This summer I had the excellent opportunity to investigate the storied bicycling utopias of Amsterdam and Copenhagen. While I’ve written about the experience before, I haven’t posted many of my helmet cam videos of cycling in Amsterdam and some of the pictures I took. Let’s fix that.
First, I’ve put together this video to give you a sense of what it feels like to ride in Amsterdam. Enjoy in HD.
The goal with the video is to lull you into a feeling of comfort and glee, as that is the general feeling one gets when actually (rather than high definition virtually) cycling in Amsterdam. The network of dedicated cycle-tracks (the ones separated from traffic) and bike-friendly streets hinted at in the video is complete and fully connected; you can get everywhere with this level of comfort. Pretty nice.
Most of what can be said about bicycling in Amsterdam has been said before: normal people blah blah blah work clothes yadda yadda no need for helmets yeah yeah yeah practical bikes yackity yackity children on board etc. I think it’s nice if we can let pictures do the talking.
A Dutch man told me that it’s wacky to fear cycling in the rain; “you aren’t made of wax–you won’t melt.” I don’t really get it, because wax is generally water resistant anyway, but I love the phrase.
Amsterdam is defined by the number of bikes roving about and locked up within it. It’s interesting to think; if there were just a single city in the world that had accommodated cars to the degree that every American city has, we would certainly be thinking of that city as the “Car City” in the same way that Amsterdam is a “Cycling City,” and we would marvel over (and blog about) pictures of its large, packed parking lots, impressive interchanges, and normal people behind the wheel.
There’s something really nice about children being carried on bikes. I wonder if that’s just the bike advocate in me, or if there’s a universal appeal to it. It just seems more elegant than stuffing them in a minivan.
If these pictures don’t innately appeal to you, think of this: how much money are these people saving by not owning a vehicle (they may own one, but they certainly don’t need the several cars that most American families require)?
I’m really aware of the serious liability that is the worship of European bicycling infrastructure. Here’s what I mean; it’s never going to be enough to say “look, they are doing it/have done it in the Netherlands” as we work towards good public spaces and good cycling infrastructure in America. Quite the opposite is true; dwelling on foreign success makes these ideas seem foreign, unusual, curious. What is foreign, unusual and curious at this time in American history is to have the political will to accomplish stuff like this, to really idealize public space for people through smart investment. We are limping along, burdened with the cost of our car infrastructure. Still, these pictures and videos are just a sideshow, not the antidote, not the American solution. They are ideas and possibilities, and if they jog your imagination just a little bit, that’s all I can hope for.