Living in a Bicyclists Paradise
We don’t hide our ardor for bicycles. They are the most efficient form of transportation known to humans. They don’t take up a lot of room. They are relatively affordable and make us fit and happy. But we admit, they simply aren’t practical in a lot of places. Amsterdam is not one of those places. As this short movie called “Bicycle Anecdotes from Amsterdam” attests, bike culture is simply culture to Amsterdamers.
One thing we learned watching the movie is the city’s history with the car. In the 50s and 60s, regulation and urban planning were supportive of cars. But a subsequent increase in congestion and automotive fatalities–coupled with the 1973 oil embargo–led to the car’s decline and the bicycle’s ascent.
There are many reasons bicycle culture flourishes in Amsterdam. The pancake flat city has vast networks of bike lanes, bike parking and bike-friendly laws. The scenes from the movie make cars look anomalous. Dutch bikes are very utilitarian, lacking the fanfare they do in the States; they are heavy, somewhat anonymous and have an upright position that prohibits high speed. Amsterdamer children begin riding young and by adulthood are very competent riders.
There’s the suggestion in the movie that the Dutch’s adoption and subsequent rejection of the car might influence Americans, who are still pretty tethered to their cars. We think this parallel holds up to a certain extent. Amsterdam is a historic city, whose core was conceived long before cars or even bicycles. For older American cities like New York, Boston and San Francisco, which were planned prior to the advent of the car, a widespread adoption of the bicycle as primary transport seems feasible. But for other cities like Houston and Los Angeles, who came about in the age of the automobile, this adoption might prove more challenging. Like most things, necessity will be the key factor–when gas becomes prohibitively expensive, many people will discover a love of the bicycle as deep as the Dutch.