CityLab, “The Radical Roots of Bikesharing”

In mid-1960s Amsterdam, a counterculture movement with a small fleet of white bicycles pioneered a transportation model that’s swept thousands of cities around the world. 

By Feargus O’Sullivan, February 25, 2022

In 1967, a newly elected representative of the Amsterdam City Council named Luud Schimmelpenninck presented the city with a novel proposal: Why didn’t the city help to solve its traffic congestion problems by creating a fleet of bikes that were entirely free to use? At that time, the Dutch capital’s streets had become clogged with cars, with frequent pedestrian deaths and injuries. Would it not be better, Schimmelpenninck suggested, to make cycling so cheap and easy that cars disappeared?

Given that, 55 years later, Amsterdam today enjoys a reputation as a global cycling capital, the response to this proposal — for what would have been the world’s first urban bikeshare scheme — might surprise you: The council members almost unanimously rejected it.

The reasons for this dismissal reveal much about the radical past of bikesharing, a multibillion-dollar industry that now extends to over 3,000 cities worldwide. It wasn’t just that Amsterdam’s council believed cars were the future, it was also the proposal’s origins: It came not from an official with a mainstream party but a group of already notorious anarchist provocateurs who thought Dutch car dependency represented not just bad policy but the “asphalt terror of the motorized bourgeoisie.”

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