Amsterdam has a population of 750,000 people and over 600,000 bikes which translates to everyone but babies and geriatrics owning their own bike.
These clackety upright rattlers perform the role of workhorses on the cobbled streets transporting whole families, prams, babies, toddlers to school and kindergarten, comestibles from the market to home and businessmen and women in suits, stockings and heels to work. You won’t see a lycra cyborg on a racing bike anywhere.
Just humans travelling at a patient, sensible speed getting from A to B.
While the rest of the world wrestles with Greenhouse Emission Guilt those Dutch got it right decades ago. They teach us – if we are willing to observe and learn – how very easy it is to let go of the CAR and embrace green modes of transport.
Admittedly their minds are made up for them by their heritage. The topography of much of Amsterdam is Escargot shaped with narrow cobbled streets governed by the canals every second street. It is hard enough to wedge houses in let alone cars and car parks. People live on the canals themselves in house boats too. The car really becomes a silly mode of transport and often clogs up one way lane-streets next to the canals.
I find myself so envious of this nation of cyclists. There is no road rage. People defer quietly to the bike when in a car or on foot. The Dutch are such wily cyclists that it is common to see young people texting with both hands whilst whizzing through an intersection. No one ever hurls insults at drivers or cyclists and the overwhelming impression is that of being in a large quiet country village where everyone co-exists and you can hear the birds sing and smell bread baking in the Bakkerij.
During WW2 the Dutch were occupied by the Nazis and reduced to making bicycle tyres out of wood and old pram wheels to get around as their fuel along with just about everything else, was requisitioned by the Germans.
After the war, some of the ravaged and decimated cities of Holland such as Amsterdam, made the decision not to “modernise” much of their centuries old heritage by removing canals for roads for the cars and instead built designated bike roads everywhere.
Hallelujah. It can be done. A nation that did not fall vicitim to the atrocities of the 1960’s in Town Planning & Architecture
So many Dutch today do not even own a car and as a result shop daily for their groceries as it’s quite hard to fit much into a bike basket. The advantage of that is fresh food baked and sold daily in street markets where it is so easy to stop, park the bike and grab the day’s dinner on the way home.
The Amsterdam council fished out 15,000 dumped bikes out of the canals last year – I suppose thieves threw them in after finishing their rides?
But who would the thieves have been if everyone owns their own bike? Obviously not a local and it had to be someone with huge pliers to remove the boa-constrictor chain locks each bike has too.
The council actively encourages a Green Mentality.
Driving licenses cost over $1,000 to acquire and a taxi from the airport cost me 60 euros whereas the bus costs 2.5 euros into town. It is a delight to travel leisurely through a city with no car fumes, angry hooting drivers or deafening motorbikes screaming past. Many of the locals putter along on Vespas and 50 cc motos that also use the bike lanes.
In Holland, each person is taught to ALWAYS open their car door with their right hand so that they turn and check to see if a bike rider is sailing past them before opening their door. In Australia people are being maimed and killed from ignorant and impatient drivers swinging their doors open and whacking cyclists under passing cars. The death and accident toll is so worrying we have even coined the name “dooring” as it has become a bona fide verb.
We must change our mentality and attitude to the Bike Rider.
It starts early. For instance children in Amsterdam must pass a bike test at school.
Dutch train stations provide multi-level bike racks for commuters – a lot cheaper to provide than the concrete high-rises we construct for each car commuter who drives himself all the way in to work rather than exert himself on a bike or a train.
In Amsterdam most bikes have makeshift baskets, paniers, fruit crates and even delivery wagons on their fronts so that mothers, businessmen, elderly women and couriers can navigate the streets and carry what they have to from A to B.
In Summer the weather in Amsterdam is mild but in the other seasons it is cold and wet. If the Dutch can weather the weather on bikes then it should be much easier for Americans and Australians to do so too.
And there’s always public transport if it’s too wet.