If you missed Part 1 in Barcelona, you can read it here. On to Amsterdam, on our first evening as we walk around the corner from our apartment in the De Pijp neighbourhood to get some dinner, my first experience of urban life is somewhat surreal. Its almost a cross between the perfect scripted lives in the Truman Show, or one of those alien invasion movies where the aliens impersonate humans but they do so a little to perfectly. Now what I mean by this is that life that first night seems too perfect as barely a car passes by, and everybody that is moving, is doing so on foot or by bicycle and it all looks too normal (compared to my experience in any other city). There are no fights with cars, no lycra, no helmets, no congestion, no traffic at all really, its just the way of life. Even the food at one of the local pubs is likely the best we've had in the last two weeks. Read on for my thoughts on Amsterdam.
The idyllic scenario above is shattered the next morning as I foolishly believed I had priority at the zebra style marked crosswalk. Woooosh! A cyclist speeds past me as I step out, luckily cutting my stride short and narrowly avoiding a collision. Locals know this, but a heads up for tourists, pedestrians in Amsterdam are second class citizens. Cyclists come first! I recall one saying "if you hear a bell, run like hell" there were a couple more I don't recall relating to the conflicts with cyclists. Even where there is a signalized crossing a you have the green man walk symbol, there will be a few cyclists that disregard it and weave through the pedestrians as they cross.
Pedestrian provision varies considerably, sidewalks can be quite narrow when taken over by bicycles, but in this example below, a residential street in the De Pijp neighbourhood, there are not a significant number of pedestrians and it is not really an issue.
Many of the streets around the canals, provide little dedicated space for pedestrians, but traffic is light and I found myself sharing the one-way roadways and jumping onto the narrow sidewalk if a car or cyclist did come by. On the whole walking around is a pleasant experience with lots of interesting things to look at, if cyclists would obey the rules it would be better yet!
Shopping Streets vary from the cool little local boutiques in the 9 Streets area to the main mostly pedestrianized (there are trams too in some places) shopping streets walking towards the city centre.
So onto cycling, the main reason for wanting to visit Amsterdam, often seen as the leader in cycling infrastructure around the world. As you may infer from the above paragraphs, it almost seems as if Amsterdam was too successful (if that's possible) and forgot that cyclists should obey the rules of the road also. Perhaps I've been in North America too long and worry about such rules more than is necessary. Perhaps its the famous ability of the dutch to turn a blind eye to something if its not really causing a problem and it provides positive overall benefits.
The real truth is that there isn't anything particularly unique about the cycling provision in Amsterdam, its just that there is a lot of it, and its mostly segregated. Essentially they have achieved what most other cities around the world are striving for and its working. It not all perfect, the occasional street, even main arterials do not always have accommodation for cyclists as shown below.
Often the bike lanes will be blocked by service vehicles. Unfortunately there is little alternative than to service businesses from the curb.
Not all businesses are bike friendly, I seen a bunch of these signs or similar outside various establishments.
Now onto the actual cycling provision. I didn't see a single sharrow in my time there. The first step up from nothing is the regular bike lane, no different than you would see in any other city. They are coloured differently and stand out a little better than a simple painted line however.
After the bike lane, we then get into different levels of segregation. I wasn't to keen on the next example, although it clearly marks out separate space for cyclists and segregates it from vehicles by way of a very low curb, the fact that the bike lane is lower than the vehicle lane makes it seem somewhat easier for a vehicle to enter v's a raised curb.
A step up from that is the bike lane separated by a raised curb.
The next step up from that is the larger raised curb separating this two way bike path from other traffic.
Following that we have another bike path, this time separated from vehicles by a row of parked cars and street trees, essentially shared with pedestrians but identifiable by the different surface treatment.
While technically less segregated than those above the shared roads/paths through parks and along the canals felt very safe also, even with the odd vehicles passing by.
Roundabouts are an interesting topic, and often present challenges for cyclists. In Amsterdam they have their own segregated lane around the outside of the traffic lane. Cars leaving the roundabout are required to check they do not cut off any cyclists.
