Guest Opinion: Cycling in Amsterdam was eye-opening, and boosted my resolve

Teen girls cycling in Amsterdam in 2017. (Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

— By Jen Guzman, Portland resident

“When I ride in Portland, I feel like there’s a target on my back… Here, it’s just fun and easy.”

– My 17-year-old son

This summer I spent nine days in Amsterdam with my 18-year-old son, eager to explore the city on two wheels. So much is written on the city’s transformation into a biking mecca that it almost feels cliche to visit and write about Amsterdam. I wondered if there was anything new I could learn and share.

Despite years of biking in Portland, it took me a minute to adjust to Amsterdam’s critical mass of bikes. I wasn’t used to navigating in such tight packs of bikes and the rules of the road weren’t always obvious. I learned quickly that a bike-centric city, while a huge improvement over a car-centric city, is not a utopia. Jerks on bikes will cut you off and curse you, much like some drivers on I-84. And also like many cars, very few bikes stop at crosswalks for pedestrians. In Amsterdam, cars tended to drive passively and slowly, yielding to bicycle and pedestrian traffic. I was in The Upside-Down World.

But by my second day, biking in Amsterdam felt easy and often joyful. The city is a giant maze of well-maintained bike paths with excellent signage. It felt like riding on a race track. No need for hunting down a bike lock and helmet because Amsterdam bikes have built-in wheel locks and no one wears helmets. I just hopped on my rental bike and rode away for the day. Bike parking was plentiful. The bike fashion scene was on point.

The author and her son in Vondelpark in Amsterdam.

My 18-year-old son, who will typically choose TriMet to get around Portland, biked in Amsterdam. Even after experiencing the efficiency of Amsterdam’s public transportation system, he loved the thrill and adventure of biking the city. But he said something that struck me while we were biking through Vondelpark one day.

“Mom, when I ride my bike in Portland, I feel like there is a target on my back. As if it’s only a matter of time before I get hit by a car. Here, it’s just fun and easy.”

I understood exactly how he felt. While a small element of danger existed due to the sheer number of bikes in Amsterdam, getting clipped by another bike had far less consequences than anything a car would do to us.

Coming back to the U.S. and saddling back on my bike, I felt a visceral loss of freedom and safety. And I think I finally accepted traffic violence as a true epidemic facing our city and country.

The risk of death for people on foot or bike was 23 per million in the Netherlands in 2019. In the US, that same risk in the same year was 686 per million. Pedestrian and biking deaths in the U.S. have increased 77% since 2010 and last year 7,508 people were struck and killed by vehicles, the highest number in 41 years. In Portland, 63 people have died this year by traffic violence, continuing the upward march of fatalities in our city that reflects national trends.

It is important to understand that Amsterdam wasn’t always bike nirvana. In the 1960s, cars began to clog the streets. The city faced a crossroads. Would it become car-centric like other international cities? Some city planners proposed dismantling historic neighborhoods and paving over the city’s beautiful canals to accommodate more cars. After walking and riding through those beautiful neighborhoods, that feels nothing short of tragic.

As cars filled the roads and deaths linked to cars increased, people throughout the Netherlands organized and protested. The STOP de Kindermoord, or “Stop The Murder of Children” movement pressured the government to do more to curb traffic violence. The Dutch are nothing if not direct.

This strong advocacy forced change. The government lowered car speed limits and added bike routes, and as a result, more and more people chose to bike. Today, more than half of all trips in the central area of Amsterdam are done by bicycle.

Amsterdam city leaders continue to aggressively incentivize bike use by closing streets to cars, reducing parking (there is currently a plan to remove car parking along the city’s canals), and continuing to invest in bike infrastructure. To reach their vision of a safer, more livable city with a smaller carbon footprint, Amsterdam made biking the easiest way to get around town.

After spotting a good number of riders smoking and vaping on their bikes, I am convinced the Dutch ride less for their health, and maybe even less out of concern for the environment, and more for pure convenience. We, as humans, tend to do what is easiest.

Maybe that is part of the power of travel: Experiencing a better way to live and realizing the status-quo back home, in this case, rising traffic violence, is not acceptable. I have great appreciation for the work of groups such as Families for Safe Streets Oregon/Washington, and The Street Trust, who advocate for safer streets — and I have newfound energy to immerse myself in the work of making our streets safer.

