This article looks into 3 reasons why Amsterdam is one of the best cities in the world for cyclists.
Amsterdam is a European and world cultural capital. It is famous for being a party hotspot and for being exceedingly liberal where other world cities choose not to be. It is also a phenomenal city for cyclists. Let’s now turn to why this is the case.
The cycling infrastructure in Amsterdam is first rate. Where most cities in the world are crying out for an integrated network of separated bike lanes. Amsterdam has these in abundance. This network is worth far more than the sum of its parts. You can get from almost any location to any other location by bike in an extremely safe and segregated manner.
Where separated bike lanes are not available, you can make use of quiet backstreets and parks which are well integrated into the system of bike lanes.
This network of safe segregated bike lanes is such that you see many people aged 8-80 and quite possibly beyond that range cycling across the city. You see almost no wearing of helmets or Hi-Vis jackets whatsoever, such is peoples feeling of safety and confidence. It is not uncommon to see pregnant ladies and parents and grandparents cycling with children in child seats. This is an extremely safe system to cycle on.
Overall, it cannot be overstated just how high quality the cycling infrastructure is in Amsterdam.
The sad truth is that cities around the world have largely oriented themselves around the private car and have made cycling an afterthought. In Amsterdam this is not the case. Time and again the city authorities go to unbelievable levels of effort to make cycling easier and safer.
Whereas in a lot of areas cyclists are seen as a problem to be managed, in Amsterdam they are seen as a solution to be encouraged. We will now look into a few examples of these extraordinary efforts.
The cycling and walking tunnel under Amsterdam Central Station is my personal favourite. It looks really nice and makes a great cut through for the two most sustainable forms of urban transit.
Next is the giant multi-storey bike park adjacent to Amsterdam Central Station. I have never really understood how people manage to find their bikes in there after they park them, but it is a remarkable piece of infrastructure nonetheless.
Lastly, the effort that goes into junctions and roundabouts is absolutely outstanding. Having a network of segregated paths is great, but how that system fits together is also vitally important. With cycling infrastructure you are only as strong as your weakest point. At junctions there are buttons and traffic lights specifically designed for cyclists. You feel incredibly safe cycling at junctions in Amsterdam.
The culture of cycling in Amsterdam makes it a truly special place for cyclists.
Cycling infrastructure can only do so much. In many places drivers take it upon themselves to intimidate cyclists in the most egregious manner. In Amsterdam this does not happen. Because almost all car drivers will also be cyclists, there is an entente cordiale between cyclists and drivers the likes of which I have never seen anywhere else. This means that where drivers and cyclists come close to one another such as on back streets, that cars are incredibly civil. It also means that drivers are far more likely to check their wing mirrors before opening a car door, as they would not wish for it to happen to them. You only get behaviour like this once you fully embed a cycling culture within a city.
Further advantages of having a cycling culture within a city is the factor of safety in numbers.
Safety in numbers helps a lot on journeys across the city, but it is also useful when parking. In a lot of places it would be incredibly unusual to just lock your wheels, but in Amsterdam this is commonplace. With so many bikes parked in so many places, the chance of your bike becoming a victim of theft is small.
In other cities where there are only a small number of highly professional bike commuters it is necessary to lock your bike against a fixed object.
Overall, Amsterdam has a phenomenal cycling culture and is a special place for cyclists.
What you need to know
This article looked into 3 reasons why Amsterdam is one of the best cities in the world for cyclists.
The infrastructure in Amsterdam is extensive of high quality and extremely safe to use.
The effort the city authorities go to to roll out the red carpet for cyclists is stunning when compared to cities around the world.
The culture of cycling in Amsterdam is deeply ingrained into the psyche of the city. This makes it special.
Overall, cycling in Amsterdam is not like cycling in any other city in the world.
Thank you for reading,
By Barnaby Nash
Please share your thoughts in the comments section below. What do you think is the best city in the world for cycling in?
This article is a collection of pictures and videos of London, like you have never seen it before. It contains footage of people cycling safely through London, in what would otherwise be a hostile environment for cyclists.
This was my first year attending RideLondon. It is a fantastic event and if you haven’t been I highly recommend going.
Cycling along The Mall with no cars was excellent.
Cycling under Admiralty Arch was wonderful, as you can see there are many children on the ride.
Chancery Lane is one of my favourite streets in London. Listen to all the noises you can hear with no cars.
Lincoln’s Inn Fields is one of my favourite parks in London, it was great to see it so car free and quiet.
A scene in Blackfriars, shot during a cafe stop.
What you need to know
RideLondon is a fantastic event, which does a lot to promote cycling within London. A few things impressed me. The number of children and families was higher than I expected. The number of clearly novice cyclists was also higher than I expected as was the number of attendees.
What I was most struck by was how quite it was. In central London, it makes you realise that cars and buses make an extremely large amount of noise, which makes life in cities unpleasant. Cycling on the other hand is an extremely quiet mode of transport.
