A City with Too Many Bicycles – Amsterdam’s Unique Problem

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As cities all over the world attempt to better integrate the bicycle, Amsterdam acts as an example of a how a city might function should it achieve that goal – and it’s not all good. Bicycle use is so popular in the Dutch capital that abandoned bikes in the city centre are starting to become a problem – an urban challenge almost unique to Amsterdam.

With the average Amsterdammer owning 1.5 bicycles, it’s inevitable that many aren’t being used. In fact, 15% of all bikes parked outside are believed to be unused, with 60% of all unused bicycles parked in the city centre.

The City of Amsterdam is attempting to raise awareness of the issue, starting with this enormous sculpture made up of 200 abandoned bicycles. Displayed during March 2011, this maze of bicycles acts as a strong visual reminder of the problems abandoned bikes create for the city. For cyclists, being unable to park your bicycle at racks full of abandoned vehicles is frustrating. For pedestrians, the visual pollution of damaged bicycles on the city’s streets is a problem. And for the city council, the cost and inconvenience of removing 15,000 bicycles annually is something they would rather avoid.

The bicycle sculpture is just the beginning of Amsterdam’s efforts, however. Bicycle maintenance is being encouraged in order to prevent degeneration to a point where owners feel their vehicle must be disposed of. Should it reach that point, detailed information on how to recycle or dispose of unwanted bicycles is being promoted throughout the city, hopefully encouraging residents to be proactive.

Problems with bicycle abandonment are likely to remain a bigger issue in Amsterdam than other cities simply due to the popularity of this mode of transport. It remains to be seen whether these new efforts will have a significant effect, but as global cities attempt to emulate Amsterdam’s bicycle infrastructure, it’s also worth observing how the city approaches one negative effect of mass bicycle use.

Images courtesy of City Breaths


  • http://amsterdamize.com amsterdamize

    calling this a ‘problem’ is misleading, as it’s hardly new. A news film from 1958: “With 900.000 inhabitants & 600.000 people using their bikes every day, Amsterdammers on two wheels have one thing in common with car drivers: the lack of bike parking.” 

    Back in 1958, bike parking solutions obviously weren’t as diverse & advanced as they are now, but the premise is the same: it needs to be provided for & that is entirely possible. Over 10 years ago the city of Amsterdam promised to do better and promised to build more (underground) bike parking garages, but, you guessed it, those were promises & not met by a long shot. Amsterdam runs/flaunts with the internationally acclaimed ‘Sustainable Mobility’ program, with which the bicycle was their flag ship. Over the last few years they jumped on the bandwagon of e-cars & spent millions so far supplying FREE parking & charging infrastructure. So yes, quite delusional. 

    Aside from that: since last year some leading politicians (who have budget responsibilities) of certain libertarian parties have been coining it ‘there are too many bicycles in Amsterdam’, basically for the first time in its history. You have to see this in light of the fact that many politicians want to ‘score big’ with projects, not with something so ordinary & taken for granted subject like bicycles. That’s why they’ll happily overspend on the flawed subway line Noord-Zuid through the center of Amsterdam by some 4 billion euros, but neglect the real need of Amsterdammers. Instead of embracing the fact that STILL more and more people travel to the train station and elsewhere by bike (avg 12% per year), which is of great importance to a dense/compact city like AMS and its connection with other cities, they whine. 
    Basically it’s all a cop-out. Utrecht is showing the way with time-based automated parking, Rotterdam is showing the way by proposing to give orphan bikes to people who had their bikes stolen, etc. Groningen goes ahead and installs many smart bike parking garages & extends where its needed. Yes, Amsterdam bike parking is crazy, but it’s NOT a problem in the popular sense, but just another hurdle to take. We like to pride ourselves with our ingenuity & pragmatism, but sometimes that’s over-shadowed by populism, tunnel vision & disregard of history by the few.

    We’ve built some of the greatest engineering structures in the world, we’ve built the stuff that made us THE cycling nation on this planet, yet we’re being side-tracked by some ill-informed & often delusional individuals who don’t see the forest for the trees. We’ll move beyond this at some point, because Amsterdam can’t do without people on bikes and it sure looks like that’s going to be the case in decades to come.