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  • Writer's pictureJohn Emslie

Amsterdam & Cycling - all it's cracked up to be?


I've had a few days to reflect on my city break to Amsterdam and am still I'm a little disappointed in what I found there in this much-celebrated cycling exemplar.


Before going further (and perhaps a little controversially!), I remain a passionate active travel practitioner and advocate for cycling in addressing many of the accessibility, health and environmental challenges we face in urban areas. But I also feel every bit as passionately about about walking. We all walk, whatever mode we may then transfer onto as part of a longer journey.


In Amsterdam, as in central London where I commute largely on foot, I again found myself often frantically swivelling my head to scan for cyclists as I walked along or crossed the city's streets. The setted and largely vehicle-free roadways appear shared, but in practice, I found pedestrians are best advised to keep to the footways for safety. Yes, I was unfamiliar with the city, but still too often felt unduly uncomfortable on the city's streets.


My disappointment is this - I really thought there would have evolved a mature movement ecosystem between cyclists and pedestrians as equivalent modes with innate and equal rights of passage. But though riders were almost all casually dressed (no Lycra in sight), the urge to maintain rolling momentum seems every bit as great in Amsterdam as on central London's strategic cycleways, despite many more years of widespread use and coexistence. In fact, everyone seemed to just keep pedalling, no freewheeling. Perhaps not as urgently or as speedily as some of their London-based equivalents, but boy, those big old sit-up 'Omafiet' cycles just keep on coming! It felt as though cycles had replaced cars as the primary mode, and pedestrians just have to work around that.


A few years ago, we (Urban Flow) did some project research on cycle:pedestrian conflict and were pleased to find that on the whole, cyclists in the shared shopping street area studied made considerate strategic diversions around pedestrians. I'd expected that I'd find something very similar and more widespread on my recent travels.


Of course, it doesn't have to be this way and I'm sure we can all do better in sharing our streets with a little more consideration shown all round between all street users. The Amsterdam experience remains a hugely commendable and leading example of active travel in action of course, but we can perhaps take some lessons from it as we move forward to an even more harmonious and sustainable future.

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