Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Cycling in Amsterdam

Amsterdam is paradise for cyclists … well, a near-paradise. If the Alps were within an hour or two by bike, then it would be utopia. It’s close though. I’ve never seen a culture so bike-centric --- bikes rule the road here. It’s just fantastic. There are few roads without a dedicated bike lane or an adjacent path, and when you actually have to ride on the road – you own the road.

Bikes have more road rights than cars here. I read that there are 11,000 miles of bike lanes in the Netherlands. I can believe it, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there are less than 11,000 miles of auto roads in the country. Here, you don’t take “the bike path” somewhere, because there are thousands of “the bikepaths”. Pick any road, set off, and chances are you’ll either have dedicated lane or a separate path. Every intersection you come to … even out in the country … will have signs pointing to the next village or town, with the distance marked for cyclists.

Especially in Amsterdam, people rely more on bikes than cars. Regardless of the season, weather, or time of day, you see a constant stream of bikes passing by. Old, young, slow, fast, no passengers, 3 passengers, thin, American tourist nearly hit by a tram, etc. You see bikes carrying the oddest, most unimaginable loads, like garbage cans, potted plants, large moving boxes, Christmas trees, and families of four (and I'm not exaggerating at all -- if anything, I'll leaving too much out!). Walk the streets (and past enormous bike parking garages) and you hear a cacophony of bike bells and creaky bike parts. It’s glorious music to my ears.

For several reasons, we decided not own cars in the Netherlands, so we do everything by bike or public transportation. First of all, it just seems like a great challenge to live several years without a car … saves money, less impact on the environment, less hassle, less stress, etc. Second, we live on a canal in the central part of the city, where the waiting list for parking is 3-5 years. And finally, biking is just plain fun. We were the freaks in Denver and Atlanta who biked to work in a culture that appreciates pimped-out Escalades and Hummers more than self-powered … anything … so it’s just wonderful to experience a culture that is so intensely into cycling for everyday life that they just don’t think anything of it. In fact, I think that they think we’re freaks for making such a big deal of it!

As life-by-bike rolls on, please stay tuned for the upcoming parts of this series. Stories in the pipeline include: “My new SUV”, “Cobbles and rails”, “Wide Load: Carting the Espresso Machine”, "Dutch Mountains", and “The commute”.


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