Eyes on the Street: Amsterdam

After Copenhagen, I visited Holland for a few days as a part of my German Marshall Fellowship. I will be writing more about some of the people I met and spoke with there, but for now I just wanted to share these photos from Amsterdam:


For me, one of the things that makes Amsterdam and Copenhagen so bike-friendly is the fact that people’s cars are so much smaller over there. The vehicle above is an extreme example. But you don’t see very many SUV’s and the gigantic tractor trailers are off-loaded outside the city center. On a Dutch-style upright bicycle, my eye-level was almost always higher than the tops of the cars on the street. That gave me a really strong feeling of safety and control.


This is the bicycle parking garage in front of Amsterdam’s Central Train Station. Someone told me that it holds 20,000 bikes but I didn’t verify that. Suffice it to say, this thing holds a lot of bikes. Hey, that reminds me, what sort of bike parking facility is planned around the new Lower Manhattan transportation hub? Or would bike parking conflict with Santiago Calatrava’s poetic architectural vision of a child setting free a bird?


The tram is the main mode of transport in inner-city Amsterdam. Fast, sleek, non-polluting, and exceptionally quiet, I nearly got myself hit by one of them. Actually, it wasn’t that close but they do keep you on your toes, trolley-dodging and all that. It was really nice getting around town on these. Unlike the B63 bus that I rode in Brooklyn this morning, the tram in Amsterdam is rarely stuck in traffic thanks to its dedicated right-of-way and traffic signal priority. George Haikalis and Roxanne Warren of Vision42 think that these would work well on 42nd Street.


The weather in Holland in October is highly unpredictable. It seemed like every time I went outside it started raining. Every time I went inside it got sunny. The rain doesn’t seem to stop people from riding their bikes.


Waiting for the rain to subside under the awning of a pub, I found this pleasant neighborhood street scene.

  • ddartley

    YES to Light Rail/trolley systems.

    Maybe if they bring one back to Brooklyn, it will bring the Dodgers back…?

    Incidentally, you know that ESPN show, “Top 5 Reasons You Can’t Blame?” There was one called “…Reasons you can’t blame Walter O’Malley for moving the Dodgers from Brooklyn.”

    Know what the No.1 reason was?

    Robert Moses.

  • That first car is nice and small, but why is it parked on the sidewalk?

    Love the nice photos. It always helps to see how good infrastructure can achieve a public goal like increasing cycling.

  • Mitch

    Do trams and bicycles have problems coexisting in Amsterdam? Do cyclists have to make an effort to keep their wheels from slipping or getting caught in the tracks? Does all the wet weather make things worse? If trams and bikes coexist well, is there anything the city has to do to minimize conflict?

    I’m asking because Madison is thinking of building a streetcar system, and there is some concern that the tracks might cause problems for bikes.

  • crzwdjk

    As a general matter, trams and bikes do okay together. Most on-street tram tracks these days are built to pretty high standards, and the flangeway is small enough that if your tires are fat enough, they won’t get caught, and if you have thin tires it is assumed you know what you are doing. And in general, it’s not like you’re riding in the middle of the tracks, generally you’re off to the side, and not on the rails. Trams do, however, behave somewhat differently from cars, in that they are much bigger, and constrained to move only along the track, though they generally are quicker than buses. It might take a while for cyclists to get used to the idea, but once they do a peaceful coexistence is certainly possible.

  • Oh my God, that Amsterdam bike parking photo is gorgeous. I wish the Dutch or the Swedish would invade north america, take us over, and enforce bike commuting on all of us!

  • I miss Amsterdam! The streets have a careful and deliberate equilibrium that’s calming in spite of all different types of transportation and the weather stops no one from enjoying the outdoors. A friend there boats to work every morning. He and other friends suggested that for young Amsterdamers, it’s bicycles (and boats if you can afford it) and you do have to be careful about the tracks but everyone knows it. They also believe that trams are mostly for tourists.

  • “For me, one of the things that makes Amsterdam and Copenhagen so bike-friendly is the fact that people’s cars are so much smaller over there.”

    Are you serious? That is not a car, it is a vehicle used by disabled people or people without a driving license. Legally, it is like a small moped, requiring no license or helmet. That is also the reason that it is parked on the sideway.

  • Jwhizzle87



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