Last update: June 2014
Why is cycling so popular in Amsterdam?
Cycling is a fundamental part of Dutch culture and that’s especially evident in Amsterdam, where a total of two million kilometres is cycled every day. The popularity of cycling is often put down to it being fast and cheap, alongside the convenience of being able to travel door to door. Cycling is also healthy and bikes themselves take up a relatively small amount of space. The short distances between housing and facilities (such as offices, shops, schools, nightlife locations, stations, sports centres, etc.) in Amsterdam also add to the attraction of cycling as a form of transport. Amsterdam (and the Netherlands as a whole) is also relatively flat and benefits from a mild climate. Cycling is equally popular amongst men and women.
How has bicycle usage developed over the years?
Cycling became popular in Amsterdam in the 1920s. At the time, 80% of journeys were by bike. Car traffic began to increase in the 1950s and by the 1960s, it had quadrupled – at the expense of bikes. Traffic safety fell dramatically as a result, culminating in more than 100 fatal traffic accidents in the early 1970s. This was one of the most significant reasons behind attempts to reduce automobile traffic and encourage cycling (both initiatives that were supported wholeheartedly by residents of Amsterdam). It was around this time that the City of Amsterdam started work on the network of dedicated cycle paths running through the entire city.
Cycle usage subsequently began to increase. The introduction of paid car parking in the centre of Amsterdam in the 1990s also resulted in a dramatic increase in bicycle usage.
Between 1990 and 2014, the number of people using bikes has more than doubled. Currently, more than half of all journeys in Amsterdam city centre (within the A10 ring road) are by bike. In the historical city centre, that figure rises to 60%.
Where are you allowed to cycle in Amsterdam?
Cyclists are allowed to cycle on all roads in Amsterdam with a 30 km/ph speed limit and, of course, on the extensive dedicated cycle path network that covers the city. Around 90% of all roads in Amsterdam have a 30 km/ph speed limit. Dedicated cycle paths run alongside the majority of roads with a 50 km/ph speed limit and if there is no separate cycle path, cycle lanes are marked out on the road. Under no circumstances are cyclists allowed on the motorways, but this is of little consequence as there is only one motorway around the city centre. As such, cyclists are allowed to cycle practically everywhere in Amsterdam.
What are the challenges presented by the popularity of cycling in Amsterdam?
The installation of bike parking facilities hasn’t been able to keep pace with the dramatic growth in bicycle traffic. There is a significant shortage of bicycle parking facilities in some parts of the city, particularly around major train stations and at busy nightlife areas. As such, the most significant challenge currently facing the city is the provision of a sufficient number of additional bicycle racks and the construction of large, secure bicycle storage facilities. The City of Amsterdam aspires to increase the number of bike parking places by 38,000 by 2020.
Amsterdam is an extremely compact city and public space is limited. Demands on public space in the city centre have increased notably in recent years. As such, another challenge is to create enough space on the city’s streets to accommodate the large volume of cyclists travelling in the city centre. One approach is to restructure streets that are used by a considerable volume of bicycle traffic in order to create more space for cyclists. Traffic lights can also be adjusted so that cyclists encounter a green light more frequently, or that the lights stay green for longer periods. In recent years, waiting time indicators have been installed on numerous traffic lights throughout the city, so that cyclists know exactly how long they have to wait before the lights turn green. Research has indicated that Amsterdam cyclists appreciate these indicators.
Mopeds have become extremely popular in Amsterdam in recent years. Moped riders not wearing a helmet are obliged to use the bicycle paths, leading to additional congestion. Mopeds are generally twice the width of bikes and 80% of moped users exceed the maximum speed limit of 25km/ph.
How does the City of Amsterdam encourage cycling in the city?
The City of Amsterdam has actively invested in ‘the bike’ since the early 1980s in order to encourage cycling. Investment in bicycle infrastructure is (and will remain) vital to make cycling a safe, appealing option, and to ensure it stays as such. Investment is focused on measures including separate cycle paths, red asphalt, cycle traffic lights and new cycle routes, but also on traffic education in primary and secondary schools.
Cycling policy alone is not enough to encourage cycling. Other measures also play a role, such as the introduction of paid car parking (in effect since the 1990s) and reducing the amount of car parking places.
Does everyone in Amsterdam own a bike?
