Lass in class: Exploring Amsterdam, on two wheels

March 27, 2014

In the couple of months that I have been in Europe, I’ve done the most wondrous things. I’ve sled down the Snowy Alps, I’ve kissed the Blarney Stone; I have even witnessed the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace. Yet of all the places that I have been thus far, I can quickly say that my favorite city was the beautiful Amsterdam.

Amsterdam is known for many things worldwide, but what I was not expecting was the tulip market, the beauty of the red brick canals, the actual length of waiting time to visit Anne Frank’s house, and most especially: the way people traveled.

In Amsterdam, cars are a rare sight to see, and if you do see one it is usually a Smart car. However, what one does often witness are professionals, students and families navigating their city and carrying their things on bicycles.

It was almost absurd to me, the amount of bikes that I witnessed. It could be early morning or past midnight and you would still see a heavy flow of bicycle traffic crossing bridges over the red brick canals. Sometimes, you’d even see people on the backs of bikes hitching a free ride.

"It could be early
morning or past midnight
and you would still see
a heavy flow of bicycle
traffic crossing bridges
over the red brick canals."

Another aspect of Amsterdam’s charm was the canals that divided the city. I would walk the sidewalk, look to my left, and see an old man with a hat, chugging along the water in his small boat. Walking in Madison, I am more accustomed to look to my side and see a line of cars waiting at a stoplight.

According to the EPA, as an average car burns one gallon of fuel, it emits 8,887 grams of carbon dioxide. Your average bicycle, on the other hand, burns zero gallons of fuel and emits zero CO2.

The rising rate of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere is causing negative effects on our climate. Human consumption of fuel through the use of cars is one factor that greatly attributes to this rising number.

It seemed impossible to completely eradicate the use of cars while I was living in Madison. Yet Amsterdam provided a different perspective. The city thrived despite the minimal carbon dioxide emitted by personal transportation.

For those who were not able to ride a bike, there exists a tram system. The trams run throughout the city and are cheap and reliable. While they are not as environmentally friendly as bicycles, they serve a great number of people at once. Since the tram was an option that replaced the need for a car, people could essentially “carpool” on the city’s trams.

Now I know it might be difficult to commit to such a transition, say, for a city like Chicago or Milwaukee, but what Amsterdam provides for the world is an example. An example of a possibility is always a good start. 

Peyton Sweeney is an English and environmental studies major from Bayside, Wis., who is studying abroad for the spring semester at the National University of Ireland, Galway. She will document her experience on a student blog, Lass in Class.