Despite the differences between our cities and the political opposition we often face here in the United States, we can get closer to our goals of safer streets by continuing to do the hard work of education and advocacy.

Once you’ve biked the streets of Amsterdam, it’s hard to sit back and do nothing.

— By Jen Guzman, Portland resident

Guest Opinion

Guest Opinion

Guest opinions do not necessarily reflect the position of BikePortland. Our goal is to amplify community voices. If you have something to share and want us to share it on our platform, contact Publisher & Editor Jonathan Maus at maus.jonathan@gmail.com.

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Gary Sansom
Gary Sansom
6 months ago

Wow, thx for the article. I know what the target on your bike thing is like, I really hope we can get even a portion of that infrastructure here in portland!

surly ogre
surly ogre
6 months ago
Reply to  Gary Sansom

join BikeLoudPDX.org and help make Portland more like Amsterdam, Utrecht, etc…

pierre delecto
pierre delecto
6 months ago
Reply to  surly ogre

help make Portland more like Amsterdam

With all due respect, BikeLoudPDX was founded in 2014 and since then cycling mode share has dropped ~54% over the past 9 years. How on earth could someone believe that a status-quo-oriented 501c3 nonprofit corporation like BikeLoudPDX is capable of fostering the radical green and environmental-anarchist politics (Kabouters movement) that helped birth the Stop de Kindermoord movement.

Watts
Watts
6 months ago
Reply to  pierre delecto

‘Stop de Kindermoord’ succeeded because it had widespread popular support, and was able to fill the streets with protestors. Such a movement cannot succeed here if it primarily consists of cyclists. There just aren’t enough of us.

BikeLoudPDX can’t lead such a movement.

pierre delecto
pierre delecto
6 months ago
Reply to  Watts

It developed wide-spread support, in part, due to the absurdist protests and political power of anarchists who highlighted the environmental damage and suffering caused by car traffic. And in point of fact, Dutch parents who lost their children and Dutch people who witness these deaths explicitly to the political tactics of the anarchist kabouter movement.

…The Provos were not fans of the new wave of modernist planners. They didn’t want their cities becoming car-centric machines. One of them denounced traffic as a pagan God that the Dutch sacrificed multiple people a day to. At first, the Provos were mostly protesting in the streets. But as they got more popular, they moved into politics, even winning a number of seats on the Amsterdam City Council….

The Provos eventually inspired other groups, like the Troublesome Amsterdammers and the Kabouters, who created something called “The Car Elimination Service.” They would ride their bikes through the city, blocking traffic and reclaiming the streets for bicycles…

…”Not long after he published the article, Vic traveled to Amsterdam. He met with Maartje and a number of other parents, and they decided to organize a protest using tactics similar to the Provos and the Kabouters. ….

https://99percentinvisible.org/episode/de-fiets-is-niets/transcript/

pierre delecto
pierre delecto
6 months ago
Reply to  Watts

correction to my post:

“witnessed these deaths explicitly turned to the political tactics”

Will
Will
6 months ago
Reply to  pierre delecto

Sounds like the founders of BikeLoudPDX weren’t up to the task they envisioned. One wonders if they were too enamored of movements from 60+ years ago and a continent away that perhaps don’t have the same political and cultural saliency in contemporary Portland.

pierre delecto
pierre delecto
6 months ago
Reply to  Will

One wonders if they were too enamored of movements from 60+ years ago and an [imaginary] continent away 

Exactly this.

Most BikeLoudPDX founders were/are enamored with liberalism and were/are infatuated with a solipsistic vision of European urban life (devoid of political context or political struggle).

