- Author: Laurel Schwartz
- Date: August 31, 2023
As technology advances and a focus on environmental sustainability grows, e-bikes have emerged as a convenient and eco-friendly mobility solution.…
Amsterdam boasts that it’s the bike capital of the world. Smaller North American cities can learn from their best practices.
At first glance, Amsterdam may appear to have been built for cycling, but its mega bike culture started in the 1970s to help reduce growing traffic fatalities. Gentrifying neighborhoods like De Pijp are embracing this bike-centric lifestyle, opting to replace car parking with greenspace.
In the 1990s, the Netherlands shifted from a car-centric city model to prioritizing bicycles as a mobility preference, funded in part by revenue from car parking fees. Several factors supported this shift: the country has a centralized system and government continues to prioritize public mobility and safety, even at the cost of private land use. The country has an extensive rail system, flat topography, and bike culture that started before WWII. And, with the absence of a domestic automobile company, there aren’t strong lobbies pushing to keep the transit system focused on cars.
Dutch planners proactively think about how commuters will interact with their environment. “If you need a sign, it’s a bad design,” said Meredith Glaser of the University of Amsterdam’s Urban Cycling Institute.
To counteract the innate principle that humans are error-prone, Amsterdam’s streets use standardized colors, paver materials, and shapes to help users navigate the congested, diverse transit network. Gentle physical structures like low curbs help keep bikers from converging with pedestrians in another lane. Cars are treated like guests, relegated to park in underground garages and move slowly, reinforcing drivers to be cautious of bikers.
In the Netherlands, cycling is a social activity, said Glaser. The system has developed successfully because there is a critical mass of residents whose consistent presence reinforce the city’s bike culture. Bikers usually communicate through body language, which, at times, is forced through deliberately removing traffic lights. At an intersection near Alexanderplein where cars, trucks, trams, and bikes meet, the city found that crash rates fell after they removed the traffic lights: forcing bikers and drivers to pay closer attention to each other made everyone safer.
In a study evaluating Amsterdam’s bike infrastructure through the eyes of expatriates who recently moved to Amsterdam, researchers Samuel Nello-Deakin and Anna Nikolaeva found that a strongly established culture of utilitarian cycling helped encourage newcomers to use cycling as their primary means of transport. Interviewees in the study reported that access to bikes is easy and inexpensive. Further, it’s fun, social, and a central part of Amsterdam’s lifestyle.
Have more mobility news that we should be reading and sharing? Let us know! Reach out to Sage Kashner (firstname.lastname@example.org).
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