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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Cycling Lessons Learned From Amsterdam That No One Talks About

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I recently had the honour of visiting Amsterdam. Renowned for its cycling, Amsterdam is a city where 48% of all trips made in the city centre are by bicycle. Further, a total of 78% of trips in the region are made by walking, cycling and transit. Only 22% of trips are made by cars. This is most impressive when observe cycling closely in Amsterdam. People of all ages, dressed in everyday clothes are carrying out typical, everyday tasks by bike. Also, significantly more women are traveling by bike compared to Vancouver.

With the resurgence of cycling around the world, Amsterdam is often the subject of case studies. People assume that the Dutch operate from an elevated understanding of all things cycling. However, there have been very surprising discoveries while exploring this city. Many of these observations reveal that the Dutch are not a divine cycling culture, they opt for relatively simple designs that encourage a safer and more inviting cycling and walking environment. Below, I highlight a few of those observations.

1. Cars are still permitted, even when space is limited.

Cars parked along Amsterdam’s famous canals.
Cars parked along Amsterdam’s famous canals.

Despite the high rate of people cycling, cars are still seen parked in every nook and cranny of the city. Supporting cycling does not mean that you banish the vehicle outright, you permit access for cars but tolerate them at slower speeds. This demonstrates that other cities can achieve high cycling rates while still accommodating the automobile.

2. When you don’t want cars, use barriers to keep them out. 

 Electronic bollards in the core keep vehicles out but permit critical deliveries.
Electronic bollards in the core keep vehicles out but permit critical deliveries.



  1. Great article … I miss Amsterdam … biked everywhere there during a week in the summer of 2013 … including a 100km bike…ferry…bike trip to attend a soccer game outside the city. Return trip with bike on a train back to Amsterdam. So bike friendly it’s unreal. Out in the country side … traffic lights will stop cars on two lane highways for bike to cross without stopping … censors on the bike path made sure by the time you hit the highway that the light was green for the biker. Also helps that the country is FLAT.

  2. the other thing that struck my about cycling in Amsterdam (as opposed to London) was the speed. people didn’t cycle very fast, they kept a smooth even speed of around 13 mph. In london we are all drilled in cycling fast to keep up with traffic and stay safe, if you filled amsterdam with london cyclists it would be a nightmare.

  3. This morning a guy at work who is from Holland was telling me that in Europe, when people are taught to drive they are taught to always open the driver side door with the right hand so that it would force you to turn to look for traffic coming from behind. Very few people ever think to do that in the U.S. I’ve just gotten into the habit of always giving parked cars a wide berth just in case.