Stephen Keller
Stephen Keller
6 months ago

Amsterdam (and others) got that infrastructucture as a result of public outcry over the death and maiming of children; recall “Stop de Kindermoord.” We can have that same sort of change here, provided we’re willing to raise the collective outrage sufficiently to wake up leadership and get them to move on change. As long as we wring hands and say “that’s just the way it is.” Nothing will change for the better. That outrage might start with advocates, but it has to extend beyond the purview of activists to become effective. Mother’s in the suburbs, business people with vested interests in transportation, delivery and freight people all need to wake up and start sceaming. Any other “industry” with a death rate of 40,000 per year would be halted in a instant until it could be fixed. But its cars that we’re talking, so it gets a blind eye. This grandpa says it’s time to open those eyes.

dw
dw
6 months ago
Reply to  Stephen Keller

The problem is that we’re fighting against three generations of a transportation system where death and life-altering injuries are just “the cost of doing business”. On a MUCH larger scale than 1960’s Amsterdam, which already had bike compatible land use, climate, and topography. And importantly, a strong culture of getting around without a car.

Americans have been so brainwashed to think that any road death is the result of irresponsibility on the part of the individual. Just see the social media response to the vision zero report that found 45% of deaths on our streets were homeless people. People just fundamentally do not care about the environment around them, as long as they can drive home to their little fiefdom everything else is just noise passing by the car window.

Stephen Keller
Stephen Keller
6 months ago
Reply to  dw

Which is why the outrage will have to be very widespread to be effective. Believe me, I don’t think this is an easy task. The problem is we all have a vested interest in the status quo. Even staunch US activists (I’m not one of them) who never set butt in a personal car are beholden to the transportation system as it exists today. In the bicycling industry, every product we use from saddle to crank, derailleur to fork gets shuffled around on transportation systems predicated on the current modes of thinking: when someone dies its just “the cost of doing business.” Consider bike-share programs where folks are paid to drive around and redistribute or fix the bikes. Consider meals-on-wheels where volunteers drive around to deliver dinner to folks who can’t get out. Consider the car-ownership substitutes: Lyft, et al. (yes I think those are wrong headed). Consider groceries and how they get to the stores. Consider e-tail deliveries. Consider getting to work where mass transit is a four-hour commute compared to one-hour by car. Consider suburbs because we can’t afford living close in (and what is “close-in” in this transportation model, anyway?). Yes the problem is huge. It demands a huge response if it is to be fixed.

The question is how do we get to the place where everyone looks at this system and says, “enough!” How do we grow up and accept responsibility for the mess we are in?

dw
dw
6 months ago
Reply to  Stephen Keller

Which is why the outrage will have to be very widespread to be effective.

I disagree with this. There’s a lot to be outraged about. Social injustice, genocide of Palestinians, restriction of bodily autonomy and reproductive rights, the housing shortage, the list goes on. Even for politically engaged folks, “a few” people dying “here and there” (heavy sarcasm) seems like small fry compared to all the problems that get airtime in the news and social media. I don’t think most people have the energy or headspace to be outraged about “one more thing”.

The problem is we all have a vested interest in the status quo. Even staunch US activists (I’m not one of them) who never set butt in a personal car are beholden to the transportation system as it exists today.

I do agree with this – we all benefit from the convenience of our dangerous transportation system in the same way that we benefit from unregulated child slavery that we in the rich world consume. At a certain point, we have to be willing to sacrifice some treats for the greater good.

The question is how do we get to the place where everyone looks at this system and says, “enough!” How do we grow up and accept responsibility for the mess we are in?

I think that the rational side of the argument is effective. That’s what opened my eyes and got me to care. It feels like every special interest group is trying to engage the emotional side of our brains, but don’t often appeal to logic. We should be bringing people into the fold by helping them see that making our streets more humane is something that can happen, and within our lifetimes, if there is political will and popular support for it.

Stephen Keller
Stephen Keller
6 months ago
Reply to  dw

Dw writes:

‘There’s a lot to be outraged about. Social injustice, genocide of Palestinians, restriction of bodily autonomy and reproductive rights, the housing shortage, the list goes on. Even for politically engaged folks, “a few” people dying “here and there” (heavy sarcasm) seems like small fry compared to all the problems that get airtime in the news and social media. I don’t think most people have the energy or headspace to be outraged about “one more thing”….’

You’ve outlined the problem well enough: we have so many major issues it’s overwhelming. Even the 40,000 per-year death rate isn’t enough to command attention. It is just “one more thing.” It’s very much like juggling a few too many balls. Some get dropped. In the US, it appears that traffic safety is the one routinely getting dropped.

pierre delecto
pierre delecto
6 months ago
Reply to  dw

At a certain point, we have to be willing to sacrifice some treats for the greater good.

