I just spent several days in Amsterdam. There are many striking things about the city – the buildings, the canals, the diversity of the population.
One of the most striking things about Amsterdam for someone coming from a large city in the United States is the number of bicycles. I read in a pamphlet in the apartment we stayed in that in Amsterdam there are 880,000 bicycles and 220,000 cars. Yes, you read that correctly: four times the number of bicycles as cars! People ride to school, to work, to the market and pretty much any other place they have to go.
There are at least two obvious benefits of greater use of bicycles rather than cars. The first is environmental. We have an obligation to be good stewards of the environment, and most of us don’t simply aren’t very good stewards. The United States, in particular, uses enormous amounts of oil. Greater bicycle use means less use of oil and less pollution from cars.
The second is health. Despite the number of people with health club memberships, many of us are far too sedentary. A bicycle ride to and from work or to and from the market is a good way to get daily exercise. (And you can donate the cost of that health club membership to your favorite charity.)
It is true Amsterdam is a lot smaller than a lot of cities in which I’ve lived and so getting everywhere by bicycle may not always be practical. Some US cities (Minneapolis is one) are starting to promote greater bicycle use by making rentals available (which can be returned to any number of designated stands, not necessarily the one the bicycle was picked up), but we could be doing a whole lot more.