Managing the cycle stockpiles of Amsterdam
Amsterdam has a problem that many other cities wish they had to worry about. While many cities, especially in the United States, are struggling with clogged freeways and cramped parking options, Amsterdam is drowning in bicycles. Actually, in many cases it’s the bicycles that are drowning, as they’re literally spilling into the canals as people look for easy places to park them.
Cycling is a big part of Dutch culture, but that’s only part of why residents of Amsterdam collectively bike 1.2 million miles a day. A compact city plan in across largely flat terrain make biking a very easy and practical form of transportation. There are health benefits, plus a lack of pollution makes cycling an environmentally friendly way to get around the city. Unless you consider the bikes themselves pollution when they end up in the water.
Boating for bikes
The canals of Amsterdam have a history of pollutants, as they used to double as an unofficial public sewer. In 1860 most of these biohazards were cleaned up, and by comparison the bikes dumped in the water are much easier to handled. This is thanks to the “bike fishermen,” who patrol the canals with a boat outfitted with a giant, mechanical claw. Looking something like a scaled-up skill game from a carnival, these patrols retrieve shopping carts, scooters, and around 15 thousand bicycles per year. Some of these drowned bikes may be accidents, as there are few fences to keep them out of the canals, but many may be purposely abandoned.
Snapping up cycles
A second task force patrols Amsterdam for bikes that are illegally parked, blocking right of ways or, after two weeks, considered abandoned. Even with four-story parking garages entirely for bikes, commuters are known to cut corners either to make a train on time or avoid the hassle of properly finding a parking space. Improperly parked bikes are cut off their locks, carefully documented, and trucked out of town to a large holding lot. There they can be reclaimed, largely thanks to the careful organization of the operation. Eventually, unclaimed bikes are either recycled, resold, or even donated to other countries. People who do claim their bike get to enjoy the “ride of shame,” riding on a mostly empty road back to town while contemplating how they ended up there in the first place.
Why neglect their wheels?
So why are so many bikes tossed about in a city that loves and enjoys them? There may be just too many bikes, and they aren’t perceived as being valuable. When it’s cheaper to get a new, used bike than pay for repairs, people may just toss them in the drink. They’re even compared to disposable cups. It’s still good to have people biking, of course, but programs are being developed to reduce the need for everyone to own and maintain their own vehicle.
Amsterdam actually started a bike sharing program in the 1960’s, but it eventually failed. Other cities have since copied that idea, and now Amsterdam may be ready for a second shot at it, so that hopefully the four-story garage will be a place where bikes frequently “checked out” and used, rather than piled up to the point of frustration. Either way, Los Angeles is jealous.
Source: In Amsterdam, watch out for tow trucks — for bikes by Bradley Campbell and Marissa Lorusso, PRI's The World