Sacrificing the greater good for treats is a bedrock ‘murrican value.

Fred
Fred
6 months ago

Amsterdam city leaders continue to aggressively incentivize bike use by closing streets to cars…

Which is exactly what Portland leaders will NOT do.

The unstated Goal #1 of PBOT and ODOT is:

“Unrestricted automobility must be maintained in all places, at all times.”

And how they deliver!

When we want to close a few streets to cars during Sunday Parkways, the drivers HOWL! And why shouldn’t they? Our city leaders always deliver on Goal #1.

dw
dw
6 months ago
Reply to  Fred

Dude, the thing that irks me is that listening to most folks in my circles, they already think the city is trying to make driving as difficult as possible. More progressive folks understand that’s the cost of making the streets safer and more accesible. Less educated ones just write it off as more “woke bs”.

So PBOT, PPB, et al. are already building the political resentment with little actual protected infrastructure or traffic calming to show for it.

Watts
Watts
6 months ago
Reply to  Fred

Holland is the way it is because of mass street protests demanding change. If we had those, PBOT and ODOT would behave differently.

Travel Guy PDX
Travel Guy PDX
6 months ago
Reply to  Watts

Nah if Portland did this we would just have people breaking windows and spraying grafitti. That behavior will NOT elicit a broad base of support like the Netherlands had to get this change to happen.

Watts
Watts
6 months ago
Reply to  Travel Guy PDX

The large “climate strike” protests have demonstrated that Portlanders can have a peaceful protest without completely spazzing out.

Chris I
Chris I
6 months ago
Reply to  Watts

Exactly. You just have to find issues that don’t attract the bored Reedies.

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
6 months ago
Reply to  Fred

Bike Portland used to have an advocacy how-to page, I’m not sure when I last saw anything related to it.

At least 80% of the content in BP is what I’d call “blame and complain”, I periodically engage in it too, it gives one a certain brief personal satisfaction, but I’m not sure how effective it is on advocacy and bringing about change. What is much harder is getting the community to actually implement change, be it a new PBOT or ODOT bike facility, the bike bus series, diverters, repainting intersections (city repair), holding events, and so on – but when it happens and you had something to with it, it feels really good! And then there’s quite a lot in between – forming alliances, protests, dealing with city code, attending meetings, voting, fixing bikes for the less well off, and so much more. Hardest of all is changing society.

Stephen Scarich
Stephen Scarich
6 months ago

Can’t ignore the impact of $10 gas on driving habits.

Watts
Watts
6 months ago

As more people adopt electric cars, they become insensitive to the price of gas.

It is still a potent issue, but it’s becoming less so every year.

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
6 months ago

As of November 20th 2023, the price per US gallon at the pump was $3.58 in the USA (national average, lots of regional variation) and $8.25 in the Netherlands, all taxes included. Diesel is $4.21 in the USA and $7.56 in the Netherlands, which presumably explains why diesel cars are relatively more popular there.

https://www.globalpetrolprices.com/gasoline_prices/

Travel Guy PDX
Travel Guy PDX
6 months ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

And distances are much shorter in the Netherlands.

Anne
Anne
6 months ago

What most tourists never experience is that driving in Amsterdam is actually fine. Especially compared to driving in cities in the US. In 10 minutes from the interstate being on Rembrandt Square having a beer is easy.

Seperating cars from people outside of them makes driving more pleasant and faster. What keeps surprising me in the US is the thinking that more pavement equals a better flow of cars. Which is just not to case. Well-designed streets do.

Lazy Spinner
Lazy Spinner
6 months ago

The types of bike infrastructure, smart streets, and traffic enforcement that we want to see is never going to happen. I apologize for the negative tone, but I have become a defeatist on these issues.

Candidates become bike friendly and mount a bike for a photo op every election cycle just to fool people into voting for them. Once they are in office, they are beholden to the trucking industry, business lobby, car dealers, construction firms, and other monied interests like all other politicos. This happens over and over and we rubes keep falling for it. Unless I see a candidate with ripped quads, proper cycling attire, and a helmet that fits, I am going to assume that they don’t actually ride. Why do they always get that picture taken wearing Dockers, a button up shirt, and a helmet that clearly exposes to much forehead and loose straps? Fakery!

