Bikes a world away
I had the opportunity to take a trip across the Atlantic last week. While visiting France and Holland, I saw firsthand what I had only heard others describe to me: a world full of bikes. Bikes used as transportation, bikes ridden for leisure, bikes toting small children and bikes used to carry cargo of all types. I tend to notice bikes everywhere I go, but what I saw on this trip was mind-boggling. I came home inspired, thinking that with commitment and effort, cities in the U.S. could look like this, too.
Our hosts in Amsterdam immediately took us to the bike parking garage near the town center train station (above). It is a huge structure, ramp after ramp full of bikes. Bikes overflowed onto uncovered racks next to the garage and hundreds more were parked in an indoor bicycle parking garage across the street. I have never seen anything like it.
We were told that on any given day, there are roughly 600,000 bikes out and about (in a city whose population is not quite 800,000). By design, parking a car in this area is very difficult and very expensive, which results in more people riding bikes. The hustle and bustle of bikes continues all day long. Here, there were always many more bicycles on the road than cars.
Excellent bike infrastructure doesn’t hurt. Every intersection I saw had bike-specific stoplights, and many streets have separated (and protected) bike lanes. The bike lanes move much more quickly than the conventional traffic lanes, and many of them stretch out to suburban neighborhoods. They are often the quickest and most direct way to get around.
Once I was accustomed to seeing bikes everywhere, I started to appreciate even more how beautifully they fit into their surroundings in these old, gorgeous cities. Bikes filled racks outside of cafes, museums, along the river, by a tree—even in the dead of winter. They are simple, quiet and efficient, but also full of personality and decoration. (Without a little flair, you would never be able to find your bike!) They add so much to the artsy appeal of a foreign city.
I also was inspired by how creatively the cargo bikes were used. It is not uncommon to see multiple children (as well as flowers, wine and provisions for that evening’s dinner) cruising around in a bucket bike. In Amsterdam, cargo bikes are used for mail and package delivery, too.
These photos are only a few of the many I took, but they serve as a nice reminder of how we could be living, deeply immersed in the bicycle lifestyle. We are thrilled to see a full bike rack outside of a restaurant or business here in Colorado, or a group of cyclists all heading to work or school.
Halfway across the world, it is just a way of life. We still have a lot of work to do locally, so all the more reason to keep advocating for more bikes, safer roads, protected bike lanes and active transportation. Look at the payoff!