Bike Plans in Other Cities: Amsterdam, Calgary and Chicago

Photo of bikes parked in Amsterdam by Alex RK/Flickr.

Bike Plans in Other Cities: Amsterdam, Calgary and Chicago 

by Alex Chronopoulos

In homage to our BRAND NEW bike plan election issue of dandyhorse we decided to write about other cities’ bike plans to explore new ideas that could work for Toronto’s soon-to-be refurbished bike plan.

This is the third in our series “Bike Plans in Other Cities.”


One cannot think of Amsterdam without thinking of bicycles—it’s ingrained in their culture as residents go-to choice for commuting to work or school, running errands at the market or for a leisurely ride along the canal, equating to about 2 million kilometres every day. “We aren’t cyclists, we’re just Dutch,” they say. Bikes add to the city’s overall appeal by promoting healthier lifestyles, reducing air pollution and adding aesthetic charm, all of which benefits the residents, tourists and the tulips.

Their Meerjarenplan Fiets (Long Term Bicycle Plan) 2012-2016 leaves nothing to the imagination title wise, but offers some pretty decent insights into the challenges they’re currently facing and what they plan on doing about it - with the help of a promised €120 million to be invested by 2020.

City of Amsterdam bike logo, from their bike plan, Meerjarenplan Fiets.

Bicycle parking is the leading issue plaguing the Dutch cycling infrastructure. The lack of parking, primarily at Central and Amstel train stations, leads cyclists to leave their bikes against trees or bridge railways, obstructing accessibility. Last year, 1,700 parking spaces were added to Central Station and an additional 4,500 spaces will be added to the busy Leidseplein and Rhode Loper areas. By 2020, parking spaces at Central Station will increase to 14,000 and 8,000 at Station Zuid. While more parking spaces are necessary, space is also an issue in small European cities; therefore regulation of these spaces is vital.

The plan looks to limit parking time from seven to 14 days, which is already implemented at Central and Leidseplein stations, ensuring that abandoned bikes are removed and allowing free indoor parking on the first day with charges of €0.50 for the second and third days, and €2 for additional days. They are looking to implement bike monitors that will record how long certain bikes have been parked in the same spot without movement, so the city may remove or donate that bike.

Bike parking is a major issue in Amsterdam, from their bike plan, Meerjarenplan Fiets.

The major concern with existing bike lanes and paths is that they are too narrow to accommodate high volumes of cyclists. Especially along such commuter roads as Weteringschans, where over 1,500 cyclists pass through everyday on their evening commute between 4 and 6 p.m. It has been found that one third of bike accidents occur because of congestion on these roads. The City’s response through long-term plan is to target 15 km of the most dangerous sections and widen them where possible as well as use red-coloured paint on the asphalt to clearly denote bike lanes. They are also looking to adjust the traffic lights and using countdown timers to improve traffic flow. Meaning, large groups of cyclists will be able to pass through an intersection at the same time.

They are looking to go from a “dense network of reasonable quality” to a “finely-woven network of excellence” by 2020 with the implementation of the PLUSnet Fiet; a comprehensive network of spacious, safe and fast routes through the city centre. The path will be tailored to the number of cyclists using them, cyclists will have priority at intersection and the aforementioned countdown timers will reduce anxiety in waiting cyclists.

The proposed PLUSnet Fiet: the red lines denote new car lanes, the blue shows new public transit lines, the green lines show where new bike lanes will go and the orange shows new pedestrian walkways. 


Cycling Calgarians from the City of Calgary's bike strategy: Cycling Strategy 2011.

The Calgary Cycling Strategy 2011 outlines their vision as: “To become one of the premier cycling cities in North America.” Ambitious? Yes. Doable? Also, yes. Thanks to their three pillars: plan, design and build; operate and maintain, and; educate and promote. They’ve got their bases covered and their chains greased.

