Many cities publish figures for cycling modal share which don't stand up to scrutiny. Read the note below the main part of this article for an explanation of the exaggeration in this particular case
This month's Vogelvrije Fietser (the magazine of the Fietsersbond) included an article (which you can download or read here) entitled "The Bicycle reigns in Amsterdam".
It's an interesting read. Amsterdam has long been known internationally as a cycling city. Many cities overseas have compared themselves to Amsterdam, often rather inappropriately.
However, Amsterdam is a moving target. The city has not been standing still. Very few other places can claim to have seen cycling grow as it has over the last over the last 20 years in Amsterdam.
Within the whole city, the modal share for cycling increased from 33% in 1986-1991 to 47% in 2005-2008 (but see the note below)
Within the inner ring road, this increase was from 39% to 62% of journeys by bike.
As ever in the Netherlands, these figures are claimed to be not just for commuters, but for all journeys.
Cycling to railway stations has seen particularly spectacular growth. Just 6% of train passengers arrived at the station by bike at the end of the 1980s, while 40% of train passengers arrive at the station by bike now.
The most popular reason for cycling is that it is fast. 50% of those who were asked in a survey, gave speed as their reason to cycle while just 6% said they cycle because it is inexpensive.
Just 73% of Amsterdammers own a bicycle, while 88% of people in the whole country have (at least) one. However, the average number of journeys per day by bike by Amsterdammers is, at 0.9 cycle journeys per day, a little higher than the average for the entire country. While car ownership has increased across the Netherlands as a whole since 1990, the number of cars owned in Amsterdam has dropped by three percent and their usage has dropped even more. The modal share for cars has dropped from 39% to 31% of journeys, and just 13% within the inner ring road, a reduction in the number of journeys made by car of 133000 each day.
What's Amsterdam really like?
Amsterdam is not perfect. The city doesn't have so high a rate of cycling as many other cities in the Netherlands, in Amsterdam there is still quite a lot of outdated and less than excellent infrastructure, resulting in conflict which has led to complaints between groups of cyclists. It's a place where you need to take more care than in some other parts of the country. The city also has the lowest rate of child cycling in the Netherlands.
For all that is wrong with Amsterdam, visiting the city by bike is not like visiting the capital cities of other countries. For cycling, it's in advance of anywhere except other Dutch cities, and as these recent figures show, the feeling of improvement that I have had after recent visits is not just an illusion as there has been real growth since we first took a trip to the city in the early 1990s. It certainly looks better now for cycling than it did in the 1970s.
Walking is missed out
Mark Treasure pointed out in a comment that walking is missing from these modal shares. He's right. Both the Fietsersbond and myself fell into a trap with these figures as they don't reflect the whole picture. I worked out in a comment below that if walking remains the mode for 20% of journeys in Amsterdam then the true modal share for bikes today is about 38% vs. driving at 25% and public transport at 18%.
This recalculation leaves Amsterdam with a higher than average modal share for cycling compared with the rest of the Netherlands, but lower than quite a few other smaller cities. This is much as you might expect as there are greater challenges in a larger, busier city.
It's rather disappointing to find that Amsterdam is playing games like this with statistics. Without reliable figures no real comparisons can be made. I prefer real statistics to marketing inspired exaggeration, wherever it comes from.
Amsterdam has unfortunately continued to make claims of high cycling modal share based in part on ignoring the high number of pedestrians in the city. Please return to reporting the real figures instead of marketing the city based on a deception.
For more information, please read the Fietsersbond article for yourself, or you may be interested in some of the many other posts on this blog about Amsterdam.
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