All about cycling in the Netherlands
A friend of mine lives in the Amsterdam neighbourhood “De Pijp” and works outside Amsterdam. Like many people who live in the centre of Dutch cities he doesn’t own a car and so he gets to work by train. At least according to the statistics, because the largest part of the distance is covered by train. In reality, however, he combines that train ride with a bike ride. In the Netherlands over 40% of all train travellers get to the train by bicycle and he is one of them (as I am). He surprised me with a video of his ride to the train station and allowed me to use it on my blog. So I can now show you a genuine 8 minute commute by bicycle in Amsterdam.
This is the ride on his way to work. So he starts by getting his bicycle from the neighbourhood bicycle parking facility that he has a subscription for and that is situated within walking distance from his home. For the fee of 14 euros a month he can park his bicycle inside. There are 44 such neighbourhood bicycle parking facilities in the South of Amsterdam alone. Using such a facility has several advantages over parking your bicycle in the street. First of all you can be sure to have a parking place at all. If all the street racks are full you may have to walk a long way to find an open spot. Interestingly enough it is officially forbidden to lock your bike to poles and bridges in Amsterdam (even though you’d have a hard time finding a bridge or pole without a bike attached to it!) Secondly it is better protected against the elements. If you have to park your bicycle outside day and night it would suffer from especially the rain. Thirdly it cannot be damaged by drunks or other idiots that roam the streets at night when it is not out on that street. Lastly it cannot be stolen so easily. To enter the facility you get an electronic key.
The Pijp is a residential area just South of the historic city centre that was developed from circa the 1870s to 1900. The streets are narrow and until the 1970s it was a very bad neighbourhood. After the protests by residents about the state of this area a lot was improved. Fewer people live there now and it is an area (so close to the city centre) with a lot of smaller shops and restaurants that is very much in demand. The residential streets are all in a 30km/h (18mph) zone. The streets are very unattractive for through traffic and parking is extremely expensive for non-residents. So nobody goes into the area with a car unless you really have to be there. That means that the motor traffic volume is low. On this particular ride my friend does not have a single encounter with a car. That is partly because he filmed this example on a Sunday morning, but also because of how the infrastructure was designed. (That includes the ring road to divert motor traffic wide around the city.)
When he leaves the residential area, he gets to through streets and those streets have separated cycling infrastructure. For a short stretch that is an on-street cycle lane, but most of the time they are one-directional cycleways on either side of the road. The standard for streets with a lot of end-destinations on either side of the street.
The number of traffic lights in this 2.3 kilometre ride is very low: just 3, of which only 1 is really red. The other two turn green at his approach. At 4:23 we see a left turning lane in the cycle way (also pictured above). This gives people the possibility to wait for the light to turn green out of the way of people going straight-on. That is no luxury in rush hour.
He takes this left turn to leave the main road again and use another 30km/h residential zone as a short cut. It is quite normal in the Netherlands that people rather cycle away from traffic in quieter routes than on the main radials. In this case he prefers to go through a traffic calmed residential area, rather than follow that main road with the separate cycleways that would also have been possible. Motor traffic cannot take the short cut. The streets are one-way for motor traffic and there is one place where only cyclists (and mopeds) can pass (at 6:53)
Only when he gets outside the narrower street pattern at 8:08, and into an area that was designed after the 1970s. He gets to see bi-directional cycleways. You see from that point that the roads for motor traffic were raised and that the infrastructure for human powered transportation (cycling and walking) stays on ground level. The number of intersections with motor vehicles gets reduced to almost zero and that makes bi-directional cycleways possible and safe enough. The surface of the cycleways (concrete tiles) gives away that this is an older type of infrastructure.
We don’t really get to see the railway station, but the bicycle parking facility is almost right under it. You get to the lower level with travelators in a very convenient way. The facility is manned and thus guarded and your bike is marked with a paper tag of which the customer gets the matching other half to reclaim the bike later. You park your bicycle yourself. When you later want to leave the facility you have to show that the tag on your bike and the other half match, with which you prove your bicycle is really yours. This is a system that has been in use for almost a hundred years in The Netherlands. Simple and effective. But it takes a lot of time to tag all the bicycles. That is why in morning rush hour there can sometimes be lines to get into the facility. In more modern facilities like the one I showed in Utrecht, you swipe your public transport chip card. That is much faster.
From the parked bicycle you can walk to the train platforms in under two minutes. So that makes the entire commute to the train about 12 minutes, including getting the bicycle from the neighbourhood parking facility and parking it in the public facility under the station. This is a very convenient part of his commute and you could never be this fast if you would take public transport. The rest of the commute is made by train and that is also very time efficient, often quicker than going by car. No wonder so many people in the Netherlands use the bicycle to get to the train.
The full ride in a video