We’ve all heard of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World right? After two weeks in the best bike cities in the world, I think it’s time we put together a list of the Seven Wonders of the Bicycle World. If such a list existed it would include two bits of infrastructure in the Netherlands: the bicycle path that runs below the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and the Hovenring in Eindhoven.
I’m not an expert on either of them (read the excellent Bicycle Dutch blog for more detailed coverage); but I have been in their presence long enough to understand that they transcend mere infrastructure.
The Rijksmuseum is “The Museum of the Netherlands.” It was founded in 1800 and moved to Amsterdam in 1808. The building it’s in now was built in 1885 and it was the first thing I saw when I stepped off the bus in Amsterdam (my hotel was right across the street). As luck would have it, the museum just re-opened in April after a 10-year renovation. One night I went on a walk and just by chance happened to see people riding underneath this amazing, palatial structure. Upon closer inspection I realized it was a designated bicycle path. My first thought was, “Oh my god!” And then I thought, “How come I’ve never heard of this before!?”
I stood, jaw-dropped and took it in. Then I pulled out my camera.
The ambiance on that path was awesome. Couples came by holding hands while riding. One young lady, sitting on the back rack of a friend’s bike, broke out with several bars of opera, then her giggle echoed amid the columns.
From what I’ve learned, there was quite a controversy about whether or not to allow this level of bicycle access. The architect and museum director didn’t want it, insisting that the presence of bicycles and their riders would detract from the deep cultural significance of the museum. According to a local source, one of the lead advocates pushing for the bike path, a woman named Marjolein de Lange, ultimately convinced the powers-that-be that bicycles belonged. Her winning argument? Bicycles are also a significant part of Dutch culture.
I first heard about “the Hovenring” — a suspended bicycle overpass — when pictures of it went viral after it opened last summer. Then a few weeks ago I saw it again — in the pages of none other than National Geographic Magazine. Located in Eindhoven (126 km south of Amsterdam), the Hovenring was built to get people on bicycles safely over the A2 ring-road a few miles west of the city center.
Yesterday I hopped on a train to make a pilgrimage to this amazing piece of infrastructure. I’m happy to say that it was just as impressive in person as I hoped it would be.
From every direction, very gradual and straight approach ramps (there are six of them) lead people up to the main ring. Once at the threshold, the path — like wide outstretched arms ready for embrace — welcome riders into the the ring. The rich red surface material (which feels like soft grip tape), contrasts with the bright white curvilinear railings. The path itself is very wide, at least 15-18 feet at least. A towering and pointed spear rises from the center and cables attach to the inside diameter of the ring. The path is suspended on the other side of the cables, so it feels (and looks) like you’re floating in mid-air over several lanes of the fast-moving motorway below. There’s no signage to clutter the aesthetics. No warnings about what not to do, and no directional markers to point the way. It’s just pure and simple and beautiful. The fact that it was made for bicycle traffic makes it even more so.
While I walked and rode around the Hovenring, I saw groups of teenagers hanging out (I could just imagine them saying to each other, ‘Let’s meet at the ring!’), and a steady flow of traffic. I bumped into the owner of a hotel just a stone’s throw away from the overpass. He had several complaints; mostly about the hassles of construction, the lack of access to his business, and the $30 million price tag (“It’s a year of crisis here,” he said, “maybe we should spend it other ways.”). But despite his feelings, the man shared, “At the end, we have to be positive. It’s something new! And Eindhoven is proud of it.”
Another sign that the Hovenring has been adopted by the locals was a man who brought his kids up the ring just to play. A little girl on her bike and her brother in a four-wheeled pedal car did lap after lap while dad waited near one of the ramps. “It’s fun for them,” he said, “they don’t have anything like this at home.” Neither do I, I thought.
Both of these magnificent bicycle paths say something about the people they were built for and the leaders who made them happen. There’s a level of respect for bicycling over here that is hard to fully grasp unless you’ve been here. These are monuments to that respect. They tell people who use them: You are important and we don’t cut corners on your infrastructure.
Can you think of other pieces of bicycle infrastructure that belong on the “Seven Wonders” list? Check out more photos in the gallery and read more of our coverage from Copenhagen and the Netherlands here.