IMAGES: What can Irish cities learn from cycling in Amsterdam?

Dublin and Amsterdam are cities of a similar enough scale in many ways, both have many narrow city centre streets, their population sizes and density are not a million miles different, and both have similar climates so suffer very similar weather. But Amsterdam residents cycle a lot more and one of the key differences is how that city’s streets and roads are designed for cycling; so, what can Dublin learn from its Dutch counterpart? And can other Irish cities pick up tips along the way?

Cycling in the city centre should be attractive to all, not just mostly male adults:

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We spotted a ton of cargo bikes — mostly the long and short versions of the two-wheeled Bakfiets — everywhere from the city centre to the suburbs, as pictured below:

Not only is it common for parents to be transporting young children, but the highly segregated cycle paths are suited for young children to cycle their own bikes, even across junctions of larger roads.


The social of cycling aspect of cycling is a highly important feature of Dutch cycling culture. Not only do people cycle with their friends, the cycle path network allows them to cycle alongside their friends. The NTA already seems to see the importance of this, with the draft Dublin cycle network mentioning “space for side-by-side ‘social cycling’“.

If you want to overtake, for example on the below cycle path you can nearly scoot by — but on this or narrower paths, a ring of your bell works wonders when the cyclists ahead have not noticed that you want to get ahead. At times we were both the faster cyclists and those pqottering about — the system works remarkably well.


Cyclists were generally not only segregated from traffic but also segregated from people on foot. And unlike the above picture, the vast majority of cycle paths in Amsterdam we’re at a different level to the footpath. Not massively different, but a noticeable difference:


Provision for contra-flow cycling — where cyclists can go two-way on one-way streets — or Dublin’s lack of it is a topic we’ve covered in detail. In Amsterdam the amount of contra-flow for cyclist is a start contrast: so much so, it was a surprise when we found a one-way street without contra-flow. Contra-flow comes in many different ways…

Contra-flow example 1: Signs only at entry points; at the contra-flow end of a street the signs would usually be no-entry signs along with smaller plates below the signs which say the Dutch equivalent of ‘expect cyclists’.  The streets are typically low speed and very narrow. There’s just about or even not enough space for a cyclist to be passed by a motorist, both are forced to navigate around each other slowly.

The use of this type of contra-flow is common place in Amsterdam, however we know of just three locations where it is used in Dublin. For the cost of bylaws, signs and a communications campaign, this contra-flow could be rapidly expanded across a number of areas around Dublin think Phibsborough, Portobello, South Lotts, Smithfield, parts of Rathmines, Rathgar etc).

This is not a design that only works in the Netherlands or in Denmark; as well as the limited examples in Dublin, it’s a tried and tested design which is used in Paris, Berlin, and Belgium.


Contra-flow example 2a: A cycle lane which allows cyclists to go contra-flow on a low-traffic, low-speed one-way street, cyclists going with-flow stay in the traffic lane:


Contra-flow example 2b: A cycle lane example in a slightly higher speed and busier street:


Below is the other side of the street behind the above photograph: Note how the traffic lights show highlight that general traffic can only turn left here, but cyclists can go ahead. Just out of the image is the contra-flow lane in the opposite direction leading to the street behind this picture (Street View).


Contra-flow example 3:  Two-way cycle path and one-way traffic lane:


Contra-flow example 4:  Below is a cycle lane inside a tram / bus lane, all contra-flow to general traffic which can only go one-way on this street. Dublin could learn from this with Luas Cross City — this design could for example be used on Parnell Street.


Moving on: Even out in the (partly undeveloped) suburbs, the cycle path was wide and segregated from the footpath:


One of the few places we came across a shared cycling and walking path was in a traffic-free island park at the city’s outskirts. This path is only accessible to cyclists and those on foot:


Amsterdam has much quicker traffic light cycles than Dublin generally has — simply put, the light change quicker and you’re less likely to be waiting (longer traffic light sequences as Dublin has is viewed to be worse for cyclists, pedestrians and public transport). Added to shorter cycles, at many major junctions there’s countdown timers on the bicycle traffic lights showing that if you wait, you won’t be doing so for long:


Amsterdam takes filtered permeability seriously. An example we’re not suggesting to copy is a cycle path inside a museum (unless anybody reading is designing a new build).

The once road open to all, now cycle path under the Rijksmuseum was closed for years due to the museum’s renovation and only reopened this year. But the city had a battle on it’s hands to keep the passage open to cyclists as a new museum director wanted to close the route. As explained by the Bicycle Dutch blog:

“Proponents of the underpass said the director, coming from Rotterdam, didn’t understand the sentiments of the people in Amsterdam, who love cycling far more than people from Rotterdam”




More practical filtered permeability is small streets which only open to cyclists (and sometimes lower powered scooters and often enforced by bollards at the entry point):


Dutch cities have to use large-scale bicycle parking to accommodate bicycles in central areas and a busy train stations. Maybe on a far smaller scale than below, Dublin City Council is already looking at solutions (in addition to Drury Street Car Park).

Here’s the bicycle parking at Amsterdam Central Station:


Not shown in the image of the parking structure above is the extra parking around it, this is just a sample of it:


While Amsterdam is very flat and there’s little point trying to say otherwise, the Dutch have a many bridges and underpasses. And a lesson we can near from them is that the hight isn’t as much of a problem when the gradient is lower. A few larger bridges we crossed would have been a struggle on the single-speed rental bikes we were on, but the lower gradient (compared to what’s often used in Irish bridges, ramps and over/underpasses) made the bridges more doable even on the average banger Amsterdam rental bike. The massive €9.5 million Nescio Bridge is an example of this:


And while we were crossing the Nescio, we found that the Dutch do take their cargo bikes up hills of sorts, the inclines are just more attractive to cyclists of all abilities:


And, finally, something not to follow Amsterdam on: Don’t allow scooters on cycle paths.


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  1. I was there myself a few weeks ago and would come to similar conclusions from what I saw. Unfortunately I didn’t cycle on this trip, due to the nature of the group that I was with. From previous cycling there from about 10 years ago, it was a good experience compared to what Dublin was like then. We have much caught up since then and are continuing to do so.

    Segregation encourages a much wide group of people to choose cycling as transport. Unlike Dublin at the minute, where the male under 50 usually clad in Lycra with helmet makes up a sizeable number. For most, cycling is seen as a sport or a daredevil activity for the crazy ones.

    Cycling as transport is hard to beat for its sheer convenience particularly over the shorter distances. It manages to make the city seem small by how quick the journeys are, even at a slow pace.

  2. Hold on a minute…if ‘Cycling in Dublin’ won’t advocate for a cycle route through IMMA (“An example we’re not suggesting to copy is a cycle path inside a museum”) then who WILL…? Why not have a situation similar to Trinity front entrance, where the cyclist dismounts at East and West entry to IMMA building, can cycle in the courtyard, and even park bikes there (shock!) …at present its such a ‘suburban’, empty place most of the time, with a tiny cycle park off out in the field with the cars…how very 21st century Irish !

  3. @ Alan — Even if you did not need to dismount (which is needed with the narrow entrance), I’m not sure if cycling into and out of the IMMA courtyard would offer the same benefit as the Rijksmuseum. But I would agree parking there could be much better parking at IMMA and the route around the building could be better (at the very least a cycling bypass to the speed ramps).

    BTW the draft GDA cycle network has a feeder route going south/east-north through Trinity.

  4. hello, this is not related to the above article. What i would like to know is, if you buy a car its all there, lights horn mudguards.But if you buy a bike you have to buy all these as well,WHY.


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