Bike advocacy groups are next to useless. All the memorial rides, ghost bikes, bike busses, and other demonstrations fail to elicit much public attention and pale in comparison to campaign contributions from the aforementioned lobbyists. Dedicated bike riders are only 5-7% of the voter base at best and if only 50-60% of them are submitting ballots, that isn’t worrying to elected officials. They look more and more like cool kids clubs that spout talking points learned at the latest transportation conference while enjoying their Quixotic martyrdom. The Broadway fiasco was delayed, not canceled. It will be back once the heat has dissipated and PBOT can repackage it for sale to the non-cycling masses.

The bureaucrats at PBOT and other planning agencies are more interested in building their careers and playing internal political games. Why stick your neck out for cyclists? Stick to the house rules, earn decent money for 25 years, retire with a generous pension, and then start your own consultancy business getting paid with tax and grant money fed to you by your former staffers. That’s how you win the civil servant lottery.

Again, I am sorry to be writing this. I have grown tired of decades of big talk and dreams that get squashed by political reality and self-serving schemes. We get a bridge, a few blocks of separated pathways, and some low traffic residential avenues from time-to-time but the overall state of cycling in Portland has become more dangerous and less accessible in recent years. Major MUPS are now lawless linear campgrounds and open-air drug markets, bike thefts are up, enforcement of common-sense traffic laws down, and no visionary, realistic, and achievable infrastructure projects are in the pipeline. Ten years ago, I thought we could be Amsterdam-on-The Willamette. Today, we’re firmly heading towards being a soggy little Los Angeles.

dw
dw
6 months ago
Reply to  Lazy Spinner

While I don’t agree with the weird “only real cyclists wearing lycra” gatekeeping, I hate to say I agree with the rest of what you’ve written.

What have any of the “bike advocacy” grifts accomplished except for some (now incredibly toxic and dangerous) group rides and strongly-worded letters? Oh, right, a few dorky white guys showing up to speeches ‘playing dead’ with their bike helmets on.

Where are the calls for PBOT to fix the torn-up greenways? The backbone of our bike network, already being used right now to make bike trips is in a sorry state. Torn up pavement with huge potholes and trenches crisscrossing them. Crossing paint that’s barely visible anymore. Signs that have long since been knocked over by errant drivers. Drivers using streets as cut-throughs that should have long ago had diverters installed. Literally nobody in this entire city would object to neighborhood streets being repaved with smooth asphalt. No, I guess getting in a wad over a few blocks of useless painted bike lane is more important.

Where are the calls for PPB to do actual traffic enforcement? Oh, I guess speed cameras are cool, but what about the drunk drivers? The drivers scrolling TikTok behind the wheel? People speeding or running red lights where there’s no cameras? Drivers just straight up trying to run people over? Seems like every urbanist/advocacy group just adopts everything-bagel leftism that says “no police ever anywhere”. Ok cool, in the ideal socialist utopia we’ll build protected bike lanes on every street and people will choose to get out of their cars once that happens. But enforcement protects people who are already making the socially responsible choice to bike instead of drive. Guess I’ll just keep saying “infrastructure” every time someone tries to kill me!

X
X
6 months ago
Reply to  Lazy Spinner

Candidates:

https://bikeportland.org/2020/05/01/candidates-on-bikes-mingus-mapps-chloe-eudaly-seth-wooley-keith-wilson-and-sam-adams-314430

Mingus Mapps:
“I am what the Portland Bicycle Plan for 2030 describes as an “enthused and confident’ bicyclist. I am a lifelong cyclist and bike commuter. I am comfortable on busy streets with bike lanes. One day, I hope to own an electric and commute on an electric bike.”

Travel Guy PDX
Travel Guy PDX
6 months ago
Reply to  Lazy Spinner

The problem is that the “bike and transportation advocates” in Portland have backed extremist positions like less cops, less enforcement and NOT coming out against street camping. You’re not gong to gain the support of the majority of even left leaning Portland with this approach.

