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Monday, June 24, 2013

The Dutch Prize Their Pedal Power, but a Sea of Bikes Swamps Their Capital | NYT



AMSTERDAM — About 6:30 weekday mornings, throngs of bicycles, with a smattering of motor scooters and pedestrians, pour off the ferries that carry bikers and other passengers free of charge across the IJ (pronounced “eye”) harbor, clogging the streets and causing traffic jams down behind Amsterdam’s main train station.
“In the afternoon it’s even more,” moaned Erwin Schoof, a metalworker in his 20s who lives in the canal-laced center of town and battles the chaos daily to cross to his job.
Willem van Heijningen, a railway official responsible for bikes around the station, said, “It’s not a war zone, but it’s the next thing to it.”
This clogged stream of cyclists is just one of many in a city as renowned for bikes as Los Angeles is for automobiles or Venice for gondolas. Cyclists young and old pedal through narrow lanes and along canals. Mothers and fathers balance toddlers in spacious wooden boxes affixed to their bikes, ferrying them to school or day care. Carpenters carry tools and supplies in similar contraptions and electricians their cables. Few wear helmets. Increasingly, some are saying what was simply unthinkable just a few years ago: There are too many bikes.
While cities like New York struggle to get people onto bikes, Amsterdam is trying to keep its hordes of bikes under control. In a city of 800,000, there are 880,000 bicycles, the government estimates, four times the number of cars. In the past two decades, travel by bike has grown by 40 percent so that now about 32 percent of all trips within the city are by bike, compared with 22 percent by car.
Applauding this accomplishment, a Danish urban planning consultancy, Copenhagenize Design, which publishes an annual list of the 20 most bike-friendly cities, placed Amsterdam in first place this year, as it has frequently in the past. (The list consists mostly of European cities, though Tokyo; Nagoya, Japan; and Rio de Janeiro made the cut. Montreal is the only North American city included.)

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