Bike jams and unwritten rules: a day with Amsterdam’s new ‘bicycle mayor’
Rush-hour bike jams, speeding scooters, ignorant tourists … Amsterdam may be the world’s busiest cycling capital but it is no two-wheeled paradise. ‘Bicycle mayor’ Anna Luten is working to smooth conflict and export the lessons learned
Nick Van Mead in Amsterdam
Thursday 11 August 2016 11.41 BST
Amsterdam’s new cycling mayor, Anna Luten, barely slows as she nears a junction by one of the city’s central canals. Cyclists are approaching fast from six directions – bells tinging, hair flowing stylishly in the light breeze (no one here wears a helmet). As I catch up the crisscross of bikes almost looks synchronised, as if local riders navigating the narrow, winding streets of the historic centre have an innate understanding of their complex flows and patterns.
Cycling is something the capital has become world famous for over the past 40 years and a whole generation of Amsterdammers have grown up so used to cycling that they have learned the skills necessary to effortlessly go with the flow – to be hyper-aware of their surroundings yet appear natural, says Anna. Like most Dutch children she cycled to school every day, helmet-free, and hasn’t looked back since her stabilisers came off.
But while Amsterdam is synonymous with bikes and the ubiquitous Omafiets step-through roadster, it is less of a cycling nirvana than smaller Dutch cities like Utrecht and Groningen. We are touring the city in the middle of the day when the traffic is light. Come back in rush hour – or at a location popular with tourists unfamiliar with the city’s unwritten cycling rules – and it doesn’t work so well, she says.
There are so many bikes – an estimated 1 million for a population of 1.1 million – that rush-hour bike jams frequently force cyclists to stop at every junction on major routes into the centre. “For Amsterdammers it’s frustrating,” says Anna. “Some parts of the city are just too busy – there are too many bikes, too many scooters, too many cars, too many pedestrians. There’s no space. It is a big source of conflict.”