Reporter Kathleen Schalch takes us to Amsterdam. The Dutch city’s residents are more likely to hop on a bike than to get behind the wheel.
Read the Transcript
This text below is a phonetic transcript of a radio story broadcast by PRI’s THE WORLD. It has been created on deadline by a contractor for PRI. The transcript is included here to facilitate internet searches for audio content. Please report any transcribing errors to email@example.com. This transcript may not be in its final form, and it may be updated. Please be aware that the authoritative record of material distributed by PRI’s THE WORLD is the program audio.
LISA MULLINS: Americans love their cars, what we don’t love so much though, is the congestion, and sprawl and air pollution they produce. Add to that cars’ greenhouse gas emissions, and you’ve got people around the country rethinking our reliance on the cars. One alternative that’s gaining a lot more attention these days is bicycles. For instance, the climate bill that recently passed the House of Representatives would provide new incentives to make communities more bike-friendly. Of course some cities are already well ahead of the game. As part of our series on energy and climate policy in Europe, Kathleen Schalch takes us to a place where people are more likely to hop on a bike than get behind the wheel.
KATHLEEN SCHLACH: Meet Rop von de Kind, age 66. He lives in Amsterdam.
ROP VON DE KIND: This is my bike.
KATHLEEN SCHLACH: He keeps his bike in the vestibule by the front door.
ROP VON DE KIND: Wherever I have to go, if I go to my friend I take the bike. If I want to buy a book, I take the bike.
KATHLEEN SCHLACH: He wheels it down the steps and out in the street. Flocks of cyclists spin by. Men in business suits, women in dresses, some toting groceries or kids. This is an alternate universe, a big city where cars are allowed, but where bikes rule. City transportation official, Ria Hillhorst says that’s especially true in the heart of the city.
RIA HILLHORST: About half of all trips is made by bike, and we are very proud of it, I can tell you.
KATHLEEN SCHLACH: And even when you include Amsterdam’s outlying areas, residents take more trips by bike than by car. It wasn’t always like this.
PASCAL VAN DE NOORT: 25 years ago, this would be just cars where we sit now.
KATHLEEN SCHLACH: Amsterdam cycling promoter Pascal Van de Noort heads a group called Velo Mondial. He’s sitting at an outdoor cafe. He says, by the 1970s, cars were getting more and more popular here. The city paved over many of the old canals, to make room for them. Still, traffic jams kept getting worse.
PASCAL VAN DE NOORT: And we choice between leaving Amsterdam as it was, make it totally car free, or doing somewhere in the middle and we chose in a referendum for the middle option.
KATHLEEN SCHLACH: Voters decided turn the city back over to bikes, by gradually squeezing out cars. Every year the number of parking spaces shrinks, and the cost of parking climbs. Parking your car can now cost seven to eight dollars an hour. Drivers crawl through a maze of one-way streets, where the speed limit is typically under 20 miles an hour. And bikes can go lots of places where cars can’t. The result?
PASCAL VAN DE NOORT: When you would like to go by car from Amsterdam south to Amsterdam north, it will take you approximately an hour. When you do that by bike, 30 minutes will do the trick.
KATHLEEN SCHLACH: Van de Noort proves it. We climb on bikes, and veer onto a wide strip of pavement, with a cemetery on one side and a creek on the other.
PASCAL VAN DE NOORT: Until recently this was a road for cars, and now it is only pedestrians and cyclists.
KATHLEEN SCHLACH: When we cross the street, cars stop for us. Even when we turn into the major thoroughfare at the end of this path, we’re protected.
PASCAL VAN DE NOORT: The cycle path is separated from the city streets by parked cars and parked bicycles, and some bush.
KATHLEEN SCHLACH: The Dutch say this is key.
HANS FUHR KNECKT: In the Netherlands, the bike routes are so separate that it’s not possible to have an accident with a car.
KATHLEEN SCHLACH: Hans Fuhr Kneckt is International Bicycle Coordinator for the Netherlands. He says the problem with many bike lanes in the US is that they sit between parked cars and traffic.
HANS FUHR KNECKT: It’s dangerous because a lot of people get doored in the US. They pass cars and car drivers just open the door and then you usually get launched onto the street.
KATHLEEN SCHLACH: Fuhr Kneckt says, a bike path between parked cars and the sidewalk can broaden cycling’s appeal. You don’t need to be young and daring and have lightning reflexes to feel safe. Here, the very fact that so many ordinary people cycle, makes cycling safer. Car drivers think like cyclists, and watch out for them.
HANS FUHR KNECKT: Car drivers are bicyclists themselves also, because 60 percent of the Dutch people bicycle at least three times a week. So when they turn right they know, probably there will be a bike on this bike path so I better look out.
KATHLEEN SCHLACH: Cycling has its drawbacks, even here. Bike theft is a problem. And bike lanes get congested, complains Pascal Van de Noort. His pet peeve? Bikes with big cargo containers, often peddled by moms.
PASCAL VAN DE NOORT: And in front is three of the kids having breakfast in the morning, and they are phoning at the same time with their girl friends and doing their makeup, and that doesn’t go fast. And if you are stuck behind those and it’s two or three of those, then you’re really in trouble.
KATHLEEN SCHLACH: Parking can be a hassle too. Bikes are everywhere, fastened to everything. But Amsterdam is working on this. Near the train station it’s built two huge moderate parking garages, one underground, and one four stories high, just for bikes. For the World, I’m Kathleen Schalch, Amsterdam.
LISA MULLINS: And you can see a picture gallery of Amsterdam’s bicycle infrastructure at the-world-dot-org.
Copyright ©2009 PRI’s THE WORLD. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to PRI’s THE WORLD. This transcript may not be reproduced, in whole or in part, without prior written permission. For further information, please email The World’s Permissions Coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org.