Many U.S. cities are trying to get more residents out of cars and on to bikes. But how far could this go? Kathleen Schalch takes us to a place where people are more likely to hop on a bike than to get behind the wheel….
Kathleen Schalch: Meet Rob von de Kind, age 66. He lives in Amsterdam.
Rob von de Kind: This is my bike.
Kathleen Schalch: He keeps his bike in the vestibule by the front door.
Rob von de Kind: Wherever 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 Schalch: He wheels it down the steps and out in the street. Flocks of bikers 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 Schalch: And even when you include Amsterdam’s outlying areas, residents now 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 Schalch: Amsterdam cycling promoter Pascal Van de Noort heads a group called Velo Mondial He’s sitting at an outdoor cafe. He says, by the 70s, 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 Schalch: 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 Schalch: 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 Schalch: 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, parked bicycles, and some bush.
Kathleen Schalch: The Dutch say this is key.
Hans Voerknecht: In the Netherlands the bike routes are so separate that it’s not possible to have an accident with a car.
Kathleen Schalch: Hans Voerknecht is International Bicycle Coordinator for the Netherlands. He says the the problem with many bike lanes in the US is they sit between parked cars and traffic.
Hans Voerknecht: It’s dangerous because a lot of people get doored in the U.S. They pass cars and car drivers just open the door and then you usually get launched onto the street.
Kathleen Schalch: Voerknecht 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 Voerknecht: Car drivers are bicyclists themselves also, because 60 % 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 Schalch: 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 are three of the kids having breakfast in the morning, and they are phoning with their girl friends and doing their makeup, and that doesn’t go fast. And if you’re stuck behind those and it’s two or three of those, then you’re really in trouble.
Kathleen Schalch: Parking’s can be a hassle too. Bikes are everywhere, fastened to everything. But Amsterdam is working on this. It’s built a beautiful new underground parking facility near the river, and a huge three story parking garage near the train station — just for bikes.
For the World, I’m Kathleen Schalch, Amsterdam.