Friday, July 17, 2015

Losers...weepers, bicyclers... keepers.

If there ever was a mecca for bikes, it would be Amsterdam and there are good reasons for it. 
Take a relatively small city, add a dash of flat terrain sprinkled with years of investment in cycling infrastructure and you get bicycles for every age, shape, size and profession, plus a national culture that supports their daily use. This clogged stream of cyclists is just one of many in a city as renowned for bikes as Los Angeles is for automobiles or Venice for gondolas.

Cyclists young and old pedal through narrow lanes and along canals. Mothers and fathers balance toddlers in spacious wooden boxes affixed to their bikes, ferrying them to school or day care. Carpenters carry tools and supplies in similar contraptions and electricians their cables. Few wear helmets. Groceries are bought, milk is carried, fresh farm produce along with a good bottle of wine and some cheese packed for a picnic, all on 2 wheels.

I was curious on my travels to Amsterdam, to learn more about this bike-friendly city. I spotted special roads set apart for cyclists, protected from the dangerous automobile by concrete barriers where might I add, even the average pedestrian is at risk for being run-over! But more than that, I found a city where biking is part of everyday life. A city where executives, working stiffs and hand-holding lovers all pedal side by side. The old and the young are equally bike friendly and equally bike fanatic racing along Damrak from Centraal Station to Dam square. Click here for some fun facts about bicycles in Amsterdam.

Though at times, this appeared over obsessive to me, bikes are just a part and parcel of who the Dutch are.They don't over think it. Conversing with a local, when I mentioned that in a city of 800,000 there were 880,000 bicycles, Tuen shrugged his shoulders nonchalantly to say "Most people own more than one bike....they never take their 'good' road bike into town. That is reserved for long weekend breaks out in the country side!" That explains why we mostly saw tattered old 70s and 80s style of bikes chained to lamp posts, pillars and bridges all over central Amsterdam. You'd be lucky to find an available free post or pillar for parking in the heart of the city.

The last thing you want to try is to drive through the center of Amsterdam in a car: you'll quickly realize the city is owned by cyclists. They hurry in swarms through the streets, unbothered by traffic rules, taking precedence whenever they want, rendering motorists powerless by their sheer numbers.
In the past two decades, travel by bike has grown by 40 percent so that now about 32 percent of all trips within the city are by bike, compared with 22 percent by car.
But many Amsterdamers say it is not so much the traffic jams like those at the morning ferry that annoy them most, but the problem of where to park their bikes once they get to where they’re going, in a city with almost more water than paved surfaces.

“Just look at this place!” said Xem Smit, 22, who for the past year has struggled to maintain order at a municipal bike parking lot in the heart of town, waving a hand at bikes chained to lampposts, benches, trees and almost any other permanent object across a tree-lined square between the stock market and the big De Bijenkorf department store. I can't imagine the frustration of not being able to find your bike at the end of a long tiring work day or for that matter finding a parking spot to begin your mornings with, however, so far the most bicycle friendly city has maintained its appeal and kept its secret to its health. 

The flip side to it  of-course is rampant bike theft. Amsterdam Police and the Cyclists’ Union estimate that each year between 50.000 and 80.000 bikes are stolen! Most of them from right outside your house!Yikes! Click here for a humorous take on how to ensure your bike doesn't get stolen. My favorite from this link is to Park your bike near a street light!

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