The Bicycle Mayor program is the first in the world that will focus on creating solutions for issues such as bike parking, traffic and awareness.
In a city where bikes outnumber people, the public will be able to elect a leader that can aid in finding solutions.
By: Katie Snyder
On June 24, the bicycle utopia of Amsterdam will be the first city in the world to have an official Bike Mayor. Sponsored by CycleSpace, the Bike Mayor program is designed to organize and optimize biking conditions within the city.
There are over 800,000 bicycles in the city of Amsterdam, according to iamamsterdam.com. In addition to the high number of bikes, the bicycling population is approximately 63 percent – which is higher than any other city in the world. This vast amount of cyclists creates a number of issues regarding congestion within the city.
Ernesto Ritfeld, a policeman who has served the city for over 33 years, states that having a Bike Mayor will certainly lead to improvements. The biggest issues that Ritfeld addresses is the large amount of tourists cycling within the city.
“We as police hope to see improvements with the congestion of tourists interrupting the flow of cycling in the streets. Right now a lot of complaints and accidents are because of the tourists in Amsterdam,” says Ritfeld.
Since Amsterdam is known as the bike capital of the world, it is often seen as essential part of experiencing the city like a local. Henry Cutler, owner of WorkCycles, says that the influx of tourists coming on weekends is like clockwork.
“People who are biking home on Friday afternoons clash with the tourists who are just arriving,” says Cutler. “You can tell who they are because they are kind of just looking around and weaving around the bike paths and streets.”
In addition to the disruption caused by tourists on the road, parking is also an issue for cyclists. There are only 250,000 bicycle parking spots within the city, which is roughly a quarter of the number of bikes in the city.
“I would have to say that the lack of parking is one of the biggest issues, and it goes hand in hand with the fact that there are so many abandoned bikes on the road and in the parking spots,” says Cutler.
The Bicycle Mayor will be responsible for finding a capable solution to issues such as these by working with city officials and leading an open dialogue with the public.
How the process works
The process of electing the Bicycle Mayor is comparable to that of Eurovision, according to Maud de Vries, co-founder of CycleSpace.
- Candidates submit a video to CycleSpace explaining why they think they are the best candidates for the position.
- The videos are available for viewing by the public on the website CycleSpace.nl.
- The public is able to vote on who they believe is most qualified for the position.
- A jury comprised of city officials and bike activists place their votes.
- The selection is decided from a blend of both public votes and jury votes.
Video submissions are open until the night of June 23. On the following day, the newly elected Bicycle Mayor is announced and crowned in a ceremony, where the elected Bicycle Mayor will be given an official Bicycle Mayor bike and medal.
Once elected, the Bicycle Mayor will serve a term of 2 years and has the opportunity to run a second term. Additionally, the position is completely voluntary and unpaid.
CycleSpace will expand its Bike Mayor program on a global scale shortly after the election of the Amsterdam Bike Mayor. Currently, 8 cities around the world have reached out to the organization in regards to adopting the Bicycle Mayor program.
Among the cities included in the program is Bogota, which established citywide “cycle days” each Sunday from 7 am to 2 pm. where all traffic is closed off, except for bicycles. Mayor Enrique Penasola has demonstrated a great deal of support for shifting from driving cars to riding bikes through the city.
“We built symbols of respect, equality and human dignity, not just sidewalks and bike paths. Motor vehicles on sidewalks were a symbol of inequality — people with cars taking over public space,” Pensola told the Project for Public Spaces.
As the program expands, the first Amsterdam Bicycle mayor will assist CycleSpace in their rollout of the Global Bicycle Mayor program. In addition, the mayor will lead discussions with other Bicycle Mayors in cities around the world.
In June of 2017, CycleSpace plans to have its first ever Bike Mayor Summit in Amsterdam, with a projected 20-25 Bike Mayors from around the world who will meet each year.
Looking into the future
Lee Feldman, co-founder of CycleSpace, is a self proclaimed “bicycle-futurist” who says that the primary goal of having a Bicycle Mayor is to organize and initiate public policies that apply to cycling within cities with a high amount of bike traffic.
What made you think about creating such a program?
Feldman: We are a group that sees a glimpse of the future that is more bicycle-centric. When we look at future projections and what we see is that as 70 percent of all people are going to be living in cities in the next few decades, more people in those cities are discovering the bicycle as their primary mode of transportation, and as more people do that, cities are not really meeting those needs.
What types of needs are you referring to when you mention this?
Well, for example, I am from Vancouver. The bike lanes are on roads that are underused by cars, and the reason that cars don’t use them that much is because there is nothing there. So the city says, “OK, well cars aren’t using it – let’s throw some bikes on there.” Cyclists are using it and totally loving it, but the problem is there are no services for those cyclists.
Well what services would a bicyclist even need?
Sometimes commuters ride for 5 to 10 km to and from work and there isn’t a single store, there’s no toilet – there isn’t a single infrastructure to reflect their needs. So the example I always use is if I’m riding home from work, there’s a Whole Foods 8 blocks away, and it’s raining out. Why isn’t it on the bike path? Or why can’t we create new types of lightweight structures the provide services along the bike path?
Do you believe that if they did have these services, there would be more cyclists and fewer cars?
Yes, definitely. People living on the outskirts of cities will see that their needs are being met. This can increase the percentage of bicycles from 10 percent in an average city to 30 percent because they are starting to see services and symbols that are oriented around them and their needs. Back in the 50’s and 60’s when the highways were being built in America, there were stations that were starting to provide more services for the motorists. So a motorist was driving on this lonely stretch of highway, and they see this warm glow in the distance that meant they could pee, get some food and warm up for a few minutes before setting out into the dark unknown again. So a Bike Mayor will represent that kind of progress in a city. They look at a city and they say “What is this city doing to address the growing population of cyclists and the growing needs of that population?” One thing the Bike Mayor here is going to have to do is lead that discussion and help the city figure that out.