I have now had 24 hours to reflect on yesterday’s trip to Amsterdam.
In particular I have been trying to think about the elements I noticed that made it stand out so much. I cannot help but make comparisons with Copenhagen too, a city where I have spent more time and perhaps been given more formal introductions to Danish cycling culture. It isn’t enough to say “there were just so many”, it is more.
I cannot compete with the Dutch Cycling Embassy for technical knowledge, Fietsersbond for advocacy or Amsterdamize for cool, but for what it’s worth here are five first reactions to Amsterdam cycling that support my own thesis “When I see Amsterdam cyclists I do not despair for the future of the human race”.
1. Bikes belong
It starts immediately at the station with the brilliant multi-deck parking which has been a feature of many city cycling presentations but you really do have to see it to believe it. But to my eyes it is the bikes in the streets that blow me away, just extraordinary volumes. There is just not a section of street in Amsterdam that doesn’t have its collection of bikes. In many cities there would be refuse trucks cruising the streets taking them away, but not here. They are not an addition to the fabric of the city, they are part of it. But now I do know why the Dutch are fixated by cycle parking.
Even in the most successful cycling cities I think cycling carries a certain tension. Cyclists in Copenhagen always seem to be in a hurry to me and the cycle lanes feel like race tracks at times.
I am sure this is true in the Amsterdam rush hour. But generally cyclists here are so totally relaxed they routinely switch off all the defensive worries, even on the roads. Texting, phoning, headphones, one hand, luggage swinging, riding in pairs, chatting, passengers on racks. Everything your mother told you not to do.
It is another world where cyclists really don’t have to worry about the environment around them. (And almost helmet free!!!!!!)
I know carrying loads on bikes is easier than most people think. I know there are loads of brands of cargo bikes and luggage carriers. But I would have to bore you with dozens of photos to show all the ways I saw things being carried, and how. The plastic crate seems almost ubiquitous as a carrying tool so that a wooden box stood out. And day clothes.
As you can see from the photos above even a randon selection shows a higher proportion of the riders were women than men. And if the Dutch have got a general problem encouraging their new immigrant communities to ride I didn’t see it here, they must have done a great job with their promotional campaigns, or the message is really spreading. A Muslim woman in a headscarf with her bike is still pretty much a rarity in most cultures, but I saw several here.
That is really encouraging, it shows that this is not DNA, it is cultural and can be learned.