There are more bicycles in this small country than there are people – an estimated 23.4m bikes, compared with a population of 17.8 million. Cycling is far and away the top form of transport in cities such as Amsterdam. According to the capital’s most recent figures, 835,000 Amsterdammers between them make on average 665,000 bike trips a day, and 36 percent of journeys are made by bicycle (compared with 24 percent by car).
What if the rest of the world embraced bikes with the same gusto? Researchers at the University of Southern Denmark endeavoured to find out – and the results are in. They calculated that the world would save 686m metric tonnes of carbon annually if everyone got about like the Dutch, who cycle on average 2.6km (1.6 miles) a day. That’s equivalent to around 20 percent of global car emissions.
But with so many bikes, and with so many people cycling to Amsterdam's train station in order to commute to work, safely and securely parking so many bikes was, until now, a bit of a problem.
The solution? Beneath the clear waters and pleasure boats by Amsterdam central station is a remarkable feat of engineering: an underwater garage for 7,000 bicycles. The garage, which opens next week, is the result of a four-year, €60m (£53m) project to clear heaps of rusty bikes left by hasty commuters and install rows of clean, safe parking spaces underground, where bikes can be left free for 24 hours and then at a cost of €1.35 per 24 hours.
A moving walkway takes you upwards into the train station, where more than 200,000 journeys start and end every day. There's also another above ground facility that's just opened for 4,000 more bikes.
For the railways, the project is about making commuting easier and more attractive. “It’s great that people can jump on their bikes, get to the station and get on their journey seamlessly,” said Jeroen Wienen, a spokesperson for ProRail, the Dutch government organisation responsible for the maintenance and extension of the national railway network infrastructure.
“The Netherlands is a real cycling country, a lot of people come to the station by bike, and we and the municipality certainly don’t want all those bikes lying around. You want to offer people a decent place where they can put their bikes safely, so the streets are nice and clean for the neighbourhood.”
As of next week, the streets can be reclaimed and cyclists will have secure, sheltered garage facilities.