One of the first few things that usually come to mind when we hear the name of the Netherlands’ capital, Amsterdam, is “bicycles”!
And there is a good reason for that! Amsterdam is known for its amazing bicycle culture, making it drastically different from any other city in the world!
No matter whether you have already visited Amsterdam once in the past, multiple times, you live there, or maybe never even stepped on its ground, you have probably at least heard of its nickname! Amsterdam is known as the Bicycle Capital of the World!
Cyclists own Amsterdam, and everyone else who joins the traffic (pedestrians, motorcycles, cars, buses) comes right after! And among the great number of positive things which result out of this “habit” is, of course, the fact that bicycles are not contributing to the air pollution, the fact that cycling is one of the healthiest ways of transport and a type of exercise every generation could benefit from, and the fact that is the safest way of transport!
If you have ever visited Amsterdam, you have most likely noticed how the city is equipped with amazing cycle-paths and lanes, so that even the youngest children and the elderly can drive their bicycles carefree on the streets of Amsterdam!
So, naturally, this brings up the question: “Has it always been like this?”
The answer is as simple as “No!”, but then you would wonder, “How did Amsterdam become the bicycle capital of the World?”, “When did things change” and “What inspired those changes in the first place?”
Back in the 1950’s and ’60s, as the Dutch economy began to take off in the post-war era, people started massively purchasing cars. At one point, Dutch cyclists got way outnumbered by car drivers! The logical way to address those changes was to start changing the infrastructure of the cities. Amsterdam suffered just like any other European city at the time and ended up having many neighborhoods torn down in order to accommodate the new ways of life. The cars were seen as the vehicle of the future and the use of bikes decreased by 6% every year. The idea was that bicycles would eventually disappear altogether.
But the growing traffic had its consequences! In 1971, the number of traffic casualties rose to 3,300 deaths, and more than 400 of them were children!
These scary statistics inspired the birth of several activist groups, the two most influential being the Stop de Kindermoord (“Stop the child murder”) protest led by former Dutch MEP, Maartje van Putten, and the First Only Real Dutch Cyclists’ Union.
The Dutch government started financially supporting the Stop de Kindermoord and quickly began developing ideas for safer urban planning. This resulted in creating the woonerf (people-friendly streets with speed bumps and bends to force cars to drive very slowly). Two years after Stop de Kindermoord was established, the First Only Real Dutch Cyclists’ Union began to demand more space for bicycles. Very soon after, seeing the terrifying results of the oil crisis and realizing the car-caused ecological hazards, the Dutch prime minister Den Uyl gave a speech that encouraged citizens to go back to the more energy-efficient lifestyles and announced the new initiative “Car-Free Sundays.”
This slowly but surely changed everything for the better! Today, 38% of the transportation in Amsterdam is on a bicycle. This makes this city worthy of its title, “Bicycle capital of the world”!