75% of Amsterdammers own a bike. Numerous Amsterdammers actually have two or more bikes: one for daily journeys in the city (a city bicycle) and/or a bike for recreation (a touring bicycle) and/or a bike for cycle racing (a racer). Amsterdam is home to an estimated 880,000 bikes.
Can you access the whole of Amsterdam by bike?
Yes, the entire city is accessible by bike. An extensive network of approximately 500 kilometres of cycle paths runs throughout the city, primarily alongside thoroughfares and roads with a 50km/ph speed limit. A maximum speed limit of 30 km/ph applies on the majority of the city’s roads and as such, separate cycle paths are not necessary in most places (primarily residential areas with relatively little car traffic). In these areas, cars and bikes can coexist safely on the road.
How much money does Amsterdam invest annually in cycling infrastructure?
Bikes are vital for accessibility and liveability in the city, as well as for keeping its residents healthy. In order to achieve the city’s ambitions outlined in the Long-Term Cycle Plan 2012-2016, nearly €120 million will be required until 2020. This will enable Amsterdam to tackle the most pressing issues related to bicycle parking (requiring €90 million) and the cycle path network. The average annual investment is thus €15 million.
For more information, see this press release on the measures being taken by Amsterdam.
How does Amsterdam gain financially from bikes?
Bikes contribute €40 million to Amsterdam’s coffers every year. If bicycle traffic hadn’t increased as it has, Amsterdam would have needed to invest an additional €20 million annually in road infrastructure for cars, alongside an additional €20 million annually in public transport.
It’s interesting to note that a single car parking place can accommodate 15 bikes.
Where are cyclists permitted to leave ('park') their bikes?
Cyclists may leave their bikes anywhere in the city as long as doing so doesn’t cause a safety issue or (traffic) nuisance. At certain spots in the city (such as Amsterdam Central Station and Leidseplein), it is only permitted to leave bikes in the designated bicycle storage facilities. District authorities regularly organise so-called ‘sticker campaigns’, in which a sticker is placed on all bikes in a certain area with the message that the bike must be removed within a certain period of time. If the stickered bikes have not been (re)moved at the end of this period, the authorities deliver the bikes to the Bicycle Depository. Wrecked bikes that are deemed to be complete write-offs are no longer taken to the Bicycle Depository, instead they are directly destroyed.
How many bicycle parking places are there in Amsterdam?
There are an estimated 250,000 bicycle parking places in Amsterdam, the vast majority of these located in public space. Up until 2020, an additional circa 38,000 bicycle parking places will be provided in order to alleviate bicycle parking problems in the worst-affected areas of the city:
- Train stations: c. 26,000 parking places
- Metro and bus stations and busy destinations in the city centre such as Leidseplein, Weesperplein and the ‘Rode Loper’ (corresponding with the route of the new Noord/Zuid metro line): c. 7,000 parking places
- Residential areas in the city centre: c. 5,000 places.
Why does the City of Amsterdam remove bicycles?
The city authorities remove bikes in order to help keep the city accessible and ensure that the current bicycle parking facilities are used as effectively as possible. Bikes causing nuisance or danger will be removed.
The number of bicycle parking places in the city hasn’t kept pace with the dramatic increase in bicycle traffic. This has resulted in an enormous shortage of bicycle parking places, especially at train stations, metro stations, shopping and nightlife areas. The existing bike parking capacity at these busy locations is designed for use by cyclists who regularly use their bikes. It’s for this reason that it is not permitted to leave bikes unused at these locations for longer than two weeks, for example at Leidseplein and Amsterdam Central Station. The City of Amsterdam removes bikes that have been left for longer than two weeks and delivers them to the Bicycle Depository.
What is the Bicycle Depository (Fietsdepot)?
Bikes that have been removed by city officials are taken to the Bicycle Depository where they are registered and checked for evidence of theft. Removed bikes are stored at the Bicycle Depository for three months, during which time their owners can retrieve them.
Read more about the Bicycle Depository.
How many bikes are removed by the Bicycle Depository every year?
The Bicycle Depository is not actually responsible for removing bikes; this task is carried out by the individual City District authorities. In 2013 around 73,000 bikes were delivered to the Bicycle Depository. Bikes are stored for 3 months to give owners the chance to reclaim their property. Only about 25% of owners actually collect their bike – many of the bikes are in such poor condition that the owners feel that reclaiming them is not worthwhile. Another reason that could explain the low collection rate is that owners mistakenly assume that their bike has been stolen. Signs around the city clearly state where it is permitted to leave bikes, but cyclists often ignore the signs and consequently have their bike removed. Bikes that are not collected from the Bicycle Depository after three months are used for employment and reintegration projects and auctioned to second-hand dealers.
