Thursday, May 8, 2014

Is Amsterdam the perfect model of cycle-centric society?

I have just spend the last five days in Amsterdam. It is truly a beautiful city and beats to its own drum. I can definitely see myself returning to the city many times in the future. I love the ease and grace with which the Dutch ride their bicycles. Two-up (with the passenger side-saddle on the rear rack) is no problem. Perching a toddler on the top-tube is alright as well. No need for Lycras, fast bikes and helmets. Everyone just seems so natural and healthy.

Many cities, including London, look to Amsterdam (and Netherlands in general) as a model implementation of a cycle-friendly society. As a bicycle commuter in London, I am mostly comfortable sharing the road with other road-users (motorised or not) and certainly not afraid to be proactive for the sake of my own safety, but I wouldn't want to subject my family to the same arrangement. The mostly segregated cycle lanes/paths in Amsterdam are much safer options for the majority of the general population. So what is holding me back from fully embracing the Dutch cycle-centric-society model?

Dutch cyclists, at least in Amsterdam, are quite aggressive and seem entitled. In London, absent minded pedestrians on Oxford Street during my commute (on the road) can be a source of annoyance, but I am alright with giving them a wide berth (on the road) and the occasional blast from my 140 dB Hornit if it looks like they are about to veer into my path (on the road). After all, I will probably be worse off than them if I was to come off my bike. Dutch cyclists, on the other hand, fully expect you to keep clear of the designated cycle lanes (fair enough) but also tailgate and ring their little bells to bully you out of their way on the pavement/sidewalk or shared pathways (e.g. narrow bridge). It is this aspect of pedestrian-bullying that really bothers me. I find this behaviour counter-productive to the cause of encouraging bicycle transportation. Relegating pedestrians to the place of third-class citizens is very insulting and unnecessary. I hope cycling advocates everywhere actively encourage peaceful integration of all road users through common practise of adherence to rules and decency, rather than a singular focus on one agenda.

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