suburban railroads should provide bicycle racks in their cars to let bikers ride part of the way on trains.   At the same time selected cycling pathways in the bicycle friendly neighborhoods should get legal priority over cars and be provided with signage and traffic lights exclusively for the convenience and safety of bicyclists.

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