I have for a long time been convinced that the private car has no place in city centers. How you go about removing it is a tricky question.
A first step could be to ban all but electric vehicles from the city center. That deals with an air pollution problem, but not a street architecture, cycling safety or congestion problem.
You could also play around with the congestion charge, with surge pricing during commutes or road pricing. These could work, but those with money and a willingness to pay would still be able to enter the city center.
Would would be a more equitable solution would be to remove the car from city centers entirely. It would be a solution that would work for people, the planet and help businesses become more profitable. Urban areas without cars are wonderful places. In order to create an urban renaissance and to make sure that scenes like the ones in RideLondon happen more frequently, London needs to stand up to the private car.
Thank you for reading,
By Barnaby Nash
Please share your thoughts in the comments section below. If you liked this kind of content, let me know and I can make more articles like this.
Tragically, 6 cyclists died in London within 13 days in November 2013. This must stop. It is paradoxical that London, the city where the modern bicycle was invented, has cycle infrastructure which is amongst the most dangerous in Europe. There is a desperate need for change. We must use the deaths as a focussing event, and completely overhaul London’s cycle infrastructure. This would bring enormous environmental and social benefits.
My vision: London as a bike city
Fundamentally, London is facing two important crises. One is from anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, of which car use is a major contributor (Cycling England, 2007; Vidal, 2013). The other is that despite investments, cyclists safety hasn’t improved (GLA, 2012; London Cycling Campaign (LCC), 2012). These should be addressed by building a continental-style cycle system across London.
My vision is for a London with far fewer cars, where far more people cycle, and do so in safety. Environmental grounds support turning this vision into a reality. Cycling can help cities reduce their GHG emissions. Europe-wide GHG emissions from transport are substantial and increasing (Blondel, et al., 2011). It would seem sensible to look at increasing bicycle patronage. Cycling uses the least non-renewable resources, produces the lowest emissions (almost zero, see figure 1) and is the most energy efficient of all transport modes (Oja & Vuori, 2000; Pucher, 1997; Pucher & Buehler, 2008a). Importantly, it is the local air quality which is improved for residents (GLA, 2013).
Bicycles have a natural place in cities. They are ideal for replacing London’s frequent, short trips <5 km, when car engines are cold and inefficient (Cycling England, 2007; Gardener, 1998). This would reduce the external costs of transport, without reducing mobility (See figure 2).
There is a clear case for cities to increase cycling rates to meet emissions targets. The Fourth IPCC Assessment Report (2007) showed cities increasing their share of trips by bicycle from 1% to 10% reduced their GHG emissions by 8.4%. Moreover, getting vehicle commuters cycling could save 112t of CO2/pa per 1000 that switch; and save the The Exchequer ~ £70 per head from pollution abatement costs (Cycling England, 2007). Lastly, if the whole EU cycled at Danish levels, it would reduce oil imports by 9% and make a 26% contribution to Europe’s Kyoto protocol commitments (Blondel, et al., 2011). As we can see, there are strong environmental grounds for increasing London’s anaemic cycling rates.
Cycling in London isn’t safe (see figure 3). Whilst the Mayor’s rhetoric is as positive as always: ‘under our plans, it will be safer’ (GLA, 2013). Nationwide, this is the 8th successive year the number of killed or seriously injured (KSI) cyclists has increased (Department for Transport, 2013). Danny Dorling (2010) has branded it a ‘public health crises.’ In London, cyclist injuries were up 60% in 2012 (Transport for London, 2013). Fear remains a massive obstacle, and only 33% would describe cycling in London as safe (LCC, 2012; Sustrans, 2012). This needs to change.
The Mayor is placing faith in Jacobsen’s (2003) theory of safety in numbers, where incidents diminish when more people cycle. Amsterdam, Berlin and Copenhagen increased bicycle patronage and simultaneously decreased the number of incidents (Fietsberaad, 2010; Pucher, et al., 2010; Pucher & Buehler, 2008a; Pucher & Buehler, 2008b). However, this was down to the type of intervention. The continental-style of separate bicycle facilities prevents large differences in speed, direction and mass at moderate and high speeds (Wegman & Aarts, 2008). It is obvious that London’s cycling interventions have failed. Londoners deserve a safe, continental-style cycle system.
Institutional mechanisms to create the bike city
Government involvement has a huge role to play in this vision. Government investment is needed to construct the cycle-system. Whilst regulation and economic instruments will maximise the benefits it brings.
To transform London into a bike city, the Mayor needs to tackle the following infrastructure head-on.
Firstly, the Mayor needs to build a dense network of cycle lanes, separated from cars (ECMT, 2004; Gardener, 1998; Pucher & Buehler, 2008a; Pucher & Buehler, 2008b). In light of the recent deaths (3 on 1 cycle superhighway alone) the Mayor is strongly advised re-evaluate this policy. He must retrofit the existing and construct all new superhighways to continental best-practice standards (LCC, 2012). London also needs a colour-coded system of directional signs for cyclists (Oja & Vuori, 2000; Pucher & Buehler, 2008b).
