Sunday, July 7, 2013

Bicycles in Amsterdam -- Know The ABC's

Bicycle in Amsterdam

From Amsterdam to Zaandam, bicycles are a ubiquitous sight in the Netherlands:

A:  Amsterdam, Netherlands: A city of 800,000 people and 880,000 bicycles (four times the number of cars).

B:  Bicycle: A two-wheeled human-powered means of conveyance.

C:   Cyclists' Union, Fietsersband in Dutch, a powerful lobbying group with 4,000 local (Amsterdam) members.

D:   Dam Square, central square in Amsterdam, where dozens of people park their bicycles each day.

E:   Who has a bicycle in Amsterdam? EVERYONE!

F:   Fiets, Dutch for "bicycle."

A recent article in the New York Times described the current biking situation in Amsterdam, Netherlands. It seems that the burgeoning population of two-wheeled vehicles has become too much of a good thing. As noted above, the city's arteries are clogged with 880,000 bicycles for a population of 800,000, creating traffic jams and overcrowded bike parking lots. As one city transportation official has said, "You cannot imagine if all this traffic were cars."

Bike Parking Lot in Amsterdam
During my most recent trip to the Netherlands two years ago, I had an opportunity to witness the Amsterdam mix of bicycles and buses, cars and trams. Indeed, as a pedestrian you have to look both ways three times before crossing a street  --  once for the bicycles, once for cars and buses, and once for the trams.

While there, I wondered about how the Dutch love affair with two-wheeled vehicles came about. I wanted to know when and how the network of fietspads (bike lanes) were built. I began doing some research, and found an interesting and informative video about the movement to reconfigure Dutch streets and roads during the 1970's.

The resulting system of cycling paths is quite different from the lip service given to bicycle lanes in my hometown, where a silhouette of a cyclist painted on the asphalt is a ludicrous way of letting drivers know they must share the roadway with two-wheeled vehicles. No wonder there are helmet laws in the United States but not in the Netherlands!

One of my own Dutch ancestors had something to do with the early development of the two-wheeled vehicles that tool around the level countryside and clogged urban arteries of the homeland of my Daams and VandenBergh grandparents.

Hendrik Daams of Loosdrecht, a 19th century blacksmith,  used his blacksmithing skills to manufacture stoves and heaters for his fellow villagers. He also made the first push-bicycles seen in Loosdrecht, quite possibly the first seen in the Netherlands. Hendrik's early contraptions did not have inflatable tires like the hundreds of thousands of bikes now seen in Amsterdam and the rest of the country. Instead, they had metal wheels covered with rubber. They did not have pedals either; riders simply pushed this early velocipede along with their feet.

So hats off to Hendrik, who played a part in the history of biking in the Netherlands. There are now about 13 million of these two-wheeled vehicles in his homeland, in cities from Amsterdam to Zaandam.

Bike Parking Lot in Zaandam

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Sources:

Daams, J. Czn, "De geschiedenis van een smidsfamilie,” in Historische Kring Loosdrecht, Number 96, February 1994.

"How The Dutch Got Their Cycling Infrastructure,"  http://bicycledutch.wordpress.com/2011/10/20/how-the-dutch-got-their-cycling-infrastructure/ ; accessed 07/07/2013.

Tagliabue, John: "The Dutch Prize Their Pedal Power," New York Times, June 21, 2013.

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