News Articles

Dutch cities struggle with phenomena of orphaned bicycles

Limits to love of bicycles

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

AMSTERDAM - Many foreigners visiting the Netherlands go home with the impression that the Dutch love their bicycles, perhaps the way Americans are passionate about cars. But does this impression pass the reality check? Are they aware of an ongoing battle by Dutch cities to control the "blight" of abandoned, wrecked and inappropriately parked bicycles, which litter city centres and bicycle parking lots at railway stations everywhere across the country?

They very likely do not know that a number of cities, including Amsterdam, Utrecht, Haarlem and Tilburg, are trying to deal with this very uniquely Dutch bicycle phenomena, not emulated elsewhere to this degree, simply because other countries are less densely populated, have greater distances while their terrain frequently is less suitable for travel by pedal power.

Noted for its flat terrain and narrow streets and lanes, the Netherlands is an ideal place for bicycle riders who navigate city centres with relative ease and with little cost. Also not observed by foreigners is the fact that many Dutch people own more than one such vehicle: an upscale unit for leisure rides in parks and nature, and an older, more economical unit for running errands around the neighbourhood.


Visitors see huge bicycle parking lots but are generally not aware bicycles cause city administrators headaches: the numerous unattended and seemingly abandoned units of which Amsterdam-South in 2011 alone removed 10,000 bicycles. With a population of about 312,000, Utrecht removed 4,500 abandoned bicycles from its Centraal Station area, at a costly €12.50 per bicycle.

In additional to draining stretched city budgets, abandoned bicycles are an eyesore, and block parking space for active bicycle users, often the source of complaints. In response, cities have initiated a wide range of solutions to tackle the problem.

Tilburg, which has a population of 206,000, places "face stickers" on abandoned bicycles to tell people of the free parking facilities and of its Tilburg FietsAfhandel Centrale (AFAC), the local orphanage for removed bicycles.


In Amsterdam (over 780,000), authorities are more forceful, concerned over the city's tourist trade, and overwhelmed by the sheer number of ‘orphan’ bicycles, particularly around the Centraal Station area. The city removes bicycles swiftly, only providing seven days notice to owners pending removal. If the bicycle is not deemed roadworthy or reparable, the city also has the power to remove and destroy bicycles immediately.

In Haarlem (151,000), city authorities allow bicycle users a one month notice to remove their two-wheel vehicle. It is a different matter if the parked bicycle obstructs anything, the vehicle may get picked up within four hours.

The bicycle control issues may not necessarily replicate themselves that quickly in other places where pedal power is important. Lack of similar prosperity may force bicycle owners to keep a closer eye on this individual mode of transportation. As for the Dutch, their reliance on pedal power for short errands is one of both necessity and convenience. They like their cars as much as do people in less densely populated countries, in spite of such public relations theme abroad such as Go Green, Go Dutch, Go Bike.