Setting the Pace for Other Cities, Amsterdam Appoints a Bicycle Mayor

The role will promote and advocate for two-wheeled transportation.

Bicyclists ride past the Magna Plaza in Amsterdam. (Photo: Lonely Planet/Getty Images)

Apr 29, 2016· 3 MIN READ
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

“When in Rome, do as the Romans do”—so the saying goes. If you’re in Amsterdam, that means ditching exhaust-spewing cars and riding bikes to city hot spots such as the red-light district or the Van Gogh Museum.

With around 800,000 bicycles in the city—roughly one per resident—Amsterdam regularly lands in the No. 1 or No. 2 spot in rankings of the most bike-friendly locale in the world. (Copenhagen took the crown in 2015.) With the announcement this week of the upcoming appointment of a “bicycle mayor,” two-wheeled transportation aficionados in Amsterdam are about to get a semiofficial advocate in local government.

“The bicycle is woven into the fabric of our city, and yet we believe that more thought leadership and innovation is possible and needed. So we asked, can someone represent the impact of cycling on the future of cities?” Roos Stallinga, cofounder of the Amsterdam-based bike advocacy group CycleSpace, wrote in an email to TakePart.

CycleSpace came up with the idea for a bicycle mayor after seeing the success of the city’s “night mayor” position. Since 2014, the night mayor has promoted nightlife and helped smooth the waters among dance clubs and bars, residents, and city officials.

Night mayor Mirik Milan, left, and Maud de Vries of CycleSpace. (Photo: Roos Stallinga)

Instead of advocating for late-night venues, the bicycle mayor will “promote innovations, businesses, ideas, places, and people who are helping to trigger a shift from car-centric to human-centric cities,” wrote Stallinga. They’ll also “host visiting delegations and visit other cities to share knowledge and thought leadership.”

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Just as the night-mayor concept has spread to other cities, such as Paris and Zurich, CycleSpace hopes to export the bicycle-mayor idea to 25 other metropolises across the world. The organization is interested in cities where cycling is ingrained in the culture, as well as places that have car-centric reputations. “We’re looking for diversity, so it’s really important for us to find mayors in cities that are on all parts of the bicycle maturity spectrum,” wrote Stallinga.

Los Angeles, which since 2010 has been home to several CicLAvia events that shut down the streets so bikers can ride freely, is “in the sweet spot, as they are just starting to wake up to the full benefits of cycling,” wrote Stallinga.

She also sees potential in Beijing, where officials have taken to booting cars off roads to curb the city’s noxious smog problem. “A place like Beijing is interesting as bikes were once dominant and are now losing the battle to cars, resulting in extremely unhealthy conditions,” she wrote.

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Bogotá, Colombia, the home of Ciclovía—which inspired Los Angeles’ CicLAvia movement—“is interesting because they’ve embraced the bike within a larger context of mobility modal mix,” Stallinga pointed out.

To that end, the creation of the bicycle-mayor position “is not about celebrating achievements but about leading with a vision of cycling as a much more profound symbol of human progress that impacts health, happiness, neighborhoods, air quality, and creativity,” she wrote.

(Photo: Roos Stallinga)

The positive impact of cycling can be seen in video footage of “Paris Sans Voiture,” a daylong ban of motor vehicles in the City of Light’s central areas on a Sunday last September. People cycled down the Champs-Élysées, and pop-up art and cultural events happened on or alongside city streets. The air quality also improved significantly, with one pollution-monitoring agency reporting up to a 40 percent drop in nitrogen dioxide in some parts of Paris, compared with a typical Sunday.

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Stallinga wrote that CycleSpace hopes that one year from now, people in those 25 cities will know that the bicycle-mayor position exists and that the mayor is someone who can offer “guidance regarding bicycle progress in their city.” The organization also hopes more people will be “aware of the full spectrum of benefits of the bicycle and how its use as a primary mode in cities will contribute to billions in savings and billions more in new business opportunities.”

CycleSpace is accepting video applications for Amsterdam’s bicycle-mayor position through May 1. “We’ve had hundreds of inquiries since announcing this a few days ago. We’re now hustling to make sure the selection process is smooth, fair, and results in a bicycle mayor that sets the bar for all future mayors,” wrote Stallinga.