Number of days in Amsterdam – 367
Number of days without a bike theft – 363
Days since it last rained – 0
Look at this idyllic scene. This is in front of our building. Pretty, huh?
I guess it’s all a matter of perspective, though. Where some see a pretty little bit of neighborhood beautification, I see the loss of four parking spaces.
Now I know that I’m not supposed to lock my bike to the tree, I’m supposed to use the rack, but the fact is, there aren’t any spaces there sometimes. And this isn’t because of everyone taking up the spaces, it has to do with a unique problem in this city – abandoned bikes.
Now, in a city plagued by bike theft, everyone gets very nice locks. And sometimes they move away, or they get a new bike, and they just leave the old one bolted down. It’s not always readily apparent which bikes are abandoned either – a lot of us drive junky bikes because it rains a lot, as a theft deterrent or simply because that’s the bike we have. It’s only readily apparent to the people who see a given rack every day what bikes are abandoned.
Even that’s not entirely reliable; after Kitten was born, our bikes were not moved for about three months. People probably thought we abandoned them. By the time we did move them, I ended up having to get the locks cut off.
Official estimates say that 15% of all bikes parked in the city are unused – effectively abandoned – and that the average ‘Dammer owns 1.5 bikes. That’s not surprising, given that many people I know have guest bikes. But doing simple math, 700,000 Amsterdammers by 1.5, you get 1,050,000 bicycles. If 15% of those are unused, that 157,500 unused bikes. Even if only half of those are actually abandoned, that’s a lot of rotting wrecks.
Now, the Dutch authorities have the power to remove abandoned or inappropriately parked bikes, but it seems to be non-uniformly enforced. In the neighborhoods, abandoned bikes parked at a rack are destined to ride out their lives there. In touristy areas, they are more swiftly swept up. But there are some in-between areas that seem like they are enforced haphazardly.
Where Nicole’s office is, bike wardens sweep through almost daily, impounding improperly parked bikes. The problem is that those bikes belong to daily commuters, and they’re being parked improperly because the racks are filled with bikes that have remained there for months. Another issue is that bike warden impersonators have started showing up “impounding bikes” in full public view under the guise of being authorities. So, at the end of the day, another round of functional bikes have been removed from the scene, while abandoned bikes still rust in the rack. The problem hasn’t been addresses; people have simply lost their rides.
Unfortunately, I have no solutions for this problem, and I’m not the first to bring it up. The authorities are occupied with cleaning up the obvious eyesores where the tourists will see them, but some sort of massive undertaking is warranted, to sweep the racks of the rotting carcasses of old rides. Perhaps that could really improve the parking situation, and I won’t shake my fist angrily at the flower planter out front every day.