Thursday 22 March 2012

The explosive growth of cycling in Amsterdam (actually a story about marketing hype)

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have so high a rate of cycling as many other cities in the Netherlands, in Amsterdam there is still quite a lot of outdated and less than excellent infrastructure, resulting in conflict which has led to complaints between groups of cyclists.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 the rise comes in large part due to walking having been missed out 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.

2015 update
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. The real figures are impressive enough. Please return to reporting these real figures instead of marketing the city based on a deception.

2019 update
New figures from Amsterdam have been published, this time without the hype. 35% of journeys made by Amsterdam residents in Amsterdam are by bicycle. 5% of trips make by visitors to the city are by bike:

This time the figures are in line with what we've seen in older reports for Amsterdam and for other Dutch cities over a period of time. Amsterdam has the highest cycling modal share for any capital city in the world, but the rate is still a little low in comparison with other Dutch cities which have better cycling infrastructure.

Note that cars are used for 19% of journeys made by Amsterdammers as well as 46% of journeys by visitors to the city. Unfortunately, car usage is growing in the Netherlands. There has been some modal shift. The cycling modal share for residents is claimed to have grown from 29% to 35% over the last ten years and car usage to have dropped from 27% to 19% but policies restricting car access within cities has not been sufficient to prevent overall growth in their use.

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.


As Easy As Riding A Bike said...

David, it's great that Amsterdam is not resting on its laurels, and is seeing, as you say, such explosive growth, with more people cycling than in any city outside of the Netherlands.

However there is some slight confusion about the figures - in all cases they add up to (around) 100%, so has walking been excluded?


David Hembrow said...

Mark, You're right. The Fietsersbond have fallen into the trap of reproducing figures which show the city in a better light than is the reality, and I've followed them right into it.

There is no accounting at all for walking in these figures. I guess that is the reason why the cycle figures seem a little higher than you might expect.

Figures that I recall from the early 1990s for cycling in AMS were about 27%, not 33%. Assuming that walking takes about an equal share out of all three modes, that would put the walking modal share at about 20%.

If we assume that the number of journeys walked has not changed, then we can scale back the figure for today by about the same amount, to about 38% ( = 47*27/33 ). This is about the figure I've seen elsewhere before. Driving and public transport would then have about 25% and 18%, making a total of ~= 100%. The bike still beats the car, and walking and cycling together account for over twice as many journeys as cars.

The figures come from a document which is publicly available, page 60. Move on to page 64 and 65 and you start to see some mention of pedestrians, but not in a useful way to work out the exact modal shares.

I have to say that getting good stats is always a difficulty.

I covered this same document before, but that time I left out the modal shares as I didn't quite believe them.

Kevin Love said...

Interesting article, but my Dutch is not as good as it should be. Is there a translation into English or French?

Slow Factory said...

Ahh... modal share, everyone's favourite barometer.

But it is quite elusive. Should we mainly consider non-private car mode share, because everything else is better? If some of the cyclists are actually walking, is it a problem? What about people who ride bikes for captive rather than active reasons?

Should the question also be "is everyone using the mode that they would prefer to use?". No, perhaps, in regards to cars, but yes in regards to cycling, right? This would be because the car is still too convenient and the bike still considered too dangerous. And there is bike + train (and in this blog entry the huge amount of bike  train trips are noted) which replaces the car, the subject of the "primary means" question which ends up in our little mode share articles after some processing.

I am very happy for Amsterdam because I believe that in reality mobility is getting softer and the majority of people are doing what they want to do.

More about modal share starting here.

Bastiaan said...

The terrible parking situation in Amsterdam (paid parking is very expensive, while getting a parking permit can take up to 4 years) might play a role too, combined with a strict policy of clamping illegally parked cars.