4 Surprises about Bicycle Infrastructure in Amsterdam and The Netherlands

Here are 4 things that surprised me about bicycle infrastructure in Amsterdam and The Netherlands while exploring on my own and discussing bike infrastructure with locals.

This is Part 3 and in a 3 part series of biking in Amsterdam and The Netherlands. In this post, I talk more about bicycle infrastructure in Amsterdam and The Netherlands. If you want more, check out 4 Insights about Biking in Amsterdam and The Netherlands and The Respect for Bicycles in Amsterdam Culture.

1. The Scale of Bicycles is Hard to Comprehend

By the train station of Ultrech, they just finished building a new bike parking garage with a capacity of 12,500 bicycles. The train station of Amsterdam has a 2,500 bike structure with another couple thousand strewn on the sidewalk space outside of the station. They even took an out of commission ferry, parked it next to the station, and turned it into extra bike parking. With so many bicycles, they have to get creative with new bike parking, and I wonder if Hollanders can request their own bike racks in front of their houses…

Bird eye view of bicycle parking next to amsterdam central station
Birds eye view of Amsterdam Central Station and all the bike parking next to it. The structure in the water is the 2,500 bike structure and it boasts 3 levels.
Bicycle parking and bike path near amsterdam central train station
If you couldn’t tell where the bike parking is. Here is a different, closer angle that makes it more clear. I also posted street level views of the bicycle parking garage on my Instagram. Additionally, the building to the right of all the bikes parked on the sidewalk is a 2 story building for paid bike parking and OV-fiets (the Holland bikeshare).
bicycles parked inside Amsterdam Centraal station bike parking
A picture from inside the 2nd level of the bike parking garage. More pictures from the garage on my Instagram post.
Ferry full of bicycles next to amsterdam central train station in the canal.
Bike parking on and out of commission ferry next to Amsterdam Central Station. Hard to tell from the Google photo, but all the bike parking is bi-level on the ferry.
Double decker bicycle racks on a ferry near amsterdam central station
Here’s a photo of the bi-level bikes on the ferry. As you can see it’s raining, and that doesn’t seem to stop anyone. If you notice that all the seats are the same, some company had just gone through and put rain covers on people’s seats as an advertisement.

A Dutch friend of mine mentioned he was going to ride to the Amsterdam Central train station and catch a train. 7 minutes to bike there, about 5 minutes to find parking. I’ve never heard a bicyclist in San Francisco mention 5 minutes to find parking. You only hear that from the car drivers!

This kind of scale means that things done for bikes can’t be done in small doses. Too many people ride bikes to add a 2-bike rack to a bus…that just wouldn’t make sense. You’d need a bicycle trailer for buses in Amsterdam! In San Francisco, the Bike Coalition was fighting for bikes to be allowed on our public transit system. This is acceptable in the Bay Area since there aren’t quite as many bikes (but we’re getting there). But in Amsterdam, if you allowed bikes on public transit, there might not be any more room for people!

Looking at a mature bike culture like Amsterdam & The Netherlands, the Bay Area solutions for bicycles on public transit seem more of a temporary solution because of a lack of infrastructure. For Hollanders wanting to bike to and from the train station, they have a bikeshare with a bunch of bikes at every train station. This way you can still bike to and from the station, but you don’t have take your bike on the train.

This is an official picture on the page discussing the huge bike parking lot in Utrecht that they’re expanding. You can’t really get much more chill!

I wonder if Hollanders can request their own bike rack

2. Infrastructure Guides You Through the City

Although many intersections have signs and lights like people are used to, many intersections also take designs from Shared Spaces and have no signage at all. When an intersection has no signs, everyone slows down and rides safely through, usually giving right of way to others, but not stopping.

This Shared Space design of intersections forces everyone to be more alert and allows bicycles, pedestrians, and sometimes cars too to self regulate themselves with organized chaos through an intersection. People can conserve their momentum, slow down when necessary, and ultimately get to their destination faster. Everyone is making eye contact, predicting each other’s path, and acting accordingly.

There are lots of hints in the infrastructure that help you find out whether you’re in a shared space or not, or if you’re on a more exclusive bike path. Bike paths, for example, are usually a pink tint or made of a certain brick formation that make them clearly apparent as bike lanes.

One example of this is near the Amsterdam Central Train Station. There’s an area where the bike lane ends with a few speed bumps and leads bikers directly onto a Shared Space sidewalk area. The area is not pink, and therefore not a bike lane, but it’s clearly fine to bike on it. The lack of pink and speed bumps make it clear that this is no longer a place where bicycles own the path, and everyone slows down and slowly weaves through the crowds of pedestrians that are twisting every way like a school of fish into the train station, onto the ferry that crosses the river, and other directions.

A pink bike lane ends and turns into shared space near Amsterdam Centraal. And lots of bikes parked behind it.
Right outside of Amsterdam Central Station you can see the bike lane ending onto a shared space sidewalk. Plus lots more bike parking.

3. Low Speed Scooters/Mopeds Share the Bike Lane

This one confused me the most, and after more research apparently it confused many other people, so this rule may soon come to an end. In the end of 2017 it was voted to completely ban scooters from the bike lane in Holland, but who knows when it will start being enforced. There’s some good historical context in this blog post.

For the time being, however, the “slow” 50cc or less Vespa style scooters can share the bike lane, even though they can go much faster than the bikes. After discussing this with some locals, it seems these are the rules for the motorized 2 wheelers:

  • Fast motorcycles/scooters (above 15mph max speed and have a yellow license plate): Riders are required to wear a helmet and ride on the road with cars.
  • Slow motorcycles/scooters (15mph max speed and have a blue license plate):If wearing a helmet, required to ride on the road with cars.
    • If not wearing a helmet, required to ride in the bike lane with the bikes (or more that they’re NOT allowed to ride on the road with cars without a helmet)

Again, these rules are in the process of changing, and sometimes difficult to find reliably on the internet. Let me know if you have any updated information and I can update this!

4. Traffic flow is Separated Whenever Possible

Top down view of intersection in Rotterdam with lanes for bikes, cars, trams, and pedestrians.
This road is separated 4 ways! Pedestrians, bicycles, trams, and cars. There’s room for everything here.

This may seem obvious, but in many places in the world this isn’t the case. The Netherlands looks at the speed of the different kinds of transport, and only puts them together if they have a low speed differential. This means, when bikes and cars do mix, the speed limit is probably around 20mph or less to make sure that no one is going much faster than anyone else.

For these arterial streets where speed limits are 30mph or up, the roads are designed with separated traffic wherever possible. In the future, electric bicycles may promote a need for another kind of lane in Holland: one that’s faster than a bike lane but slower than a car lane.

For more information, OpenStreetMap has speed limit information (in kmh) on all the streets! You can see where the higher speed limits map to the separated bike lanes on the Google Maps.

What do you think about all this bike infrastructure in Holland? Do you see some of this showing up in your town? What do you like/dislike about it? Write in the comments below!

If you didn’t read my other Amsterdam posts, I wrote about 4 Insights about biking in Amsterdam and The Netherlands and The Respect for Bicycles in Amsterdam Culture. I miss it there, but I see new infrastructure projects in San Francisco and around the world happening all the time!

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