Amsterdam is up for a challenge. Over the last 10 years, most significantly in the last 5 years, it has ignored and/or completely underestimated the relentless growth in cycling. Recently published estimates show that in the last 20 years the cycling rate has risen by 40 - 50% in Amsterdam, 30% in Rotterdam and other major cities in the Netherlands. The big issues that light up media outlets on a weekly basis: massive lack of bicycle parking, the cockroach qualities of 'orphan bikes', overcrowded bike paths (traffic jams), subsequently increasing conflicts with scooters (which presence has grown even more) and 'rogue, aggressive cyclists'.
The latter must sound odd to you, coming from such a bike-friendly nation. Well, it works like the world over. When existing design and provisions don't meet demand, it will breed 'bad', i.e. undesirable behaviour. It doesn't matter that the Netherlands have second-to-none bicycle infrastructure: when it lacks, it lacks. Without piling on, cycling forms a huge slice in the Dutch mobility pie, serving many needs, so be sure I don't exaggerate when I say it's of vital importance its infrastructure serves its users.
Yet, at the same time, it's easier to scapegoat a single 'group'. Perhaps even more weird, considering the fact that cycling in the Netherlands is definitely mainstream. But alas, the subjective seed is planted and voila: we all go down the rabbit hole of fighting symptoms. I know, the words 'forest' and 'trees' are very much applicable here.
So, the reality of this insufficiency is pretty clear, for everyone to see. The reasons for Amsterdam waking up to this reality so late vary far and wide: from complacency towards cycling in general to shifting priorities and jumping on the e-everything bandwagon. I will address these at a later stage.
On a national level the (professional) debate about upscaling cycling provisions and re-envisioning urban mobility has already begun, but Amsterdam still has to come to terms with what has happened in the last two decades. In November 2011 political party GroenLinks (Green Left) had organized a debate called 'Dare To Share Space', sharing ideas about how to maintain and improve Amsterdam's livability and mobility despite growing and changing demands. I was happy they did, better late than never, and I left the debate with mixed feelings. One was dominated by my relief that it was taken seriously, the other was that the overall political vibe towards promoting cycling as one instrument was met with quite some hostility and 'war on the motorist' attitude. I was even told that '[promoting] cycling is elitist'. I kid you not.
Fast forward to the present. Last week the city council published the cycling provision plan 'Meerjarenplan Fiets 2012-2016', which was developed by the city's Department of Transportation (DIVV) to address the challenges and it entails a budget of €57 million. GroenLinks invited me to 'Political Café: How should Amsterdam be(come) Cycle City nr 1 (again)?' and be one of five people officially responding to this plan and debate it on a panel this Thursday evening. Of course I happily accepted.
I will respond through a 10 minute presentation and hopefully a vivid discussion with the people present. If you happen to be around and have the time, please join us, your voice is equally vital.
It's time to take Amsterdam into the 21st century, to shift another paradigm and aim for an even better dawn. Rise and shine, people, rise and shine. Or: wake up and smell the coffee.