Triumph of the Amsterdam cyclist?
The United Nations has declared June 3 as World Bicycle Day. In terms of bicycle use, Amsterdam is ahead of many foreign cities, and has a considerable exemplary role. Nevertheless, the introduction of the bicycle did not go smoothly here. And the arrival of the car didn't make it any easier.
New: the Amsterdam cyclist
In 1868 the first bicycles could already be seen in Amsterdam. 'Sometimes one sees three or four cyclists at the same time in the Leidschestraat', writes a newspaper. Cycling clubs were set up here and there. The bike was initially expensive and exclusive. After that, its popularity increased rapidly. As early as 1930, one-third of traffic consisted of cyclists. Pedestrians also formed a third, and public transport a quarter. Only 5% of the traffic consisted of cars. But that changed: the 20th century would be the century of the car.
Rise of the car
The rise of the car is considered a natural phenomenon. The government welcomed the 'general motorization'. The city council also wanted to make traffic completely subordinate to the car. In traffic, the law of the strongest applied. Cycling became 'playing with your life'. In the last century, Amsterdam seemed to be taking the same path as other European cities that gave way to the car.
Extreme car minded country
Around 1930 there were 7,000 cars in Amsterdam and 68,000 cars throughout the Netherlands. That changed quickly, much faster than expected. The Netherlands now has more than 8 million cars. It's a car country like any other, even an extreme car country measured by the number of cars per square kilometer. For the past 70 years, a battle took place in the city between the car and the bicycle. In the 60's it seemed that the car would wipe out the bicycle, and Amsterdam would become a car city. But that didn't happen in the end.
No bicycle in future visions
At first, Amsterdam almost accidentally became a cycling city. Due to the clear dimensions and the flatness, the city dwellers started cycling en masse. The bicycle spontaneously became the main means of transport in the city, without much government control. But in the 50s and 60s, more and more cars were coming into the city, and policymakers and traffic engineers saw cycling as a declining business. They ignored the bike in their future visions as if it no longer existed. It seemed Amsterdam would become a large-scale, and modern city where living and working would be connected by urban highways. But it turned out differently.
Cars dominated the city and bicyclists were in great danger. The number of road accidents increased, with a nadir of 114 deaths in 1970. Nowadays, there are around 15 deaths per year. An influential pressure group in the Netherlands in the 70s, called ‘Stop de Kindermoord’ ('Stop child murder'), protested against the horrific insecurity in traffic and the apathy and fatalism of the authorities and the population. The initiative also had a lot of resonance in Amsterdam.
Decisive for the future of traffic is the overarching new vision of the city since that time. Amsterdam became a 'compact city', and not an expanding city connected by major roads. After a long-term conflict between the 'large-scale' and the 'small-scale', the proponents of the 'human dimension' won. Amsterdam remained 'compact', and therefore the bicycle remained a practical means of transport. Since 1978, the municipality has strived to improve the cycling climate.
The car was, among other things, restricted with a stricter parking policy, speed bumps, and one-way traffic. Separate bicycle paths and a 'main network bicycle' were built. With great difficulty the streets were decorated to give everyone space. The Amsterdam Cyclists' Union, founded in 1976, played (and still plays) a major role in representing the interests of cyclists.
One of the best cycling cities in the world
Amsterdam and Copenhagen are now seen as the best cycling cities in the world. In these cities, there is a balance between the car and the bike, where the bike is very useful. Of course, it's never perfect. In Amsterdam, for example, 6% of cyclists are 'reckless cyclists' who have a grind on everything. Some don't think that's much, but that makes about 25,000 cyclists a day that put others in danger - this number remains a lot. The most recent major change in traffic is that moped riders must wear a helmet and get off the bike path. That measure took effect on 8 April 2019. A new milestone in the perpetual battle for public space.
What is going on right now
Jun 02, 2022
Meetup about traffic lights and cyclists
May 05, 2022
Call to action
Apr 28, 2022
Looking back at the Bicycle Innovation Lab
Apr 26, 2022
Second life for children’s bikes
Apr 14, 2022
Make way for the bicycle!
Apr 12, 2022
Amsterdam Bike City Innovation Lab provides a smart solution for different speeds on the cycle path
Mar 22, 2022
Leidseplein: ‘We encourage cyclists to park indoor with new technologies and real time information’
Mar 02, 2022
View the submissions
Feb 17, 2022
Bicycle Innovation Lab: Last chance!
Feb 10, 2022
Bicycle Innovation Lab: Otto van Boggelen
Feb 10, 2022
Bicycle Innovation Lab: Ilona Kemps
Feb 10, 2022
Bicycle Innovation Lab: Tim Coronel
Jan 31, 2022
Bicycle Innovation Lab: Marco te Brömmelstroet
Jan 31, 2022
Bicycle Innovation Lab: Esther van Garderen
Jan 12, 2022
Bicycle Innovation Lab
Nov 18, 2021
Architecture prize for underground bicycle parking Leidseplein
Nov 05, 2021
Bob Kea talks about traffic education in primary schools in Amsterdam
Oct 20, 2021
Message from cycling heaven: it’s not that fantastic here
Oct 12, 2021
How to become a bike city – and keep it that way
Sep 15, 2021
Enjoy cycling in Amsterdam!