Where it is not possible to bypass junctions, these need modification. This should include spatial separation and colour–coding, traffic lights for cyclists and signal time reallocated in their favour (Pucher, 1997; Pucher & Buehler, 2008a; Pucher & Buehler, 2008b; Sustrans, 2012). Again, in light of the recent deaths, the Mayor shouldn’t modify the dangerous gyratories which blight the capital, but instead set a timetable for their removal (LCC, 2012).
The network alone will not be sufficient. It needs complementing with safe cycling routes for residential shortcuts (Oja & Vuori, 2000). London has an extensive network of side streets for this (GLA, 2013). The Mayor should build more residential contraflow lanes, which permit cyclists to ride against traffic on one-way streets (Pucher, 1997; Pucher, et al., 2010).
Bicycle parking in London is unacceptable. The Mayor needs to provide more secure bicycle parking at all public buildings, and in busy public spaces (Fietsberaad, 2010; Pucher & Buehler, 2008a). Also, the Mayor needs to link cycling with public transport by providing more and better bicycle parking at terminals (ECMT, 2004; Gardener, 1998; Pucher, et al., 2010). This will facilitate bike-and-ride trips and increase bicycling (Martens, 2007). He also needs to regulate developers and landlords with high standards for bicycle parking, and time limits to meet these within (Fietsberaad, 2010; LCC, 2012; Pucher & Buehler, 2008b). To claw back capacity from the car and provide it to cyclists, new parking racks should be built in car parks and on car lanes (Pucher, 1997).
This brings us to the car restriction policies. Instruments are needed to complement the cycle infrastructure, as rebound effects could arise if congestion is reduced (Blondel, et al., 2011). The Mayor should adopt a variety of traffic calming measures (Gardener, 1998; Pucher & Buehler, 2008a; Pucher & Buehler, 2008b). Reducing the speed limit to 20mph, firstly on residential roads and then on the main road network would be welcomed (ECMT, 2004; LCC, 2012; Sustrans, 2012). This would increase the safety of cycling (Dorling, 2010; GLA, 2013), and improve the speed of bicycling relative to driving (Pucher, et al., 2010). London led Europe with the congestion charge (Pucher, et al., 2010; Pucher & Buehler, 2008a). However, in transitioning towards becoming a bike city, it must be expanded and the price increased to cover the full external costs of driving (Blondel, et al., 2011; Oja & Vuori, 2000). Car parking should be removed, or its price increased (Fietsberaad, 2010; Gardener, 1998). Lastly, traffic laws need to be reformed, to always give right-of-way priority to cyclists (Pucher, 1997; Sustrans, 2012). Implementing these would go a long way towards restricting car use in favour of cycling.
Governance to build the bike city
The governance of turning London into a bike city is complicated. Local government has jurisdiction over where most ‘bikeable’ trips are made (Gardener, 1998). Local government is also the most efficient authority for designing and implementing bicycle policies (ECMT, 2004). The problem is, that whilst cost-effective, cycle intervention isn’t cheap (Aldred, 2012). Bicycle-proofing London’s junctions would cost £100m, yet boroughs only contribute £100,000/pa for cycle infrastructure (LCC, 2012). It is useful to see how the successful European cycling countries corrected for this. There, national governments generally provided the overarching policy framework, legislation and financial resources; whilst local governments also contribute financially, and oversee the planning and construction of interventions (ECMT, 2004; Martens, 2007; Pucher, 1997; Pucher & Buehler, 2008a; Pucher & Buehler, 2008b). I would therefore recommend a similar level of collaboration between Westminster and the GLA for turning London into a bike city.
The vision contained within this paper was ambitious, and its implementation is likely to be problematic. Chief among these is overcoming the ‘institutional block’ which is holding London back (LCC, 2012). Ideally, London’s cycle policy should have been continuous and integral, with the cycle network built after WWII, when space was available (ECMT, 2004; Fietsberrad, 2010). However, London has proven resilience, and I am confident this can be overcome. London also needs to target those groups who are less taken to cycling. This can be overcome with marketing campaigns and promotional festivals, educating children, and financial incentives (Oja & Vuori, 2000; Pucher, 1997; Sustrans, 2012). I anticipate bicycle thefts to increase substantially as the bike city takes shape. To combat this, I recommend adopting the Dutch system of persistently combating thefts through electronic identification and recovery of stolen bikes, and set targets for this (ECMT, 2004; Fietsberrad, 2010; LCC, 2012). Despite these, I believe that London is more than capable of transforming itself into a bike city.
Dorling, D. (2010, November). Roads, Casualties and Public Health: the Open Sewers of the 21st Century. PACTS’ 21st Westminster Lecture and ETSC’s 12th European Transport Safety Lecture. Lecture conducted from One Birdcage Walk, London, England.