Friday, 1 July 2011

Amsterdam Leftovers Part 3: Weird bike antics

I posted several times about how the Dutch have a love affair with bikes. Everyone, of every age, ride bikes. While riding into Naarden, an 80 year old lady stopped on her bike to give us directions, and we followed her into town. The chances of finding an 80 year old Calgarian on a bike is close to zero, much less an 80 year old Calgarian women, much less a guy in a tuxedo...
The only people in tuxes on Calgary streets are symphony musicians
...a girl in a short skirt...
Not the shortest skirt I saw, nor the highest heels
...a guy on a cell phone...
Probably texting
...or any of the other people you regularly see on bikes.

The bikes themselves are also a kick. My fave was the 3 seater.
Room for dad, kid 1 in the front, kid 2 in the middle facing back
I wish I had more photos of the sheer wacky variety of bikes we saw. Bikes with wheelbarrows on the front. Bikes with big trailers. Bikes that sat 4 (2 is so passé). And since so many Amsterdam granny bikes look the same (black, rusted, ugly), some people (mostly women) decorate their bikes with plastic flowers to help them find it in the 1,200 bike parking lot. When it comes to their bikes, the Dutch show their most creative side.

One souvenir I wish I had brought home is a genuine Dutch bike lock. No, not the monster-mega huge fabric wrapped chain and industrial lock they all use. Just the simple "shopping lock" they have.
These locks are readily installed out of the way and are simple and generally safe to use.

Only problem is that some of these locks are/were not foolproof, as this YouTube video shows.

Since I got back home, I've noticed a lot of chatter in town about making Calgary more bicycle friendly. I'm certain there is no more cycle friendly place on earth than Holland, and probably no major city as cycle friendly as Amsterdam. Based on my month there, I draw but one conclusion:

Calgary has no hope.

Here's why:

  • The Dutch ride their bikes from home to the train, then take the train to Amsterdam. Then they get their Amsterdam bike and ride to work. So they have two bikes, one of which lives in town, and one of which lives near home. No Calgarian will ever exist like this. They don't take trains like the Dutch do. Keep a bike at two LRT stations? For starters, the downtown stations don't have bike racks, nor will they any time soon.
  • I doubt anyone in Amsterdam lives more than a 10 minute ride from anything they need. There's an Albert Hein grocery store on every 2nd block in every town, it seems. They don't work more than 10 minute ride from a train station, because every town has a train station and Amsterdam has 3 or 4. So their commutes on the bike are short, and businessmen can do it in their suits. That's only true of inner city folks in Calgary, and they walk. Commuting distance in Calgary are long. People who ride here are always dressed like goofball bicyclists in spandex. You never see that in Amsterdam.
  • Holland is flat. As a pancake. Up in Drenthe, they kept talking about the hills around the town of Borger. I personally could not see them nor find them and we crossed them twice. Calgary is not flat. There's almost 300 vertical metres between downtown and Edgemont or Broadcast Hill. There's a river valley that's real and 100 m deep in spots. And people in business suits don't like working up a sweat climbing hills. No topography means Amsterdam city bikes have 1 or 3 speeds. No Calgarian would ride a bike without at least 10 speeds because of topography.
  • As I mentioned, the Dutch put cyclists firsts. Cyclists have the right of way. North Americans put cars first, and Calgarians are no exception. Cars have the right of way. Biking Amsterdam works because aside from trams & busses, the bicyclists know they rule the road. And they act like it. Calgarians know cars rule the road. And they act like it.
  • The Dutch don't mind that sidewalks are strewn with parked bicycles. Calgary pedestrians do.
  • The Dutch have figured out that bikes and pedestrians need to be separated. The one section of the Bow River Pathway that was twinned to keep them separated was re-collapsed to a shared pathway. So there's still a view in Calgary that both can share the path, despite accidents and continued complaints about bikes speeding.
  • Winter. -30°. 30 cm of snow. We have it. The Dutch don't.
No, Calgary will never be bicycle friendly. Yes, it can be better, but not by doing what they're doing.

And our bikes will never be as cool.

1 comment:

Edwin said...

You can dream big, but usually change only comes about with small steps, taken one by one, don't ever abandon hope....hahaha,

I am sure that small steps can be taken in Calgary as well...maybe your info can help raise awareness and maybe it could even help guide measures in the right direction.

I would forward it to those that can influence any such a decision.