Amsterdam cycling in the 1950s

Sometimes you find little gems on YouTube. This is one of those! An American film showing cycling in Amsterdam in the 1950s. It is tempting to think nothing has changed but that would not be the full story. Yes, there is a lot of cycling in Amsterdam today, especially in the city centre that is portrayed here, but the car/bicycle ratio was a lot better in the 1950s! For 30 years (1950s-1980s) cycling was in decline. Only after the cycling infrastructure was updated, improved and built-where-missing, cycling became a viable alternative to the car and it made a comeback to the level we see today, not nearly as much as the beginning of the 1950s. But then again so much, that a high number of streets have now been converted to ‘cycle streets‘, where cars are guest just like it was everywhere in the 1950s. It is interesting the narrator mentions there were more than 3 million bicycles in the Netherlands, or “one for every family”. (When in fact it was one for every three people.) That figure has risen to 18 million, more than one per person (there are 16 million Dutch people now and there were 10 million in 1950). Another interesting quote:

“The Netherlanders are a race that travels on bikes.”

Some stills with comments:

The streets were packed with people on their bicycles in Amsterdam in the 1950s. There were even more people cycling than today.
All kinds of people on bicycles, men and women, younger and older people. That hasn’t changed at all.
Some of the more typical Dutch cycling habits are already very old. Cycling with your dog is one of them!
Dutch cycling habits have been around for quite a while. Dutch dads could still be seen riding around with two kids like this today!
In the 1950s the streets were dominated by people cycling. That is again how it is today but motor traffic still gets a bit too much space and attention, even today, even in Amsterdam.
Most of the cargo bikes in the 1950s were used for professional reasons. The video shows a butcher boys race!

Video showing a light-hearted American view on cycling in Amsterdam in the 1950s.

The Dutch cycled a lot more per person in the 1950s than they do now. The key factor for that difference: in the 1950s there were fewer cars. From “Making Cycling Irresistible” by Pucher and Buehler.

13 thoughts on “Amsterdam cycling in the 1950s

    1. According to this graph the distance cycled per person for the entire country is stable. For number of trips it can be very different. There are also very big local differences. In cities cycling increased a lot and in the countryside cycling decreased a lot. The two even out in graphs like this, but the differences between 1990 and 2005 are huge in how cycling and everything related to it (like parking your bike) feels.

  1. “The Dutch cycled a lot more per person in the 1950s than they do now and it was safer.”

    I can not derive that from the chart you’ve posted? In the 1950s the chart starts at 20 cyclists killed per billion km cycled, while we’ve been below that level (according to the same chart) since the 1990s, and are almost hitting 10 now. That makes cycling ‘twice as safe’ today!

  2. Just visited Netherlands (Nijmegen) a month ago… Truly, cycles rule the streets there… But the streets seemed much less crowded than in 1950s…

  3. Oh yes, a little gem… Internet is such a wonderful thing we are lucky to have. It is so instructive to see such images of Amsterdam in the 1950’s. No infrastructures for bikes because they were the traffic!

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