Calgary’s attempt to improve and maintain their cycling infrastructure has been a work in progress since 1996 when they adopted the Calgary Cycle Plan. It contained 45 recommendations, of which 85 per cent are already complete or in progress. In 2003, they produced the Bicycle Parking Handbook, which was the first guideline on bicycle parking, placement and safety. 2008 saw the implementation of the Bicycle Policy that re-affirmed cycling as a “meaningful, non-motorized choice of transportation” that established citywide policies to promote bicycling. Finally, in 2009 they adopted the Calgary Transportation Plan (CTP), which gave cycling a “high standards” accommodation, meaning bike lanes and paths will be prioritized when building new roads.

Promoting safe cycling to youth through school programs, from their bike plan, Calgary Cycling Strategy 2011.

Nineteen per cent of Calgarians say they cycle at least once a week, while 59 per cent say they wish they could cycle more often. In 2010, The City conducted two surveys—by phone and online—asking about the barriers that prevented residents from cycling more often. Phone participants noted that main roads and traffic were their biggest concerns as well as neighbourhood streets with transit infrastructure and roads without bike lanes were also concerns. Other barriers included, having other obligations that prevented them from cycling, not being able to carry everything they needed, nowhere to shower or change when they arrived at their destination and finally, weather concerns.

Online participants were more avid cyclers and were likely to cycle at least once a week. They credited quality and quantity of bike parking and the cycling network as barriers.

Upon the completion of the surveys, the Volunteer Cycling Committee was established, consisting of 14 Calgarians; nine representing a variety of cycling skills and comfort levels, one youth representative and one representative from the Calgary Pathway and Bikeway Advisory Council, Bike Calgary, the Elbow Valley Cycle Club and the Calgary Tour de Nuit Society. They identified nine areas of concern and lobby to address them. These concerns include: street concerns, pathway concerns, education and promotion, network and amenities, politics, enforcement and laws, way finding, and fitness and weather.

So what’s Calgary going to do about it? By 2015, The City hopes to address concerns within each of the three pillars. They are looking to expand their bike share program to include stations across Calgary, connecting the University of Calgary, medical centres and hospitals. As well as, improving bike parking at transit hubs, implementing bike stations in employment-intensive areas, self-service repair facilities in strategic locations and having bike amenities for building tenants (like showers and change rooms). The mayor just proposed a minimum grid for bike lanes, following the installation of their first protected bike lane. (Toronto's cyclist lobby group, Cycle Toronto, just launched a similar #minimumgrid campaign.)

Pillar two covers operating and maintaining current and future cycling infrastructure, so they are looking to increase signage around the city centre and off-road trails, ensure gravel, snow and ice are removed regularly and maintaining a smooth and comfortable cycling surface by repairing potholes. Widening bike lanes is also a priority on the agenda, and they are looking to increase widths of local pathways by 2.5 metres wherever possible.

The last, but certainly not least, is pillar three, which encompasses educating, and promoting cyclists and cycling. The City is looking to establish a course on road safety and consideration for motorists and cyclists to be offered in lieu of paying a fine for driving and cycling violations.

Year-round signage with detailed distances and approximate travel times will keep novice and experienced cyclists informed, from their bike plan, Calgary Cycling Strategy 2011.


In 2001, Chicago was voted the best big city (over 1 million people) for bicycling in North America by Bicycling Magazine. This was thanks to their Bike 2000 Plan, which put 160 km of on-street lanes and 80 km of off-street trails, 10,000 bike racks, allowance of bikes on the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) by equipping buses with bike racks and producing educational publications such as the Chicago Bike Map, Bicycling in Chicago and Student Cycling in Chicago. They hope to restore this glory with their new Bike 2015 Plan and Chicago Streets for Cycling Plan 2020.

The new master plan has two primary goals: firstly, to increase bicycle usage so that five per cent of all trips eight km or less are by bike. Second, to reduce the number of bicycle-related injuries by 50 per cent.