Is it safe to travel by bike in Amsterdam?
In general, it is safe to travel by bike in the city. Of course, it’s always advisable to pay attention while travelling on two wheels. It can be busy in the city: Amsterdam cyclists travel a total of two million kilometres every day. Currently, more than half of all journeys in Amsterdam city centre (within the A10 ring road) are by bike.
How many accidents are there involving cyclists annually in Amsterdam?
The chance of being involved in an accident while cycling is actually relatively slim. In excess of 223 million bike journeys are made each year – that’s 613,000 every day. Unfortunately, between 15 and 20 fatal traffic accidents occur on Amsterdam’s roads each year – 20% to 30% of these are cyclists.
Approximately 900 people are seriously injured in traffic accidents each year. More than half of these are cyclists.
How is Amsterdam addressing cycling safety?
Amsterdam is dedicated to improving cycling safety by making adjustments to the road infrastructure and focusing on safer conduct while cycling.
1. Safe infrastructure
A sound cycling infrastructure is in place in Amsterdam: in principle, it’s possible to cycle everywhere in the city. The city is divided into areas where a maximum speed limit of 30 km/ph is enforced and roads with a maximum speed limit of 50 km/ph. Dedicated cycle paths have been constructed alongside almost all 50 km/ph roads. In 30 km/ph areas, cyclists safely share the roads with other traffic. The city’s roads have been constructed in such a way that the maximum speed limits are clear to all road users. Amsterdam has also targeted the most potentially dangerous junctions (so-called accident black spots). As a result of this approach, the number of accident black spots in the city has reduced from 225 in 1993-1995 to approximately 20 in 2012-2014.
2. Safer conduct
With regard to safer conduct, Amsterdam uses the motto ‘what’s learnt in the cradle lasts until the grave’. Educational games are used to help children learn about traffic from an early age. This approach starts at nursery school (when the children are 3-4 years old). Parents are also continuously involved in light of the fact that they can set a good example for their children.
At nearly all of the city’s 225 primary schools, pupils learn traffic regulations as part of the curriculum and/or through the traffic education lessons that are provided by order of the City of Amsterdam. Subsequent to these lessons, nearly all pupils complete the theoretical traffic examination in group 7 (aged 10-11 years old). Approximately 70% of primary schools offer the practical cycling examination a year later in group 8 (when pupils are 11-12 years old). During the examination, pupils are required to prove that they are capable of cycling safely. Traffic education lessons continue after the pupils transfer into secondary education.
Schools in Amsterdam are obliged to provide traffic education and both the City of Amsterdam and regional authorities assist by providing free educational packages.
Is wearing a helmet obligatory when cycling in Amsterdam?
No, and most Amsterdammers do not wear a helmet. An increasing amount of children wear a helmet when cycling, but this is not the case with the majority of adults.
What is Amsterdam doing to tackle bike theft?
Appropriate bike parking facilities are the best way of preventing bike theft. As such, the City of Amsterdam has invested heavily in such facilities over the years, and will continue to do so. But the efforts don’t stop there – Amsterdam is also investing in other measures in order to tackle bike theft.
The Bicycle Depository inspects every removed bike for evidence of theft. If it is ascertained that the bike has been stolen, the rightful owners are contacted and their bike is returned to them free of charge (within Amsterdam). When the owners of removed bicycles that are still in good condition cannot be traced, a new unique frame number is added at the Bicycle Depository. The bike is subsequently sold on to a bicycle trader. The new frame number is added in order to prevent stolen bikes being illegally sold again in the future.
Cyclists can have their bike engraved for free at weekly engraving sessions, held at various locations in the city. Before the bike is engraved, it is checked for evidence of theft. Once it has been ascertained that the bike has not been stolen, it is engraved with a unique frame number. Check the Bicycle Depository website for more information.
The advantages of engraving your bike include:
- It makes it possible to check whether a second-hand bike has been stolen
- The engraving is a visible deterrent against theft
- Should the engraved bike be stolen in the future, the owner will be in the position to submit a full report to the police. This dramatically increases the chance of the bike being recovered.
- Details of engraved bikes and their owners are stored centrally by the City of Amsterdam.