After a long flight from Toronto Pearson Airport to Amsterdam Airport Schipol and a train ride, we arrived to Amsterdam Central Station (Amsterdam Centraal) around noon of September 17th.
Since we were staying at a hostel in Amsterdam-Noord, north of the IJ lake, our daily commute included multiple ferry rides, free to the public 24/7. Ferry rides aren’t all that extraordinary to a group of Torontonians, but the busy red bike lane separating 24 foreign students (complete with bulky luggage and culture shock) and the ferry we needed to hop on was not something our professors could have verbally prepared us for – even though they tried. The photo above does not do justice to how many bikes were flying by the moment we tried crossing.
Biking in the Netherlands, especially in the capital, is ubiquitous and much easier than it is in Toronto. There are about 21 million bikes in the Netherlands, but only 17 million people. There are bike lanes and routes throughout Amsterdam and cyclists seem to always have the right of way. This was because in the 1970s, the people living in Amsterdam expressed to the government that they favoured a cycling network over vehicles and wanted to feel that they can bike any where in the city safely. Today, motorists are tested heavily on their ability to drive with the high volume of cyclists on the road in order to obtain their license. Cyclists are not required to wear helmets, and the level terrain and small size of Amsterdam encourages people of every socio-economic status to bike instead of drive. This is why the city is known internationally for their bike culture.
In contrast, even though there are bike lanes dispersed throughout Toronto’s parks, downtown core and waterfront, the majority of people in our city prefer to drive or take public transit. The creation of new bike lanes by the city are spoken of with contempt, motorists generally don’t know how to drive while sharing the road (many accidents and altercations occur), some cyclists ignore red lights and behave like pedestrians, cars park in bike lanes, etc. In Amsterdam, they do not have these problems; cyclists, motorists, public transit and even pedestrians exist with synergy and efficiency.
Simply put, Amsterdam caters to cyclists and Toronto caters to motorists. With our increasing population and static road space, it would be imperative to relieve the growing congestion and parking problem in our city by modelling what Amsterdam did over 40 years ago – make Toronto more bicycle friendly. This city may have a rolling terrain, require geared-bikes outside the downtown core and be almost three times the area of Amsterdam, but adding more cars will only hurt our transportation system and public transit isn’t being extended fast enough to relieve it.