OCT 31, 2017
People unfamiliar with the idea of the bicycle as real transportation sometimes see Amsterdam—the famously bike-friendly Dutch capital—as a fantasyland that has very little to do with the grown-up transportation world of cars and trucks. In reality, a readjustment of perspective is needed, since Amsterdam has succeeded in creating a transportation system that is one of the most successful in the world. Transportation in Amsterdam is the epitome of sustainability. It is convenient, cheap, clean, quiet, efficient, and safe.
Furthermore, creating and maintaining a bike-centric urban transportation network is anything but child’s play, given the complex planning, design, regulatory, and political landscape that must be negotiated to keep the parts moving. Until I spent several weeks in Amsterdam this summer, I failed to appreciate some essential nuances about what makes the city tick for bikes—and how challenging it can be to reverse engineer such a bicycle ecosystem into an American city.
Making a city where most trips are done on bikes requires utterly discarding conventional car-centric ways of thinking about transportation. Over the last 60 years, Amsterdam’s leaders, planners and designers have by trial and error created a template for a city where bikes are the dominant force in transportation planning and design. That template has five essential characteristics; skip or short-change any one of them and your city of bikes won’t work as well.
1. All streets are bike streets
2. Separated cycle tracks, not bike lanes
3. When possible, go completely car free
4. Two speeds, both slow
5. Stress-free intersections