Clark in Vancouver
Clark in Vancouver
6 months ago

Visiting Amsterdam and cycling around it and the countryside north of there for a few days opened my eyes to what was possible and required. I came back to Vancouver and the next day was at an event where someone was trying to get a petition to convince the city to make more bike boxes. I said something like why waste your time on minor interventions like that, push to go way past that.
A year after that Vancouver got its first protected intersection and that led to even more of them. Now it’s one of the things that has become almost mundane. Everyone now knows what they are and how to use them. When a street is being changed one is often included. What is now called AAA infrastructure is talked about and (at least claimed to be) supported by politicians. Fifteen years ago none of this would have been possible.
Support for cycling is now so high that in the last municipal election, the pro-car party had to reform under a new name and lie claiming that they were supportive of alternatives. If they had been honest about their intentions they wouldn’t have got many votes.

I say, don’t give up hope but be aware that this will be a life long fight and needs constant vigilance. The powers that want to force everyone to drive so they can sell them cars, gas, batteries, tires, etc know that most of their market is from people who given other choices would not buy a car.

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
6 months ago

When you visit Bicycle Paradise, don’t forget to Go to Hell as well.

There are lots of bicycle paradises – Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Barcelona, college towns like Boulder, Eugene, York UK, Lucca Italy, and of course Portland Oregon.

Hell isn’t where you live – that’s more like purgatory, the place you are trying to improve – Hell is the place you don’t want to visit because quite frankly bicycling there really sucks. It’s a place in the Midwest where your in-laws live or out East or down South where your meth-addicted cousins get together for family reunions. It’s where there is a token painted bike lane along a major 55-mph stroad, with sharrows in the right-hand turn lane next to the McDonalds and Jiffy-Lube, across from Bob Evans and Sheetz, near the 6-foot wide asphalt bike path along the garbage strewn local creek. And yet there are bicyclists there. In Hell. Somehow they continue to survive. Next time you visit Hell, I suggest you stop a cyclist or two and ask them about bicycling there – they’ll tell you the good back roads and short cuts, but you might also a learn a thing or two from them about advocacy and getting the best they can out of a bad deck of cards.

And yeah, once you are in Hell, you realize that for most people who live and bike in Hell, Portland Oregon really is paradise.

I’m sure even in Amsterdam locals bitch about the facilities and how corrupt their local government it – in fact I know they do.

Todd/Boulanger
6 months ago

The other things that many “cycle-designer visitors” may not know or forget is that Amsterdam is just one city in a country of many newer cities often more car-suburban with slighting different approaches to bikeways (+/-)…and the other is that even Amsterdam, a ~600+ year old city, is still a transport work in progress for cyclists with incremental tweaks every 10 years or so.

Many of the Amsterdam streets I cycled on 30 years ago you would not recognize versus the current photos now OR the 2000s Amsterdam version would be very similar to the level of bike dream that Portland has. Then again New Your city is only 50 years younger than Amsterdam as a city place.

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)
Editor
Reply to  Todd/Boulanger

I’ll pop it in here. Paris, Geneva and other European cities have not followed the same route to having bike infrastructure as the Amsterdam protest route. In those cities it has been initiated by the government. There is more than one way to a good bicycle network.

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
6 months ago
Reply to  Todd/Boulanger

What’s fun to see is the old James Bond film “Diamonds Are Forever”, which shows Amsterdam in 1967 or 1968, cars parked everywhere, but a lot of bicycles even back then. I first visited the city in 1984 as a sullen teenager with my dad, lots of pedestrians and very walkable – I don’t remember seeing any cyclists but then again I wasn’t really looking for them either – but I did feel like I was visiting a 21st century city even then, ultra-modern Rotterdam even more so. Next time I was there was in 2000 – by then the cars were largely gone from the inner core in both Rotterdam and Amsterdam, relegated to centralized car parks – and very pedestrianized, but not so many bicycles yet. When I visited in 2007 there were a lot more bicyclists; when I last visited in 2013 there were signs of cracking down on speedy bicyclists on certain pedestrian zones, even outright bans in some communities (particularly in nearby Belgium). It was interesting to see how some cities were using cars as traffic-calming tools, to slow bicycles in the inner core, both allowed to move no faster than fast-walking speed (6-8 mph) – and those Europeans can certainly walk fast, I could never keep up. It’s been over 10 years now, I need to go back and see all the changes.

