Noiseless city

On 19 januari 2016, in infrastructuur, by Zef Hemel

Seen and heard in Amsterdam on sunday 17 january 2016:


So the number of bikes in Amsterdam is at least 800.000. It means that 63 per cent of the Amsterdammers is riding a bike on a daily base. In the modal split, more than 32 per cent is biking, compared to 22 per cent using a car, and 16 per cent going with public transport. What does this mean? It means a noiseless city in the first place. The inhabitants of Amsterdam are almost not aware of it, but if you come from abroad you surely will notice that you almost do not hear any cars in the streets in Amsterdam. Many people, but no noise! You only hear friendly bells ringing, and electric trams moving. It seems almost impossible, no, it’s unique. Amsterdam is truly a silent city. What a quality of life!  No one should be complaining about the traffic. No? Well, there’s only one thing worth lamenting. Could we get rid of those horrible scooters? There are too many of them. They are really poisoning the Amsterdam atmosphere.

Because we all love biking, we meet our friends and acquaintances almost on a daily base, seeing them passing by, greeting them, not forgetting to telephone them afterwards, sending them an email. How are you? I saw you on your bike and we said hello, but shouldn’t we meet? Yes why not? Or we jump from our bikes and start a spontaneous conversation in the middle of the crowd. If we all would have traveled by car, this would never have happened. We would drive in our capsules, seeing nothing, meeting no other person, listening to the music on the radio, feeling bored, killing time. Just imagine, all those commuters in their cars, and we, bikers in Amsterdam, feeling free, being happy, greeting our friends every day. A ballet of bikes. Pure poetry. It makes us think Amsterdam is a village, which it is not. And I love those pictures of Ed van der Elsken from the sixties. Only men biking. I almost forgot: women were absent in public space. Have a look:

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The End of Biking

On 16 november 2015, in infrastructuur, by Zef Hemel

Read in Het Parool of 2 June 2014:


The era of Amsterdam as a great city for biking is coming to an end. After twenty years of growth we will no longer cycle that much. Really a pity. The miraculous growth of biking in the Dutch capital was due to many things: high parking tariffs for cars (since the end of the eighties), more young people living in the city (since the nineties), new bike lanes (since the millenium), lots of bike shops, great bike storage, beautiful bike design, urban densification, investments in public transport lagging behind, peak car, the end of suburbanization,  etc. After a slow beginning, the share of biking began to steeply rise: a success nobody could explain. Since 1990 there was a growth of bike trips in the city of more than forty per cent: from 443.000 tot 613.000. Exponential growth. In the modal split, the share of biking is now more than forty per cent. Can you imagine?  But the growth of bikes and biking is decreasing already. You can feel it. Soon it will going to halt. And then it will steeply drop. It’s the pattern Malcolm Gladwell described in ‘The Tipping Point’. Why? Because of all the scooters.

The number of scooters in Amsterdam went from 8.000 in 2007 to more than 30.000 in 2014: a growth of 275 per cent! On some bike lanes in rush hour, the share of scooters is already five to ten per cent. Two years ago there was no scooter parked in my street, last year there were six of them; now I counted at least twelve! My kids can no longer play on the sidewalk because of all those big, lousy machines. This is, again, exponential growth. As a professional biker I can feel it too. I prefer walking now. Yes I will stop biking. It has become uncomfortable, clearly unsafe, far too dangerous. In general, we are reaching the tipping point soon. So an era will come to an end. I’m very, very sorry. I apologise. Nobody intervenes. The mayor can do nothing, he says, he’s powerless. That’s our political system. It all depends on the Dutch government. But The Hague is far away, they’re not interested in Amsterdam problems. As a citizen I feel powerless too. Why voting any longer? That’s the democratic crisis. The system breaks.

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Remote worker

On 11 september 2015, in infrastructuur, technologie, by Zef Hemel

Read in Het Parool of 20 May 2015:


I was asked to give a lecture on open planning for a team of politicians from Bavaria, Germany. They were visiting Amsterdam, hoping to learn more about local policies on biking. After my speech on globalization, information technology and planning (!), the team would make a bike tour through the inner city of Amsterdam. The weather was excellent. We were waiting for a laptop. When I told the president I had come to the hotel on my bike, he almost could not believe me. Could I prove it? I showed him my iPhone and opened the app. Wow! Human had registered all my bike trips: a total of more than one and a half hour already, just that morning. He said he never had heard of the app. Is it popular? I told him using the app is fun. It is stimulating. Human is only two years old but popular already: almost 2.000 citizens are tracking their activities in Amsterdam. I took the real time city map, showing a spatial pattern of all those acitivities. Human, I added proudly, is an Amsterdam invention. But later, having reread an interview with the director of Human, I’m not so sure anymore.

Paul Veugen (30) and his team developed Human. Human was awarded a Webby in New York last year. The Webby is the Oscar for the Internet. Human measures your activities. Veugen is from Tilburg. After having finished his study he moved to Amsterdam, “because here is the ecosystem of people doing the same things.” His dream was to develop an app that would be used by millions of people. Human is an Amsterdam based company, but the company has no office here: the developer of the mobile application lives in Sweden, the app-builder works in Canada, one of te marketeers is based in London. The team, some six young people, moved to San Francisco in 2013. There, at the kitchen table in an appartment near the Golden Gate bridge, they invented Human. Since then Veugen travels between Amsterdam and Silicon Valley. He calls himself a ‘remote worker’, a worker who has no steady workplace. So is Human really an Amsterdam app? Manuel Castells should tell.

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