It has eight areas of concern, which they hope to address including the Bikeway Network. They hope to establish a network that serves all residents in every neighbourhood by increasing the current 167 km of city bike lanes to 240 km, as well as increasing the amount of off-street trails from 500 km to 800 km. They will prioritize the ongoing maintenance and repairs of the bikeway network, increase their visibility through brightly-coloured paint and distribute maps and safety pamphlets in schools, places or work, community centres and have them available online.

Bike parking, improved connections with public transit and protected bike lanes are top priorities addressed in Chicago's Bike 2015 Plan.

The plan looks to implement bicycle-friendly streets making roads convenient and safe to accommodate cycling on every road and considering bikeway a top priority when constructing new roads. This also included reconstructing intersections to make them bike-friendly by adjusting traffic lights and implementing countdown timers, as well as reducing the speed limits, adding curb extensions and planted medians on trails outside of the city to increase comfort and safety. Bike parking will also be addressed, proving short and long-term parking facilities across the city. They will expand the bike parking program, install more facilities, provide secure parking at train stations, large and sporting events, as well as in multi-family residential buildings.

The City is looking to work closely with the CTA to provide convenient connections between cycling and public transit, by improving bike access to transit stations and trains, ensuring buses have functional bike racks and bike parking facilities. Marketing and promoting this cycling-transit connection is also vital to its success, so signs and partnerships with media outlets will also be implemented.

Education for cyclists, motorists and the general public on street etiquette, safety and the benefits of cycling will also be promoted. This will be accomplished through the distribution of educational material that will explain how to share the road and prevent bike theft. The After School Matters bicycle program will also be expanded. Established in 2005, it is a 16-week-long apprentice program that trains 25 students in bike repair and safety.

Architectural rendering (right) for new protected bike lanes on major streets, from, Chicago Streets for Cycling Plan 2020.

Marketing and health promotion are also an important concern, and will be addressed by promoting the health benefits of cycling and marketing this by implementing the Sunday Parkway program, which is similar to the Open Streets Project. They will partner with local businesses and health organizations to conduct a bicycle ride along a network of major streets closed off to motorists.

The Plan look to implement stronger law enforcement and crash analysis by training police officers on bicycle safety and issues by established a “bicycling module” in the Chicago Police Department’s Training Academy. Here, officers will learn to focus enforcement on traffic violations that pose the greatest threat to cyclists and improve the reporting and analysis of bicycle crashes. They will also amend the Chicago Municipal Code so that it’s consistent with state law, namely the Illinois Vehicle Code, meaning cyclists and motorists will be held to the same expectations, thus evening the playing field—or filling the potholes.

Finally, the Plan also addresses bicycle messengers. It looks to improve their workplace safety and public image, and expand the use of bike couriers. Safety publications and maps will be distributed to bike messenger companies for their employees, new messengers will be required to complete a City of Chicago sponsored training session and they will expand the annual Bicycle Messenger Appreciation Day to a full day of events and promotions.

The bike plan will benefit both cyclists and pedestrians, from, Chicago Streets for Cycling Plan 2020.

Regardless of the city, the success of any master plan will depend tremendously on the commitment of city agencies to implement the recommended strategies, significant and sustained funding, continued political support and strong partnerships within the cycling community. Biking will significantly reduce gridlock, air pollution, inactive lifestyles and the expense that comes with privately owned vehicles. Torontonians understand this, so what’s the hold up?

Next up in our “Bike Plans in Other Cities” series: Mississauga, Waterloo, Ottawa and London ON .

Our NEW issue of dandyhorse (available at our local sponsor shops and fine independent book stores) features a section on best practices in bike plans. We asked 23 local experts what they would do to make Toronto a cycling city.

Related on the dandyBLOG:

Other Cities have great bike plans (from our new issue)

Bike Plans in Other Cities: Montreal, Bogota and New York City

Bike Plans in Other Cities: Copenhagen, Washington DC and London UK

dandyhorse launch party June 26: win a Giant bike and ABUS lock 

dandyhorse launch party photos and how to get dandy

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