1x1 Rat Ride
1x1 Rat Ride
6 months ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

cars were largely gone from the inner core in both Rotterdam and Amsterdam, relegated to centralized car parks

While I have not been to Rotterdam, it’s blatantly false to claim that Amsterdam has removed cars from its city center (aka the tourist zone). Plenty of cars and trucks there, and cyclists do indeed interact with them.

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)
Editor
Reply to  1x1 Rat Ride

He didn’t claim that.

Quint
Quint
6 months ago

I think a really key part of why The Netherlands traffic system is so much safer is precisely the thing that makes hard to adapt to at first, which is that it operates much less on traffic control devices and following rules, and much more on everyone navigating a space together, making eye contact, and slowing down to deal with the “friction” that results. There are virtually no stop signs in The Netherlands, and very few traffic signals. Most of the time, pedestrians cross whenever they want, bikes cross whenever they want, and drivers have to slow way down to navigate the chaos. As the writer of this post notes at the beginning, this can be a bit stressful, especially at first, because we’re not used to that kind of traffic system and culture. You can’t turn your brain off and have to be very vigilant. But the result is a system that is safer for everyone.

BB
BB
6 months ago
Reply to  Quint

Is it Safer?
See my post above.
291 cycling deaths in the Netherlands in 2022 in a country of 17 million.
The US had 1200 deaths in a country of 350 million.
They had 5 times more per capita.
‘They also just elected a Real Fascist….
Lovely people.

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)
Editor
Reply to  BB

Your denominator should be number of people who ride, or better yet, miles riden. As an example, let’s say 1%, or 3.5 M Americans ride. And say 100% of Dutch ride, or 17 M.

Then the US death per rider of 1200 over 3.5M would be much worse than Netherland’s, of 291 over 17M. An order of magnitude worse.

Jim Calhoon
Jim Calhoon
6 months ago

The Dutch make 28% of all trips by bicycle,

Source: https://bicyclenetwork.com.au/newsroom/2021/03/11/the-netherlands-by-numbers/

So, I think the number of Dutch people who ride bicycles could be high but not 100%. and I think the number of US riders is higher than 1%. The problem is the only surveys count the number of bicycle commuters. I know a lot of recreational riders but only a few who use their bikes for work or errands.
 
Without knowing the actual number of riders per country it makes comparing deaths/rider an impossible task. BB’s statement that the % of Dutch people who were killed while riding their bike is higher than the U.S. is a factual statement.

We can argue back and forth about the proper way to classify these numbers. But what we need to remember is that 291 Dutch and 1200 Americans lost their life why riding a bike. I get the impression from people on this forum that the Dutch cycling infrastructure provides better safety. So, the questions that need to be answered is did the Dutch cycling facilities fail to prevent the 291 deaths. The other question is if we had safer places to ride bikes in the U.S. how many of the 1200 deaths could have been prevented. Unfortunately I fail to see anybody do the deep dive it would take to answer these questions.

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)
Editor
Reply to  Jim Calhoon

Sure, sure BB’s statement is factually correct, so is the statement “people who drink alcohol get drunk more often than teetotalers.”

I picked my numbers to make the arithmetic easy and to illustrate a point. That’s why I used the conditional.

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)
Editor

OK, I’ve got some real numbers. Your average Dutch person rides 3.2 kilometers a day, in aggregate that is about 20B kilometers a year, with 291 deaths. (Source: statista.com).

On average, an American rides 40 kilometers a year, for 15B kilometers a year in aggregate.

That means the Netherlands has a death per billion-kilometer rate of 15. The US rate is 80.

Check my arithmetic, I’m working off a phone.

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
6 months ago

I personally find these international comparisons utterly useless and pointless, you might as well be comparing Portland to Gaza, or to an orange. First of all, bike crash data (and resulting death reporting) are notoriously unreliable everywhere in the USA and vastly under-reported – why should it be any different in the Netherlands? – and so statistical comparisons are of course impossible without good data. Secondly, in spite of Amsterdam being Portland’s only European air gateway, the two cities have nearly nothing in common aside from both being seaports. Amsterdam was founded in medieval times, is totally flat, waterlogged, a national capital of a tiny high-density country of 15 million; Portland is a large commercial city, not even the capital if it’s own small sparsely-populated US state of 4 million, quite hilly, founded in 1851 (but likely settled by whites as far back as 1809, and settled by American Indian tribes before 9,000 BC.) The people who live in each place are quite different, have different histories, are influenced differently by their neighbors (or invaded), and so on. Amsterdam is as typical of a Dutch city as Paris is of French cities – utterly unique – and so using the Netherlands as a whole to compare to Amsterdam is as useless as comparing Portland with the rest of the USA.

