My departure from Antwerp marked my final miles in Belgium as I set my focus entirely on the Netherlands for the next couple of weeks. After previously seeing the Eastern edge of the country as I passed through Venlo and Eindhoven, I was eager to see how the scale of the coastal cities would influence the landscape. I was also looking forward to smoother roads as I approached my third and final crossover into the Netherlands. The difference between Dutch roads and Belgian, or even German, roads are drastic and impressively immediate.
After camping near the small fortified village of Willemstad, with its original star-shaped fort walls still intact, I made my way towards Rotterdam where I would spend the next couple of days. Compared to other Dutch cities, Rotterdam is considered to be the most like an American big city with its planning an organization. Almost all of Rotterdam was destroyed following WW2, so in the post-war era the Dutch made efforts to rebuild in the image of an American city. Now, half a century later, the city’s skyline may reflect something like that vision, but the street level retains the Holland style of treatment to traffic planning, a response to the anti-car protests that gained widespread support in the 70’s throughout the Netherlands. In fact, Rotterdam had the most protected and separate bike lanes out of all the cities I would visit in Holland. Wide streets and avenues also provided plenty of room for a light rail as well. As I explored the city though, I began to notice a uniquely Dutch problem within cities, which is the issue of there actually being too many bikes in the Netherlands.
As I have ridden through various cities throughout Holland, I have been fascinated with mobility and transportation as a holistic system. In United States, less than 5% of people commute by bicycle within the majority of our cities, compared to up to 30% or more in a majority of cities in the Netherlands. So really, if there wasn’t a minimum population that factored into the Copenhagenize Most Bicycle-Friendly Cities Index, then the list would pretty much only be populated by Dutch cities. But I digress, anyways, managing that number of bicyclists goes far beyond nice bike lanes, but extends into the infrastructure that supports public transportation, including bicycle parking. Instead of large car parks, central rail stations have epic bike parking garages that store thousands of bikes to support the volume.
Once I got to Amsterdam, the fact that there are more bicycles than people in the Netherlands became much more apparent. With so many bikes in the city, finding a place to lock up is the most difficult part of riding in Amsterdam. Not to mention that many of the bikes left in racks around the city are unaccounted for, and considered “Orphan bikes”. To combat this, the city is constantly removing tagged bikes, but I’m not sure it’s problem that will eventually resolve itself. Finding space for two bicycles is also exponentially more difficult. The day after I arrived in Amsterdam, Regan flew in to Schipol to finish out the remainder of the tour with me. After spending the previous 10 weeks working on public spaces and researching bike lanes for a landscape architecture internship, she immediately jumped on the bike to explore the city.
For the most part, Dutch people don’t refer themselves as cyclists, or hold loyalty towards their bicycles. Instead, bikes are seen entirely as a utilitarian and convenient means of getting around. Because of this, Regan and I tried to compile some observations about the peculiarities of cycling in Amsterdam:
- Every street is bicycle-friendly to varying levels of quality. Many paths are protected, except for in the city center.
- Three primary bike lane typologies
- Shared street-level path. Distinction through material or color treatment to surface
- Shared sidewalk-level path. More protected on curb. Distinction through material or color treatment to surface.
- Separate and protected. Primarily on roundabouts and major boulevards.
- Orphan bikes are everywhere, and bike parking can be a struggle
- Bikes are made for comfort and not speed. Upright position with a front and/or rear rack. They’re also pretty beat up.
- People will take a friend a bicycle by holding another bike alongside. It’s also not uncommon to see a person catching a ride on friend’s rear rack.
- I don’t think people buy new bikes in the city, they just kind of adopt bikes.
- Bikes don’t hold water bottles, and it is nearly impossible to find a public water fountain to fill a water bottle.
- Cargo bikes, the solution to running errands or carrying children by bicycle. Seeing what people are carrying in their cargo bikes is the Kinder surprise of the Netherlands.
- Bike paths are shared with mopeds and scooters. This is a controversial topic in the Netherlands.