The human infrastructure of a cycling city: Amsterdam through the eyes of international newcomers

This research paper explores the social norms, that alongside physical factors, encourage cycling as a form of transport. This study analyses the experiences of international newcomers in taking up cycling, in the specific city of Amsterdam. This study is of great interest to policy-makers in cities that see the benefits of cycling in making places more liveable, by reducing congestion, air pollution, and transport emissions; and improving public health.

Date added 21 October 2020
Last updated 21 October 2020

This paper explains that physical factors, such as cycling infrastructure, are not sufficient in explaining the success of the bike as a form of transport in cities in the Netherlands or Denmark; and that exploring other factors, such as social norms and the cultural setting, are needed in order to understand how cycling can be encouraged.

This study identifies seven factors that push people to taking up cycling as a form of transport in the context of Amsterdam:

First, access to a bicycle is easy and inexpensive. There is a myriad of shops across the city with bikes that can be purchased at low prices, which contributes to low entry barriers to cycling.

Second, cycling is more competitive than other modes of transport. The way cycling is integrated makes it faster than public transport or walking, and cheaper than the car.

Third, cycling is part of the Amsterdam lifestyle. Newcomers take up cycling as a way of feeling integrated and adding to the strong image of the city.

Fourth, there is a social pressure to cycle. The bike is the default mode of transport and plans with colleagues or friends are built with bikes in mind. Having a bike makes it possible for everyone to travel together.

Fifth, the city is built for cycling, there is a very good cycling infrastructure and cyclists are given priority over other commuters.

Sixth, cycling is fun and enjoyable. This enjoyment derives not only from riding a bike per se, but from engaging in physical exercise, and providing a mental break from a routine.

And finally, cycling is indispensable for grocery shopping and school trips. These places are often a bit far to walk to, but are very easily accessed by bike which reduces the time dedicated to these tasks.

This paper suggests that newcomers in Amsterdam take up cycling gradually, that is, becoming a cyclist is a process, a transition. People decide to use the bike for some specific trips, but not others, and little by little they incorporate it in their routine in detriment of other forms of transport.

In conclusion, working on certain aspects that are not related to cycling infrastructure, such as developing a strong place identity and brand around bikes, can be a positive way to encourage cycling.