In the Netherlands there are more bikes than there are people. It’s a fascinating statistic. And support for bikers in this infrastructure is impressive. The Dutch are actually building parking garages for bikes underwater because they are running out of bike parking space. That’s what I call commitment to bikes.
But now, move over bikes, because here come the mopeds. Something not as impressive and quite annoying that’s changed from when I lived here twenty years ago, is the amount of menacing mopeds.
If you own a small motorcycle fitted as a “light moped” that cannot exceed 25 km/hr and you don’t want to wear a helmet, you can ride in the bike lane. Yes, the bike line. Think on that for a moment. It would be one thing if the bike paths weren’t already very crowded with bikes. But they are. The volume of cyclists between 2:30 pm-6 pm when school lets out to early evening, increases hour by hour. Think sardines. Packed like pedalling sardines.
It’s hard enough being a non-Dutch master of the bicycle here trying to get from point A to point B and back again. Add trying not to get sideswiped by the “light moped” passing you on your bike with its loud hummmmmmm in your ears a little too closely, and it becomes much much harder.
As a newcomer to Amsterdam, biking as a means of transportation takes a different level of concentration than you might be used to and a steadiness when crowded in on all sides. So does crossing the street and the bike lanes on foot. At certain times of day you have to be quicker than usual – you have to zoom across. Every afternoon around 4:15 pm I go the nearby tram stop to meet my teenage daughter on her way home from school. First, I have to get across the bike lane to the sidewalk and then the main thoroughfare and then another bike lane and make it safely onto the other sidewalk to get to the tram stop. Phew. This is high traffic time. There is a constant hum of mopeds, clanging of the trams, bings from the bike bells and vrmmms from the cars. It’s a sensory overload of wheels. I don’t walk, I zoom.
My daughter is pretty tired when she gets off the tram from school and just wants to get home. The first month or so after arriving here and not being familiar with the constant flow of bike and moped traffic, she needed a little (Ok, a lot) of reminding about looking to the left or right before crossing the bike lane to get to the sidewalk before crossing the road. It’s tiring just writing that. “Heads up” is my usual reminder to her if she’s not paying attention. A walker can easily collide with a bike or a faster approaching moped if crossing before the path is clear.
At this time of day, we do not walk. We zoom. It’s somewhere between fast walking, kind of running or zipping across a thoroughfare with all the other crossers, before the light turns red and the wheels start moving again. And moped wheels are much quicker on the bike lanes than the bikes. You are on guard, alert, head whipping from side to side, and once safely on the sidewalk, you can breathe a sigh of relief and relax and start walking again.
They say assimilating to a new country takes patience, time and willingness to adapt. I am happy to report that after just six weeks, we are zooming along just fine. Sort of.