Amsterdam to Appoint World's First Bike Mayor

Amsterdam seems like an obvious place to appoint the world's first bike mayor. However, Dutch cycling advocacy organization CycleSpace, hopes the concept is adapted in other cities where bikes aren't as ingrained into day-to-day-life. . (Photo: Julio Greff/flickr)

In 2014, the canal-ringed Dutch capital of Amsterdam generated headlines and inspired several other highly carouse-able cities to follow suit when it appointed its first nachtburgemeester — the “night mayor.” A 35-year-old club promoter-turned-ambassador of the after-dark economy, the role of Night Mayor Mirik Milan is to liaise between businesses that come alive after the sun goes down — the city’s pubs, nightclubs, concert venues, cafes, and after-hours haunts — and everyone else. Acting as an advocate of Amsterdam’s notoriously nonstop nightlife scene, Milan’s job is to put out any fires and ensure the city’s daytime denizens that things aren’t getting too out of hand while they sleep.

It only makes sense then that pragmatic, progressive and unfailingly innovative Amsterdam will soon be bestowing another first-of-its-kind mayoral title to an individual who, when appointed, will be tasked with overseeing the livelihood not of the city’s pleasure-seekers but of the city’s pedal-pushers. Because what are Amsterdam residents doing when not working, sleeping, relaxing or painting the town rood?

They’re riding bikes.

While Copenhagen recently snatched away the title as the bike-friendliest city in all the land, Amsterdam remains a city with an incredibly strong cycling culture. In a city where bicycles (well over 800,000 of 'em!) far outnumber cars and where a majority of the population commutes daily by bike, a bike mayor — a cycle czar, if you will — seems like a total no-brainer. Frankly, I’m surprised a bicycle overlord hasn’t emerged earlier.

Much like with nachtburgemeester Mirik Milan, the role of Amsterdam’s inaugural bike mayor will be to protect and promote the myriad interests of a vibrant and highly visible community. Naturally, there’s plenty of overlap between the cycling and nightlife worlds. Because really, there’s nothing more Dutch than rolling up to the hottest club in town at 1 a.m. not in a tricked-out luxury sports car but on a well-loved Van Stael model Royal Dutch Gazelle.

In fact, Dutch cycling advocacy nonprofit CycleSpace’s International Bicycle Mayor Program kicked off last month at the first Night Mayor Summit in Amsterdam.

Cyclist in Amsterdam
Over half of Amsterdam's roughly 779,000 residents hop on a bike daily to get around town. (Photo: Julio Greff/flickr)

CycleSpace co-founder Roos Stallinga recently explained the impetus for a designated bike mayor to TakePart: “The bicycle is woven into the fabric of our city, and yet we believe that more thought leadership and innovation is possible and needed. So we asked, can someone represent the impact of cycling on the future of cities?”

To be clear, the individual who is ultimately appointed as bike mayor of Amsterdam will not serve as an elected government official. Instead he or she will be an employee of CycleSpace and act as an, ahem, outspoken bridge between city officials, community groups and cyclists themselves. For example, if a new piece of legislation is passed relating to the city’s bike infrastructure or another related manner, the appointee will serve as a facilitator between various groups.

Furthermore, a panel of expert jurors that include transit authorities and the real mayor of Amsterdam, Eberhard van der Laan, will ultimately choose the city’s bike mayor. However, the public will have their say too through an online voting process. Essentially, the mayoral vetting process, in which self-nominated candidates submit one-minute videos and explain why they would make the ideal bike mayor of Amsterdam, is run like a competition.

On June 24, the public voting period will conclude and the three candidates with the most online votes will appear before the jury and make their cases as to why they should be selected. The jury will deliberate and announce the Amsterdam’s bike mayor, a two-year-long post, at the end of the day.

Cyclist in Amsterdam
Maybe not the brightest idea, but if there's anyone who can multitask whilst cycling, it's an Amsterdammer. (Photo: Julio Greff)

While applicants are most likely in it for the honor, the experience and the chance to make a positive impact in Amsterdam and beyond, there’s additional perks to the job including “a special Bicycle Mayor bike.” One would hope that the special mayoral ride also comes with a reserved parking space.

While Amsterdam-based CycleSpace is launching the Bicycle Mayor Program on its home turf, ultimately the organization hopes to see bike mayors appointed in 25 cities across the globe including Los Angeles, Chicago, Cape Town, Beijing and Bogotá. “We’re looking for diversity, so it’s really important for us to find mayors in cities that are on all parts of the bicycle maturity spectrum,” Stallinga explains to TakePart.

To be clear, some cities already have cycling advocates in various leadership positions although the “mayor” title is a new and effective one. It has a certain ring to it.

In October 2015, Atlanta brought on Becky Katz as its first-ever Chief Bicycle Officer, a full-time position with the city. And from 2007 through 2015, Boston’s official bike czar, Olympic cyclist Nicole Freedman, headed up that previously bike-unfriendly city’s hugely successful Boston Bikes initiative. According to WBUR, 92 miles of new bike lanes were added throughout the city during Freedman's tenure.

Via [TakePart], [CityLab]