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Members of the counterculture group Provo gather in Amsterdam in 1966. The group launched a free bikesharing program called the White Bicycle Plan that’s considered the forerunner of today’s municipal fleets.

Members of the counterculture group Provo gather in Amsterdam in 1966. The group launched a free bikesharing program called the White Bicycle Plan that’s considered the forerunner of today’s municipal fleets.

Photographer: Jean Tesseyre/Paris Match via Getty Images

CityLab
Transportation

The Radical Roots of Bikesharing

In mid-1960s Amsterdam, a counterculture movement with a small fleet of white bicycles pioneered a transportation model that’s swept thousands of cities around the world. 

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In 1967, a newly elected representative of the Amsterdam City Council named Luud Schimmelpenninck presented the city with a novel proposal: Why didn’t the city help to solve its traffic congestion problems by creating a fleet of bikes that were entirely free to use? At that time, the Dutch capital’s streets had become clogged with cars, with frequent pedestrian deaths and injuries. Would it not be better, Schimmelpenninck suggested, to make cycling so cheap and easy that cars disappeared?

Given that, 55 years later, Amsterdam today enjoys a reputation as a global cycling capital, the response to this proposal — for what would have been the world’s first urban bikeshare scheme — might surprise you: The council members almost unanimously rejected it.