Cycling Europe

A story of activisim and perseverance – How Amsterdam became the bicycle capital of the world

The Guardian has a great piece on how Amsterdam became the world’s cycling capital. It wasn’t always bike lanes and bakfiets, but a struggle against the intrusion of the motorcar into space for people.

The activists of Stop de Kindermoord and the Cyclists’ Union were resourceful and undaunted, but there were other forces helping to create a fertile soil for their ideas. The Netherlands – possessing few hills and a mild climate – had a great tradition of cycling to begin with and the bike was never completely marginalised as it was in some other countries. The intolerable number of traffic deaths really was a serious concern for politicians, and there was a nascent awareness of the pollution caused by vehicle emissions.

The 1973 oil crisis – when Saudi Arabia and other Arab oil exporters imposed an embargo on the US, Britain, Canada, Japan and theNetherlands for supporting Israel in the Yom Kippur war – quadrupled the price of oil. During a television speech, prime minister Den Uyl urged Dutch citizens to adopt a new lifestyle and get serious about saving energy. The government proclaimed a series of car-free Sundays: intensely quiet weekend days when children played on deserted motorways and people were suddenly reminded of what life was like before the hegemony of the car.

It all grew from there, and now Amsterdam is home to an estimated 881,000 bicycles. The work never ends though:

“The battle goes on,” says Godefrooij. “The propensity of urban planners to give priority to cars is still persistent. It’s easy to understand: an extra tunnel for cyclists means you have to spend extra money on the project. We’ve come a long way, but we can never lower our guard.”