Bike signals are common place at major intersections although not always adhered to.
The compact scale of the city undoubtedly helps as trips are relatively short, but this is no different from most small towns and cities in North America. the topography of the land is undoubtedly a big factor. The country is very flat, flatter perhaps than Saskatchewan and this makes cycling on comfortable city bikes easy and enjoyable.
The city bikes really make a difference to your attitude cycling I find. Where in North America you would be head down trying to keep up with traffic, the experience seems much more relaxed when you sit upright and ride at your own pace.
Cycle parking is a huge challenge in Amsterdam because of the sheers number of bicycles. The streets are literally lined with bicycles. This is because most residents don't have apartments with underground bike storage like we do in North America. It is also difficult to store them within an apartment as the stairs are so narrow and steep, while the bikes are very heavy in comparison to a regular road or mountain bike. Some streets almost look like a scrap yards with so many bikes parked. By the train station, there is a multi-level bike parking facility, like a multi-level car park but on a smaller scale. The on-street racks often offset the heights of the front wheels so that handlebars don't interfere and bikes can be stacked closer. As I understand it bike theft is still a big problem in Amsterdam.
You can check out my previous post on the Cyclists of Amsterdam here. The purpose of that post was to highlight how normal it is. We see people cycling in suits, taking their kids somewhere, talking on cell phones, maybe this one isn't recommended but the attitude to cycling seems to be that it is no different from walking. Think what it would take to make cycling as normal as walking in your community. I.e., something that everyone can and does do. I acknowledge in some places, it is a challenge to even see walking as a normal mode of transportation.
We only used the tram once in Amsterdam as it was more interesting to walk and the distances were not so great. It was relatively expensive for a single ticket, 2.90 Euro's for what was a very short journey of about 10 minutes. Interestingly, I understand that if you have a day ticket, you are required to tap-on and tap-off, somewhat like TransLink were trying to achieve for the bus services in Metro Vancouver. I didn't see how this performed at peak locations but it would have been interesting. On some streets the trams share the roadway with pedestrians, often having to toot their horn to tell pedestrians to get out of the way. I wonder if there are many collisions with pedestrians.
Another comparison with TransLink is the seabus style service which runs between Amsterdam and North Amsterdam. They use smaller vehicles than the North Vancouver seabus, but they are free! There are several boats and they run back and forward all day every few minutes. The crossing takes only about five. While the crossing from North Vancouver takes longer I wonder what impact free travel would have on ridership and the potential to reduce bridge traffic.
With regard to private vehicles, I'll start with scooters again, but unlike the benefits I felt they offered in Barcelona, the feeling was not the same in Amsterdam. Scooters are permitted to use the bike paths which is a ridiculous idea in my mind. Why you would put a motorized form of transport in the same lane and sometimes on the same surface as pedestrians and cyclists I have no idea. I came close to being knocked off by some form of cargo scooter at one point which took up jut about the whole width of the bike path. It seems they are also not required to wear helmets.
I don't have much to say about cars in Amsterdam, I rarely saw them other than parked at the side of the street or canal. Parking spaces were often not wide enough for the larger SUV's as you can see below.
I did see several spaces with electrical outlets and a number of Tesla's or other electric vehicles "refueling". On that note, there was also a line up of three Tesla Taxi's waiting at the airport as we arrived, unfortunately I had pre-booked other transportation to our apartment!
The opposite of the large german SUV's was these little things below. I saw a bunch of them during my time there. I guess its one of the first smart cars, they are always parked on the sidewalk and chained to something. I guess they are easier to steal than your average car.
In summary, Amsterdam is not perfect, but its pretty damn close and far ahead of most other cities! It is a prime example that shows that making it easy to cycle makes people cycle. Not everywhere has the benefit of the flat topography but we can certainly do better than we are now in North America. If they could get scooters out of the bike lanes and start enforcing the rules of the road for cyclists it would be better, but maybe that's just too North American! I'll leave you with this...