Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 20, No. 2, 2021
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Robert J. Lewis
  Senior Editor
Bernard Dubé
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David Solway
Louis René Beres
Nick Catalano
Don Dewey
Chris Barry
Howard Richler
Gary Olson
Jordan Adler
Andrew Hlavacek
Daniel Charchuk
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Serge Gamache
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Lydia Schrufer
Mady Bourdage
Chantal Levesque Denis Beaumont
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Evelyn Lau
Stephen Lewis
Robert Fisk
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Michael Moore
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Irshad Manji
Richard Rodriguez
Navi Pillay
Ernesto Zedillo
Pico Iyer
Edward Said
Jean Baudrillard
Bill Moyers
Barbara Ehrenreich
Leon Wieseltier
Nayan Chanda
Charles Lewis
John Lavery
Tariq Ali
Michael Albert
Rochelle Gurstein
Alex Waterhouse-Hayward





Former lead singer of the legendary 222s, arguably Montreal's first punk rock band, Chris is now a freelance writer based in Montreal. You can check out his writing at where he combines the sardonic humour of David Foster Wallace and the deliciously contrived irreverence of Anthony Bourdain.


If you’ve ever set foot in Amsterdam you’ll already know that the city has embraced the bicycle as a form of transportation to an extent that is unparalleled anywhere on Earth. The ubiquity of bicycles in this, the land of giants, can be a lot to take in for many Canadians visiting the Netherlands, and for some of us is not without its dangers either.

Don’t believe me? Try stepping on to an Amsterdam bike path without looking both ways sometime and see how long you last before being plowed under by a swarm of oncoming bike traffic. Trust me, you might last five seconds, and this only assuming there’s actually been a rare break in traffic lasting long enough for you to mistake one of these unassuming little paths for something other than what it is, a bicycle super-highway!

And yes, since you bring it up, I have made such a mistake before, and yeah, I suppose I could be considered lucky to have emerged from the adventure with only a series of major scrapes, bruises and my dignity compromised. I guess I should also consider myself somewhat fortuitous for being the only person minimally injured as a result of my denseness. When the cyclist I collided with frantically rang her warning bell while yelling something at me in English [she obviously pegged me a foreigner as no self-respecting Dutchman would ever be so stupid as to step into a bike path blindly] I was swift enough to jump out of the way in time so she only nudged me, knocking me off balance enough to see me crash down upon the curb, but not so hard that she would fall off her bike and risk real injury.

It might come as a bit of a surprise, but Holland and/or the city of Amsterdam hasn’t always been as bike-friendly as it is today. In fact, while at the turn of the 20th century bicycles were common and considered a respectable means of transportation, by the time the Dutch economy took off post-WW2 and people were buying cars en masse, urban policy makers had already long abandoned cycling as a viable option for getting around.

Consequently, Amsterdam, like most other European cities, tore down entire neighbourhoods to accommodate the relatively sudden, and massive, influx of motorized vehicles operating in the country. By 1950 bicycle use in Holland was declining by a minimum six per cent every year with the vehicles considered well on their way to obsolescence.

By the early 1960s, the popularity of bicycles had deteriorated so much that the remaining cyclists found themselves under threat of being expelled from Dutch cities altogether. It wasn’t until the 1970s before circumstance forced the city of Amsterdam to reconsider its relationship with the bicycle.

Not surprisingly, all that auto traffic in centuries-old cities had not been without its drawbacks, the most painful of them being the absolutely insane number of casualties brought about by automobile accidents. In 1971 alone, the Dutch lost 3,300 citizens to auto accidents, with over 400 of those deaths being children. The almost incomprehensible death toll spawned several activist groups, the two most influential being the Stop de Kindermoord (“stop the child murder”) campaign led by former Dutch MEP, Maartje van Putten, and the First Only Real Dutch Cyclists’ Union.

The Stop de Kindermoord movement was quickly embraced by the public and eventually led to the creation and implementation of something called woonerf’s, essentially a new kind of people-friendly street incorporating speed bumps and bends to force cars to drive very slowly. But the real catalyst leading Amsterdam towards becoming the bicycle capital of the world was the 1973 oil crisis, which saw the price of gas quadruple essentially overnight.

The oil crisis, along with a growing awareness of the ecological hazards attributable to automobiles, prompted Dutch prime minister Den Uyl to give a televised speech urging citizens to adopt more energy efficient lifestyles, while simultaneously announcing new initiatives, such as Car-Free Sundays, designed to remind people of what life was like before the hegemony of cars had taken root. Gradually the Dutch grew increasingly aware of the advantages of cycling, and by the mid-80s most towns in the country had created new bike paths and introduced popular measures designed to encourage bicycle use over cars.

Today, as the bicycle capital of the world, 38 per cent of all trips taken in Amsterdam are on bicycle, while the relatively tiny nation can boast of having no fewer than 22,000 miles of cycle paths. Which is fantastic when you think about it. You just need to pay attention stepping across them.

Also by Chris Barry:
A Day in the Life without the Plumber
How To Mend a Broken Wang
Digital Pimp
Remembering Alex Soria
Cultivating Cannabis: The Way It Was
To Boots with Love
From Spring Fatness to Fitness
Coming Out: Is It Any Easier?
Head Trip Story: My Inner Idiot
Ballet Boxer: Milford Kemp
Like Young
Loving Hard Times
Feed Your Head
Talking 12-Tone with Patti Smith
Beauty Pageants: The Golden Years
Swingers' Clubs as Safe Zones
Bust a Move
Trapeze - Swinging Ad Extremis
Hells in Paradise
The Cannabis Cup
Colonic Hydrotheraphy


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Arts & Opinion, a bi-monthly, is archived in the Library and Archives Canada.
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