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)
Editor
Reply to  David Hampsten

I agree with you, and Quint above. But I was responding to someone making a per capita comparison (which is really wrong) to argue that cycling is not safer in the Netherlands than the US.

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
6 months ago

The issue revolves somewhat around the data (or lack of it), data reliability, and bias. The USA has a known strong bias from a huge car industry to support a notion that car driving is safer than bicycling – if nothing else, it sells more cars and supports (or subsidizes) the jobs of millions of workers, sales people, and highway engineers, not to mention 535 politicians in DC – even if the data collected is rather dubious and inconsistent. Is there a similar data bias in the Netherlands that supports a pro-bicycling lobby and the cities that have invested millions into such infrastructure? Probably.

Even if the safety data from the Netherlands for bicycling is solidly reliable and the best on the planet, it really doesn’t matter on comparisons to the USA as long as the US data is so awful and unreliable. The reality is that we have no idea if the Netherlands is safer for bicycling or not safer – and so we fall back onto our own biases – Amsterdam and Utrecht and Breda and Delft and all those other wonderful Dutch cities must be safer because we want them to be and we feel they ought to be, and here are all my arguments why this should be…

Chris I
Chris I
6 months ago
Reply to  BB

Do you think you are making a salient point, or do you just misunderstand statistics completely?

BB
BB
6 months ago
Reply to  Chris I

I understand statistics and I realize Amsterdam is a epic cycling city.
There were also over 200 cycling deaths in 2022 in a city of 1 million people which is a shocking amount, mostly attributed to E-bikes.
‘Portland had 1 death in 2022.
Are there 200 times the amount of cyclists in Amsterdam?
My point is that is not a Utopia, that is a lot of people dying on their streets.

Pkjb
Pkjb
6 months ago
Reply to  BB

Are there 200 times the amount of cyclists in Amsterdam compared to Portland? Yes. Undoubtedly.

Travel Guy PDX
Travel Guy PDX
6 months ago
Reply to  BB

You mean the grass isn’t always greener in Holland?

Pkjb
Pkjb
6 months ago
Reply to  BB

Not utopia? Okay. But much safer than America? Yes.

Total number of people killed in the entire country of the Netherlands in traffic related fatalities in 2022 was 745 (all categories including bikes, peds, and cars). Assuming a national population of 15 million and not adjusting for vmt, that’s about 5 deaths per 100,000 people

https://swov.nl/en/fact-sheet/road-deaths-netherlands#:~:text=In%20the%20last%20ten%20years,reverted%20to%20pre%2D2009%20levels.

What about the United States? In 2022 there were 42,975 traffic fatalities according to nhtsa (unclear if this includes bikes and peds or if it’s just people in cars). Assuming a population of 350 million and not adjusting for vmt, that’s more than 12 deaths per 100,000 people.

https://www.nhtsa.gov/press-releases/traffic-crash-death-estimates-2022#:~:text=The%20National%20Highway%20Traffic%20Safety,42%2C939%20fatalities%20reported%20for%202021.

I think the obvious conclusion is that transportation is much safer in the Netherlands than it is in the United States despite some presumed deficiencies in statistical reporting. Whether that’s due to higher population densities and shorter commutes, higher reliance on transit and rail transport, in general, higher rates of biking, hardened and separated infrastructure, cultural differences, or other factors, it is safer to travel in the Netherlands than it is in the United States.

Chris I
Chris I
6 months ago
Reply to  BB

While they have an increase in recent years, their rate of death is 7-8x lower per Km traveled when compared to our own. You are significantly more likely to die while cycling in the US.

Paul H
Paul H
6 months ago
Reply to  BB

Indeed. From the article:

I learned quickly that a bike-centric city, while a huge improvement over a car-centric city, is not a utopia.