When I spent a full weekend in Amsterdam (read all about it here), I found the bike culture intriguing – nothing like I had ever seen in any city in the United States. As a matter of fact, Amsterdam is the most bike-friendly city in the world!
One would argue that the bike culture in my home-town of Austin, Texas is tremendous. The city is making strides so that cars can coexist peacefully with the growing population of bikers, such as by creating more bike lanes and amending traffic laws. The bicycling lifestyle can be seen everywhere: there are weekly social rides, bicycle delivery services, pedi-cabs at every corner, and cycling shops within each square mile.
Yet, cars are still the number one priority in Austin and drivers don’t like to share the road. Riding a bike in Austin can be dangerous. Any time that I am riding, drivers pass me with aggression, honk their horn, shout at me, or give me a friendly wave with their middle finger. One afternoon I was hit by a car (a hit and run) and I am lucky that I was not seriously injured. Ever since then I have been terrified of riding my bike in Austin.
Enter: Amsterdam. Bicycling is the preferred mode of transportation in this city! 60% of transportation downtown is by bike. Cars have no priority. Just look at the bike lanes:
Any red-brick path throughout the city is for bikes, with a slight dip in the center which divides the direction of traffic. Cars may drive on them, but drivers must yield to bikes. Pedestrians may walk on them as well, but oncoming bikers will alert them with a ding of a bell or a friendly “yoo-hoo!” if they are in the way.
In the downtown areas, bike racks were abundant. Above, my friend Andrea poses with a rack in front of the Openbare Bibliotheek that easily had over one hundred bikes attached. Bikes in residential areas were locked quite casually outside of homes, and in some cases not at all. This was astonishing to me because of the paranoia I brought from home: if I don’t lock up my bike in Austin anywhere I go, I am asking for someone to steal my it. And I better make sure that I am using a strong U-Lock because any burglar with a bolt cutter can snip through cable locks with ease.
I rarely saw a biker with a helmet and not once did I see a biker wearing the skin-tight lycra cycling clothing that is common in Austin. Bikers generally rode in their everyday clothes: casual or business professional, high heels or sneakers, skirts or pants. They didn’t seem worried about getting their clothes sweaty or soiled, and I suppose this is because people rode around at a casual speed. Not a single person appeared to be in a hurry. Additionally, there was just no need to wear a helmet because there was no danger of being hit by a car. Bikers get an amount of respect that would be unheard of in Austin.
Here’s a fun experiment: go to Google Maps and search for directions to your nearest grocery store. Did the mode of transportation default to “driving”? In Amsterdam, the mode of transportation defaults to “biking.”
Do you like to bike in your city? Why or why not? Let me know in the comments below!