Biking in Amsterdam
The History of biking in Amsterdam
A typical Amsterdam street scene sees countless cyclists either heading to or from work, transporting young children to school, or carrying anything from groceries or house pets to impressively tricky artefacts like ladders or even bulky furniture. With this in mind, it can seem to outsiders like cycling is simply built into the Dutch DNA. In reality, the Netherlands’ renowned cycling prowess is a hard-won combination of urban planning, government spending and people power. When you bike yourself, doing a cycling tour, you will really get a feel of the city.
Most visitors are still amazed, however, by the vast numbers of bicycles, and the wide variety of cyclists: from students to police officers and from bank staff to couriers, cycling is the most egalitarian mode of transport. The Mayor of Amsterdam and City alderpersons also cycle. Even King Willem-Alexander cycles regularly with his family.
The popularity of cycling in Amsterdam is undoubtedly aided by the fact that Amsterdam is flat, compact and densely populated and the climate mostly moderate. But Gerrit Faber of the Fietsersbond, or Cyclists’ Union notes that “It’s not what we have because of our genes. We built it – and other cities can, too.”
He is referring to the investment in cycling infrastructure that began in earnest in the 1970s, following a post-war boom in auto reliance that led to unacceptably high death rates for cyclists. “At that moment, people decided we don’t want it and we built what we have today,” says Faber.
Today there are some 400 kilometres of bicycle paths criss-crossing the city, with an estimated half of all city journeys taking place on two wheels – pretty impressive for what began as an ‘elitist pastime’ in the 1890s.
Rolling rebellion in wartime
Cycling remained the main mode of transportation in the country’s pre-World War II days and even played a role during the Nazi occupation of the city in the 1940s. “The Germans hated Amsterdam cyclists,” says Pete Jordan, author of In the City of Bikes, with “their attitude full of bravado, like it is today – running red lights and being anarchistic.” As Amsterdam cyclists purposely slowed up convoys and refused to give way to German vehicles, cycling, says Jordan, became “the biggest expression of resistance to the Nazis… It gave ordinary people satisfaction that they were hindering the Nazi cause.”
With the car replacing the bicycle after the war and even the city’s mayor tolling the velo’s death knoll in 1965, urban planners rushed to accommodate four-wheeled vehicles. One thankfully nixed 1960s plan was even to pave over the city centre’s historic canals to make way for cars. Today, however, those cars that five decades ago haphazardly filled the city’s most famous squares – Rembrandtplein, Leidseplein – are gone. In their place are thousands of bicycles.
Fun facts - Biking in Amsterdam
Number of bikes in Amsterdam: 881,000
Kilometres cycled in the city each day: 2 million km
Percentage of Amsterdammers that cycle daily: 58%
Total length of cycle paths and bike lanes: 767km
Dedicated cycle paths: 513km
(Source: www.iamsterdam.com, 2016)