Public Transport in Amsterdam: Too Much of a Good Thing?
After going from the airport to Amsterdam’s city center during my first morning there, I took the Metro to the apartment that I rented. It was actually one of the few times I had to take public transportation because I rented a bicycle for most of my stay. During my four stop ride that hazy morning, I remember thinking, how could they have built this in a country where most of the land is under sea level and surely has a high water table? With a lot of difficultly, I learned. If there’s a case where public transportation could be too much of a good thing, especially in one of the world's model "smart cities," Amsterdam may be a great case study. I learned early on that the places to stay or “hang out” were in the lovely canal districts. Of course, the city’s huge leafy parks offer a wonderful retreat, and other neighborhoods like the Plantage are very hospitable. But I realized right away that the old Medieval Center, for all of its splendor and history, was a place to avoid. One reason was the crowds and the “touristy” vibe. But I often grimaced as I cycled through this part of town because frankly, it’s a mess. And a new metro line and extension is the big reason why. Politicians love public works projects because it gives them a lasting legacy, and Amsterdam is no exception. The city leaders approved extending the underground metro to the city’s northern section, which currently is separated from the south by the Het Ij. Now there are free ferries that move passengers in a 5-minute ride like clockwork, but apparently that is not good enough for the city’s leadership. The results have been disastrous. The cost has doubled, the project will not finish until 2017, historic buildings have been damaged, and they were the lucky ones: others sank. Now there is a blame game going around. The project was not well thought out. Too many city officials were passive. Ridership on some completed extensions has not met expectations. As one expat said to me, the city could have bought bikes for all of its citizens with that money, or have used the funds for other public good. Meanwhile, the venerable city center looks like a big construction project that will never end. Best to stick around the canal district on your bike—it is much prettier and peaceful there anyway.