Amsterdam: Bicycle Capital

Bicycle Parking Flat in Amsterdam (Photo by Don Knebel)

Bicycle Parking Flat in Amsterdam (Photo by Don Knebel)

Amsterdam is well known for its canals, its museums and its casual tolerance of certain activities other cities find unacceptable. It is also known as the bicycle capital of the world.

Amsterdam’s 780,000 residents, who enjoy one of the world’s highest standards of living, own about a million bicycles but only 250,000 automobiles. To encourage bike riding, the city has provided 250 miles of dedicated bicycle paths and 250,000 racks. High costs of automobile parking, level terrain and a Dutch desire to be fit seal the deal. Every day, sixty percent of Amsterdammers, no matter what the weather or their social status, ride their bicycles to work, to their children’s schools, to the market or just for fun. More people get around Amsterdam by bicycle than by car. In the city center, bicycles constitute 48 percent of all traffic. For a nominal fee, a three-story bicycle garage (“flat”) on the west side of Amsterdam’s central train station provides guarded spaces for 2500 bikes.

Riders unable to find more secure locations lock their bikes to whatever objects they can find, with less than optimal results. Amsterdam thieves steal about 50,000 bicycles every year. Because another one, probably itself stolen, can be purchased for about $40, few victims report stolen bicycles and less than half the people whose bikes have been recovered bother to reclaim them. Locals jokingly liken the process of losing and obtaining stolen bicycles to an exchange. The widespread use and theft of bicycles leads to an unusual kind of water pollution. About 40 bicycles a day are tossed into Amsterdam’s 60 miles of canals. While amused tourists watch, two full-time city employees fish them out using a large claw mounted on a barge.

The next time you are in Amsterdam, consider renting a bike. You will feel right at home.

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