FAQ Cycling In Amsterdam

Background Reading


G A BakfietsSpaarndammerbuurt Merijn Roubroeks

G A BakfietsSpaarndammerbuurt Merijn Roubroeks


One of the things that differentiates cycling in the Urban areas of Cook County from Amsterdam is the attention paid to speed differential. Bike lanes there are limited to streets where the speed is approximately 18.6411 mph.

Where are you allowed to cycle in Amsterdam?

Cyclists are allowed to cycle on all roads in Amsterdam with a 30 km/ph speed limit and, of course, on the extensive dedicated cycle path network that covers the city. Around 90% of all roads in Amsterdam have a 30 km/ph speed limit. Dedicated cycle paths run alongside the majority of roads with a 50 km/ph speed limit and if there is no separate cycle path, cycle lanes are marked out on the road. Under no circumstances are cyclists allowed on the motorways, but this is of little consequence as there is only one motorway around the city centre. As such, cyclists are allowed to cycle practically everywhere in Amsterdam.

This is a far cry from the sort of thing we have in Chicago. Aside from the $100M Bloomingdale ‘606’ Trail which is a whopping 2.7 miles in length (I get dizzy just imagining having to ride the entire length) the only suitable cycle path is the Chicago Lakefront Trail.

If we were to increase our efforts in a single area to make cycling safer it would be to limit the streets where we currently have lanes installed. We need to pay more attention to the speed differential between the various forms of traffic allowed to share the street.

So the bulk of our emphasis on providing infrastructure is to ‘shoe horn‘ it onto streets where for the most part the speed is greater than 20 mph. This seems pretty much the kind of thing an American city would do.

We have spent to date the bulk of our money on pretty green paint and PVC bollards. And at this point we are not getting around to what I would term ‘me too‘ attempts at protected lanes. In fact one of the more laughable examples is the ‘protected bike lane‘ that is currently running through Douglass Park. It is as if the people who are deciding the location, type and length of these ‘me too‘ efforts have no understanding of the idea of ‘useful spending‘. Of course how could they when we are actually celebrating the demise of 50+ schools while at the same time erecting a less than 3 mile long trail that costs $100M.

We are trying to introduce bicycle infrastructure in the same manner as we attempt to diet.

How does the City of Amsterdam encourage cycling in the city?

The City of Amsterdam has actively invested in ‘the bike’ since the early 1980s in order to encourage cycling. Investment in bicycle infrastructure is (and will remain) vital to make cycling a safe, appealing option, and to ensure it stays as such. Investment is focused on measures including separate cycle paths, red asphalt, cycle traffic lights and new cycle routes, but also on traffic education in primary and secondary schools.

Cycling policy alone is not enough to encourage cycling. Other measures also play a role, such as the introduction of paid car parking (in effect since the 1990s) and reducing the amount of car parking places.

First it should be noted that in terms of years Amsterdam has been at this for more than a quarter of a century. They have a history of ‘mistakes and wins‘ that has made it possible for them to create a workable system. It seems that here in the US our politicians are focused on miles of bike lanes as soon as possible and that means no real testing. If we were on a diet in the same manner as we are creating bike infrastructure, we would be guilty of some sort of semi-starvation dieting (no doubt augmented with pills).

How does Amsterdam gain financially from bikes?

Bikes contribute €40 million to Amsterdam’s coffers every year. If bicycle traffic hadn’t increased as it has, Amsterdam would have needed to invest an additional €20 million annually in road infrastructure for cars, alongside an additional €20 million annually in public transport.
It’s interesting to note that a single car parking place can accommodate 15 bikes.

In order for bicycles to contribute to the coffers of any city, the people who ride them must be spending. Here in Chicago the use of the bicycle has not created much of a shopping zone. We certainly do not have parking lots for bicycles that are nestled into the shopping areas.

In fact the lack of bicycle parking is pretty stark. The Chicago Cubs probably do a better job of encouraging bicycle parking than does the downtown district on Michigan Avenue.

Why does the City of Amsterdam remove bicycles?

The city authorities remove bikes in order to help keep the city accessible and ensure that the current bicycle parking facilities are used as effectively as possible. Bikes causing nuisance or danger will be removed.

The number of bicycle parking places in the city hasn’t kept pace with the dramatic increase in bicycle traffic. This has resulted in an enormous shortage of bicycle parking places, especially at train stations, metro stations, shopping and nightlife areas. The existing bike parking capacity at these busy locations is designed for use by cyclists who regularly use their bikes. It’s for this reason that it is not permitted to leave bikes unused at these locations for longer than two weeks, for example at Leidseplein and Amsterdam Central Station. The City of Amsterdam removes bikes that have been left for longer than two weeks and delivers them to the Bicycle Depository.

One of the things that we have not really dealt with here is the abandonment of bicycles. In Amsterdam the problem is pretty huge. And while it is true that a single car parking space can accommodate 15 bikes, it is also true that the relative costs of these two forms of transportation make it far less likely that anyone would ‘leave‘ their car. But with bicycles being as common (and of course cheap as they are) even the Dutch treat them as ‘toys