Amsterdam: The Ballet of Traffic

19 Sep

Organized chaos or an unscripted symphony? The bike, scooter, car and foot traffic in this Amsterdam shopping district flows around obstacles like leaves on a stream. We drank our coffee and watched in amazement. Despite some close crossings, no one collided and we never heard honking or yelling. Pretty amazing since there are no stop signs or traffic signals, and there’s road construction to the left of the camera.

When I get back home and want to remember Amsterdam, I’ll grab a cup of coffee or glass of red wine, watch this video and be transported back to a rainy day with the traffic ballet. [see notes below to skip to the highlights]

Do you think this level of smooth interaction is possible in the US? Perhaps on a college campus?

Timecodes for interesting passersby
0:14 Two blondes on Dutch bikes; 0:18 Dad with kid in front seat; 0:37 Guy riding with cell phone; 0:57 Cyclists set up for full touring; 1:30-2:03 Fashionable women with boots, scarfs, mini-skirts; 2:52 Mom with toddlers in cargo bike; 2:50 Clueless male tourists; 5:48 Girl on bike walking dog; 5:50 Blonde with a cell phone; 6:26 Kid sitting on back rack

What we didn’t catch on video, but wish we had
Girls sitting sidesaddle on back racks of Dutch Bikes; Guy with cello on his back, resting it on his back rack; Guy with pink rollaboard suitcase on his front rack; Family on a triple tandem; Two moms with full cargo bikes stopping in the street to say hello; Guy helping his girlfriend fight the wind by pushing her back; Dad coaching 3-year-old on how to cross busy street.


Posted by on September 19, 2011 in Around Town, Issues & Infrastructure, Travel


11 responses to “Amsterdam: The Ballet of Traffic

  1. velogirl

    September 19, 2011 at 8:09 am

    simply amazing. what’s most notable to me is that not a single person honked or yelled. I did hear a couple of bike bells. wouldn’t it be nice to be able to ride (or drive) and not feel tense and angry and defensive? no one’s in a hurry. no one’s rushed. no one’s going too fast for the flow of traffic. sigh.

  2. Brian

    September 19, 2011 at 1:11 pm

    Not a single road or mountain bike?

    Malaysia is sort of like that, but at high speed and closer spacing. It works because drivers treat the bikes and motorcycles and pedestrians as human beings and not obstacles in their way, and everybody gets a lot of practice dealing with congestion and crossings of various kinds.

  3. jsallen1

    January 18, 2014 at 1:34 pm

    This is hardly a ballet. It’s a study in slow motion. Bicyclists and motorists are not going much than walking speed. That improves safety, I’m sure, but for bicycling is to be practical transportation in typical, larger American cities, people must go faster. The pedaling cadence of the bicyclists in this video is typically 30 rpm. I’ve seen videos of Dutch cyclists in less built-up areas pedaling more efficiently and going twice as fast, but I have to wonder whether the ones in this video even know the basics of efficient pedfaling.

    • ladyfleur

      January 18, 2014 at 4:08 pm

      It’s a study in how an intersection can be safe for people walking, on bikes and in cars as long as people go slowly and work together. In the US, this intersection would probably be a four way stop and it would be a lot less efficient for getting the large numbers through it.

      As for the bicyclists pedaling efficiency, you do realize they’re coasting through an intersection in a very congested shopping district, right? The run-of-the-mill Dutch rider has more skill on a bike than your average Cat 5 road racer. It’s not easy riding under an umbrella, crossing trolley tracks and talking on the phone all at the same time.

  4. boyonabike

    January 18, 2014 at 4:17 pm

    And, you know, those pedestrians are going way too slow. They’ll never win a 400 meter dash at that pace. Their stride efficiency is way too low and none of them are wearing running shoes. How can they expect to get around like that?

  5. jsallen1

    January 20, 2014 at 11:03 am

    No, boyonabike, it isn’t aobut rading. I agree with ladyfleur that the speeds are appropriate for this intersection, but most of the cyclists aren’t coasting, they’re riding slowly in a high gear which will prevent them from accelerating. It takes skill to ride a bicycle while holding an umbrella, but why do that when I can wear a rain cape and keep both hands on the handlebar?

    • ladyfleur

      January 20, 2014 at 1:41 pm

      The typical Dutch bike is a single speed with coaster brakes that probably cost $200 and lasts for decades with virtually no maintenance. They’re not pedaling in a high gear, they’re pedaling in their only gear. The coaster brakes definitely make it easier to ride single handed which makes it easier and safer to carry an umbrella or hold a cell phone.

      I personally don’t have the skill to do either in this kind of traffic, but then again, I wasn’t raised with this style of riding. And I’d certainly never knock it because it obviously works fine, as evidenced by grannies riding the same old bikes they’ve ridden for 50 years.

    • Niels

      January 16, 2015 at 1:15 pm

      When you’re talking about gears and pedal efficiency, you don’t understand Dutch cycling culture. Bikes with gears and handbrakes aren’t practical, reliable or sturdy enough for regular daily use in an environment like Amsterdam. It’s a waste of money quite frankly, because it’s going to end up broken or stolen.

  6. Niels

    January 16, 2015 at 1:18 pm

    Ran into your blog through the youtube video. That scene in that video looks so normal to me, but I understand now that it isn’t for everybody. I guess I already knew that in a way, as tourists on bikes stick out like a sore thumb in Amsterdam. But it made me think how comfortable I feel on a bike, it’s like second nature, no different from walking. Perhaps something I take for granted.

    • ladyfleur

      January 16, 2015 at 1:47 pm

      Hi Niels and welcome to my blog! It must be interesting to see an outsider’s reaction to what’s ordinary where you live. I wish it were ordinary here too. Unfortunately, in the US our streets are dominated by cars and walking and biking means staying out of their way instead of everyone working it out like in this video.

      Oh, and jsallen1 is what we call a “vehicular cyclist” who think cycle tracks and bike lanes are dangerous. They think everyone should ride their bikes in the regular car lanes, even on higher speed roads. They pop up to complain whenever we try to make our cities as pleasant for bicycling as it in in Amsterdam.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Ancestral Pathways LLC

This site features a genealogy blog about the Ville Platte Louisiana area African descendant families of Frank, Jason, Denton, Ruben, Leday, Laughtin, Joseph

Jubilo! The Emancipation Century

African Americans in the 19th Century: Slavery, Resistance, Abolition, the Civil War, Emancipation, Reconstruction, and the Nadir

Grits & Gumbo

Southern family stories with a dash of spice

Granola Shotgun

Stories About Urbanism, Adaptation, and Resilience


Feminist reflections on fitness, sport, and health

madeonmyfingers and design

The Daily Post

The Art and Craft of Blogging

The Independent Bike Blog

A blog for bike shops


A fine site


Living the urban/bicycle life

South Bay Streetscape

Exploring Santa Clara County's urban limits

I'm Jame :)

what's on my mind: food, fashion, marketing, cities, tech & more

Let's Go Ride a Bike

Adventures in city cycling

The Backpack Objective

Exploring with kids in the outdoors and in homeschool

Shop by Bike

How and where to shop by bike in Silicon Valley, California

The Empowerment of the Silent Sisterhood

The blog of the Beautiful You MRKH Foundation

%d bloggers like this: