People unfamiliar with the idea of the bicycle as real transportation sometimes see Amsterdam—the famously bike-friendly Dutch capital—as a fantasyland that has very little to do with the grown-up transportation world of cars and trucks. In reality, a readjustment of perspective is needed, since Amsterdam has succeeded in creating a transportation system that is one of the most successful in the world. Transportation in Amsterdam is the epitome of sustainability. It is convenient, cheap, clean, quiet, efficient, and safe.
Furthermore, creating and maintaining a bike-centric urban transportation network is anything but child’s play, given the complex planning, design, regulatory, and political landscape that must be negotiated to keep the parts moving. Until I spent several weeks in Amsterdam this summer, I failed to appreciate some essential nuances about what makes the city tick for bikes—and how challenging it can be to reverse engineer such a bicycle ecosystem into an American city.