Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Amsterdam, City of Bicycles

Amsterdam is a city of picturesque canals, of coffeeshops that legally serve cannabis products, of flower markets and Van Gogh sunflowers, of Rembrandt masterpieces and Gouda cheese, of red light sex tourism and Anne Frank heroism. Amsterdam is all this and more, but the first impression one gets when one takes to the streets of the Dutch capital is that Amsterdam is a city of bicycles.

While Tel Aviv is doing its best to be bike-friendly, it has a lot to learn from Amsterdam, where just about everyone cycles. Talk about special bike lanes - it’s almost as an afterthought that there are lanes for cars in Amsterdam. The bicycle traffic is thick and furious.

For pedestrians, crossing the street in Amsterdam is a challenge. One must look carefully from left to right, making sure that there are no bicycles speeding towards you. On some sidewalks there is almost nowhere to walk. Bikes are parked everywhere, locked in parallel lines along the canals, on the bridges, next to buildings.

Rush hours are particularly busy. You can see men dressed in smart suits and women in fashionable dresses pedalling to and from work. Students head to class, older citizens race along, and parents pedal their young children in special box-like contraptions ahead of their handlebars. Everyone bikes quickly; the city doesn’t seem to be the spot for leisurely cycling at a slower pace.

Despite the speed of the two-wheeled traffic, the extensive deployment of bicycles in Amsterdam gives the city a calm, clean, fresh feeling, even when it’s raining. Bicycle use seems to ensure that everyone is equal, as on the whole, all the bikes are simple, with no fancy gadgets or gears.

Tel Aviv has taken major strides in the right direction, creating special designated bike lanes and offering a city-wide bicycle rental service. Even so, Tel Aviv has a lot of cycling ahead to catch up with the fine two-wheeled example set by Amsterdam.

1 comment:

  1. I visited Amsterdam last summer with my folding bike, and it was such a wonderful place to visit. At first I wasn't sure about bringing along my own bike or renting one, but I think I made the right choice. I was worried it would be a pain to travel with, but the trains were so easy to navigate. I hope I can do more bike travel this year...but probably not back to Amsterdam, sadly.