My Trip to Amsterdam, Where Bikes Rule the Land

img_4569This summer I was fortunate to have the chance to spend a few days in Amsterdam – the OTHER Amsterdam to us Upstate New Yorkers. I promised myself that I’d take the chance to learn all that the bike capital of the world has to teach about creating a bike-friendly city. What I learned surprised me. In Amsterdam, what makes biking so great isn’t all the cool infrastructure, it’s the unspoken understanding that bikes rule.

Let’s set the stage: Cheryl and I got off the train at Amsterdam’s Central Station and almost immediately got hit by bikes. They were everywhere. Mixing and weaving around cars. And trams. And pedestrians. For the first half-hour of walking, we were in constant fear that we were going to either cause an accident or be the victims of one. I’m a confident cyclist, but I started to wonder if I would survive on two wheels in this mayhem.

img_4445After unpacking at the hotel, we immediately headed off to rent our granny bikes, or Omafiets – the traditional upright, step-through bikes that are ubiquitous in the City. My first challenge was immediate; steering a heavy cruiser isn’t like my normal hybrid trail/road bike. But despite some awkward swerving as I got used to the new ride, we were off.

Back home in Kingston, I’m usually a super-aware, rules-abiding cyclist. In Amsterdam, I was out of place. Stop sign? What stop sign? Forget staying to the right – the cars will just have to wait! I began to realize that all the dedicated bike lanes and bike paths aren’t so much to keep the cyclists safe; they’re the only way to contain them! Otherwise, they’d just take over the whole road!

Slowly over the course of the next two days, as I grew more and more comfortable in the fact that bikes – not cars – are the king of the road, I started to go with the flow. Remember the feeling that first time you rode your bike on your own? That feeling of unfettered mobility? That’s how it felt again. Sort of like putting on an old shoe – so comfortable and natural.img_4511

Now that I’m back in Kingston, I have a new appreciation for the work we have ahead of us. I’m still a zealous advocate for better bike infrastructure. But that’s not enough. Over time we need to work to create a culture that accepts people on bikes, even encourages them. We all should feel safe and comfortable using our public streets, whether on foot, in a car, in a bus, or on a bike. And when that dream comes true, you’ll find me cruising on my Omafiet, sans helmet, with a smile plastered on my face. Until then, though, I’ll be wearing a helmet; it’s a tough world for a cyclist.