Amsterdam’s pristine reputation as a cyclist’s paradise is under scrutiny, as the Dutch cycling union raises concerns about the city’s evolving stance on bicycle riders. While the Dutch capital remains an exemplar of car-free urban planning, signs of tension have emerged.
A succession of developments has led the Amsterdam branch of the Fietsersbond, the Dutch cyclists’ union, to assert that the municipality is showing undue favoritism towards pedestrians at the expense of cyclists in the historic center of the city.
In a city where cyclists once reigned supreme, freely navigating the intricate network of narrow roads in the heart of Amsterdam, it is now claimed that attitudes have shifted. Cyclists are increasingly being treated as “guests” in the city center at best and, at worst, as intruders to be shunted to the outer lanes.
Jan Pieter Nepveu, a spokesperson for the Amsterdam branch of the cyclists’ union, voiced his concerns, stating, “Amsterdam is still a cyclist’s paradise, but it is getting more and more difficult to move through the center. It starts with the proclamation of a pedestrian zone, and before you know it, cycling is discouraged with curbs and then fences. The center becomes the domain of pedestrians. The municipality will have to defend cyclists against an increase in walkers, tourists, and the catering industry.”
Several developments point to a shift in the balance of power, with pedestrians and the catering industry seemingly gaining the upper hand.
In 2019 and 2020, the municipality launched a trial to encourage cyclists to use “alternative routes” rather than travel directly on Damstraatjes and Haarlemmerstraat, two central areas. The experiment aimed to address the “stress” caused by overcrowding and fast-moving bicycles, which had prompted local residents and entrepreneurs to demand action.
However, these efforts to divert cyclists to alternative routes were largely ignored, prompting concerns that a more subtle approach is being taken to phase out bicycles in favor of pedestrians. “It is not a policy, but it is happening,” Nepveu explained.
There are growing concerns that, in an effort to remove mopeds from the city center by pedestrianizing certain areas, cyclists are being inadvertently pushed out.
Furthermore, choices are being made to rein in the freewheeling spirit of the past. The most recent flashpoint revolves around the redevelopment of the Binnengasthuis site in Amsterdam’s university quarter, where a cycle lane is being replaced with a “pedestrian area where bicycles are guests.” This move has sparked protests, with critics highlighting the potential risks of diverting cycling through unsafe roads.
Particularly galling for many cyclists is the notion of being labeled as “guests,” which has appeared on signs in numerous parks. Nepveu expressed his disdain for this terminology, emphasizing that cycling is a mode of transport and not a leisure activity.
The cyclists’ union is currently in discussions with the municipality, seeking a potential reevaluation of these policies. “If cyclists cannot traverse the city center, this affects the appeal of cycling because alternative routes around the center become congested,” Nepveu warned.
In response, a municipality spokesperson denied claims that cyclists were being pushed aside, clarifying that the “bicycles as guests” sign was used in areas where cyclists and pedestrians must share limited space or where mopeds are discouraged. They assured that there were no plans to ban bicycles in these areas, and cycling would still be permitted in the Binnengasthuis area.
Amsterdam is actively working on improving cycling infrastructure, with the completion of a bicycle “highway” encircling the city. Moreover, the city is expanding its bike parking facilities, with new bike parking garages set to accommodate thousands of bikes.
As the debate rages on, Amsterdam grapples with striking a balance between its cycling legacy and the evolving needs of a vibrant and growing city center.