From the urban planning viewpoint, Amsterdam is even more synonymous with urban biking than it is with legal soft drugs. The prior contributes to making the city more livable, the latter to attracting plenty of tourists. In such densities found in The Netherlands, cycling lowers car traffic, reduces pollution from automobiles; when done right, it is a healthy and sustainable transportation practice, and often is much more efficient than driving or even taking public transport. Having a bike in the Netherlands can provide the freedom of access and mobility to the masses.
The omnipresence of cyclists in the Netherlands is not due to one single policy or plan but many. Some infrastructure and practices are completely expected:
- Completely separate lanes in heavy traffic areas or complex road crossings;
- Pathways devoted to cyclists that provide more direct routes to destinations;
- Visual indicators of the presence of cycling such as bike boxes and colored bike lanes when adjacent to roadways; and
- Traffic calming features to slow automobiles and create an environment that feels (and is) safer to cyclists (i.e. traffic table).
There are other components that are icing on the cake, so to speak. As a cyclist you take them for granted, but they also contribute to an ideal biking environment.
- Count-down mechanisms on bike signals so the rider can anticipate a green light (and to prevent early illegal crossings and soothe impatience);
- Traffic laws that ascribe blame to automobiles in accidents;
- Large, green easements and well thought out landscape design projects separating traffic and cyclists when possible; and
- The underlying social norm that dictates acceptance and promotion of cycling.
Biking is not all rosy. While coffee houses are extremely accessible by visitors and tourists, cycling is a different story. The first day I had a bike, I effectively was lost for two hours. There is neither a bike map available nor an easily accessible pamphlet explaining the cycling infrastructure. With heavy cycling traffic, traveling so blindly is intimidating at first.
Also, there is an uncontrolled practice of stealing bikes, or at least pitching them into the canals. You can get a hefty fine for purchasing a stolen bike but rarely does the actual thief get caught by authorities. Lastly, of course, parking can be a major problem.
What efforts should be expected from such a bike-friendly city to integrate visitors into the culture of cycling?
Credits: Images and data linked to sources.