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Is Amsterdam Too Biker-Friendly?

Is Amsterdam Too Biker-Friendly?
Amsterdam, Max Khokhlov via Flickr

Recently ranked the world’s top city for cycling, Amsterdam seems to have reached a tipping point in its enthusiasm for two-wheeled vehicles: the city quite possibly has too many bikes–880,000 for a population of 800,000.

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What does that mean exactly? A recent New York Times report painted a picture of bicycle traffic jams, overcrowded municipal parking lots, frustrated commuters searching in vain for space on bike racks, and public spaces where non-mobile surfaces positively slathered with bikes locked.

Consider what goes on at the city’s main train station, ground zero for bike-parking mayhem. “A decade ago, a three-story parking garage designed for 2,500 bikes was erected,” reports the Times. “It now often accommodates almost 3,500” and has become a tourist attraction for foreigners bewildered by the site of so many bikes. A new $27 million underground garage in front of the station will add thousands more spots by the time it’s built in 2020, and the city plans to spend $135 million on biking infrastructure over the next 20 years, which will help add 38,000 more bike racks.

Oddly the city finds itself a victim of its own success with biking programs. While many cities adopt the “if you build it, they will come” attitude to adding bike infrastructure before its demand is certain, Amsterdam finds itself needing to accommodate bikers after the fact–similar to how many American cities end up responding to cars. And while the situation must be stressful for planners, Thoms Koorn of Amsterdam’s Transport and Traffic Department is quick to point out, “You cannot imagine if all this traffic were cars.”

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