Earlier this week I published a post about the new tunnel in Amsterdam that leads people walking and cycling to the ferries to get across the river IJ to the North of the city. So why don’t we have a good look at these ferries?
There are currently 6 ferry lines across different parts of the river (or lake) IJ, which can only be used – at no charge – by people walking and cycling (and people on scooters/mopeds and mobility scooters). Three of these ferry lines start north of the Central Railway station. The ferries carry 45,000 people per day. During rush hour they go every 4 minutes. on the busiest line, which is also the oldest. This is the “Buiksloterveer” which was first mentioned in written sources in the year 1308, but it must have been older. That makes this ferry line one of the oldest public transport lines in The Netherlands.
That the ferry is still there is actually very strange. Apparently Amsterdam is the only Dutch city on a river that has no bridges over that river! In an essay about this remarkable fact it is noted that this makes Amsterdam the only Dutch river city that has no possibility for people walking or cycling to cross the river on their own. The writer adds “it is even stranger that nobody in Amsterdam seems to think that that is strange. On the contrary; the very ordinary idea of a bridge across the river IJ sounds to many people from Amsterdam like a ‘wild plan’ that surely is technically impossible and that shouldn’t be brought up all the time”.
So many plans for a bridge were made in the last 150 years that never led to anything being actually built, that nowadays nobody feels a bridge could ever become a reality. Unbelievable in a country that has so much know-how about water works and where bridges of the kind that would be needed can be found in abundance! A bridge would have to be about 200 metres long and about 10 metres tall (with a part that could be opened for the occasional tall ship) Similar examples can be found in Nieuwegein or three (!) times in Nijmegen. And even Amsterdam itself has a cycle bridge that could be an inspiration. A cycle bridge across the IJ would cost about 20 to 50 million Euro. Certainly not much and recent calculations reveal that it is actually more expensive to not build one: in the long run ferries cost more!
You can also wonder why there is no tunnel for walking and cycling. In the 1960s the IJ-tunnel was built, but only for motor traffic. Unlike the Maastunnel, built about 20 years earlier, that did get a great part for walking and cycling. The excuse is that the Amsterdam tunnel was built during the era of the private car when it was believed cycling would die out. But that doesn’t explain the second tunnel, the one for the North-South metro line. That tunnel was built as recently as 2012. It is so new that it will not even be used before 2018. That tunnel did also not get an extra tube for walking and cycling. A remarkably missed opportunity showing that Amsterdam did not think about people walking and cycling and their crossing of the river, even this recently. Again, the Rotterdam region did better, building a tube for cycling next to a motorway in 2002.
But things may change. Amsterdam is finally and seriously studying a traffic connection across the IJ now. It has to, the ferries won’t be able to cope with the traffic volumes in the near future. Because of the many developments in Amsterdam-North, the cycle traffic across the IJ increases by 6% per year. A total increase of 65% is expected by the year 2025. This leads to traffic volumes which can no longer be handled by ferries. To facilitate all that traffic all kinds of crossing possibilities in a large area are being investigated now. From bridges to tunnels and even aerial tramways with access for bicycles. Interestingly enough the city calls the aerial trams “a feasible solution”.
But… for the time that Amsterdam stays the only Dutch river city without a bridge, the ferries will continue to take people across the water. It has a nice side too: it looks amazing to see all those people boarding and disembarking the ferries. So I made a video showing just that, for you to enjoy!
Video of the Amsterdam Ferries across the IJ