An experiment to close the chic Negen Straatjes area to traffic during the weekends has collapsed for an unexpected reason.
The idea was to make it easier for pedestrians to wander between the cafes and boutique shops of the area, a strategy that has worked well elsewhere, creating islands of pleasant, village-like atmosphere within big cities all over the world.
Unfortunately, it turns out that Amsterdam is the one city where this innovative urban strategy apparently cannot work, and all because of the unique cycling style of Amsterdammers.
Initial results were encouraging, with a dramatic drop in noise and an improvement in the general atmosphere of the area, making locals and visitors alike more relaxed.
It soon became clear, however, that there was a bigger problem: cyclists were refusing to give up the hardcore driving style they have developed on the normal streets of Amsterdam, which involves holding your nerve and continuing to zoom straight ahead even if a pedestrian is dumb enough to walk into your path.
Unlike other cities, cyclists in Amsterdam see their role as being partly educational and will quite willingly crash straight into an unwary pedestrian to make sure they understand how things work there.
There seems to be a tacit agreement among the city’s cyclists that this is necessary in order to stop Amsterdam slipping into the bedlam of every other major city in the world, where cyclists are apparently invisible or expected to magically stop every time some idiot feels the sudden urge to step out onto the road.
If that starts to happen in Amsterdam, the city’s cyclists will lose their invincible reputation, more pedestrians will start wandering about all over the place, even cars might start getting cheeky, and the city will no longer be a cycling mecca.
Amsterdam natives are well aware that they need to keep their eyes open for cyclists at all times, while tourists usually learn the hard way on their first day. Unfortunately, the lack of cars in Negen Straatjes caused many people to temporarily forget this, or perhaps they simply assumed that cyclists would be more careful, more forgiving in a car-free area. Wrong. Very wrong.
The happy village atmosphere was soon torn asunder by cyclists mowing down pedestrians at high-speed or screaming profanities to get them to move out of the way.
The experiment is still being assessed but it has been accepted that the approach of banning cars appears to have increased the dangers to the very pedestrians they were trying to attract to the area.
Some are daring to wonder if the answer might be to ban not only cars from this area but, also, bicycles, but that may not be politically viable in a city where the bicycle has been elevated to almost religious significance.
One interesting side-note is that an increasing number of visitors to Amsterdam are Chinese, a breed of tourists infamous all over the world for wandering right into roads even when there are cars traveling at high-speed (I’ve already killed 3 this evening), so, it is not clear how feasible the Dutch cyclists’ educational program will continue to be as the number of Chinese tourists continues to rise sharply.
There is also the small matter of how the increasing number of traumatized migrants, from war-torn countries in Africa and the Middle-East, might react the first time an Amsterdam cyclist deliberately smashes into them.