Amsterdam, Netherlands

This case study will explore why Amsterdam is an interesting example of urban sustainability, particularly in terms of urban modes of transportation and the Smart City project. Europe, and particularly the Netherlands, has a reputation as being more environmentally conscious than many areas in North America. As a result, Montreal has much to learn from the practices of other cities around the world. Understanding a few of the practices, policies and projects implemented in Amsterdam and the lessons learned from them will help policymakers and planners create a more environmentally, socially and economically sustainable Montreal.

Amsterdam, the Netherland’s largest city with a population of 780,000, is one of the few cities around the world that has more bicycles than inhabitants (Gilderbloom et al. 2009; Sustainable Cities 2012). In Amsterdam, cycling is an integral part of the lifestyle of urban residents, an important and justified step towards the creation of a more sustainable city. Similar to many other cities around the world, increased urbanization in recent years has lead to new conversations and initiatives directed towards creating a more sustainable urban environment. Tickell (1998) notes “the first and most obvious thing about cities is that they are like organisms, sucking in resources and emitting wastes” (Beatley 2000). It is therefore important that urban planners help lead urban areas towards a more sustainable type of living. Beatley (2000) explains how cities are a good place to bring about fundamental change in lifestyle. High-density offers a good opportunity to apply new technologies such as public transit, district heating, green building. (Here is the official Amsterdam tourism website)

In many ways, Amsterdam has been a leader, particularly in the development of alternatives methods of transportation to the automobile. The Economist Intelligent Unit’s (EIU) European Green City Index assess environmental impact and performance, giving Amsterdam 5th place out of 30 of Europe’s major cities. Figure 1 positions Amsterdam in relation to the other European Cities and shows the relationship between their score and wealth. (Economist Intelligence Unit 2009). It is important to take into account the specific characteristics of Amsterdam that make it a unique case. It has a relatively small population and is located very close to sea level. Amsterdam would be one of the first cities to be affected with any increase in sea level associated with climate change.

Cyclists are an integral part of the landscape of Amsterdam and arguably the city’s most interesting and successful projects have revolved around the bicycle. Because of its geography and the policies in place, cycling is one of the leading ways to get around (Economist Intelligence Unit 2009). In the European Green City Index, Amsterdam came in 2nd place in the transport section. The EIU claims that “city transport is one of the key areas where cities have a directly ability to influence the choices that residents make in how they commute” (Economist Intelligence Unit 2009). Amsterdam has clearly taken advantage of this.

In 2003, 50% of Amsterdam inhabitants used their bike daily. In the Netherlands, 27% of all trips are made by bicycle compared to only 1% in the United States. The country also has one of the lowest cyclist fatality rates, with both men and women from all different age groups and income classes cycling at about the same rates (Pucher and Buehler 2007).

Many different factors have merged to create such a positive atmosphere for cycling. Amsterdam has the benefit of being dense and having a flat topography. At the same time, there are many mix-use neighborhoods leading to short travel distances. As early as the 1970’s, the city government focused on city transport problems. The bicycle came into play when concerns about quality of life and air pollution began to increase around that time (Pucher and Buehler 2007). Today, Amsterdam has 450 km of bike paths and lanes, many of which were built in the early 1980s (Pucher and Buehler 2007).

The “Choosing for cyclist: 2007-2010” bicycle policy plan addressed many common problems by increasing bicycle parking facilities, combating bicycle theft, improving and promoting traffic safety and most importantly completing and improving the bicycle network system and infrastructure (Buehler and Pucher 2010). At the same time, programs to reduce the use of the automobile were put in place. Car access to the city center is greatly restricted. Within the city, there is less parking with increased fees and many car-free streets (Buehler and Pucher 2010). Throughout the 3 years, 70 million Euros of funds was to be spent on these projects (Buehler and Pucher 2010). The particularly innovative “Park and Bike” program (Figure 2) enables motorists to park upon the arrival to the edge of the city center and complete the rest of the trip by bicycle ( 2012). Promotional and educational events gather public support and ensure that cycling safely is a priority within the city. These examples are listed in Table 1, many of which could be implemented in other cities such as Montreal (Pucher and Buehler 2007).

Many of Amsterdam’s cycling policies have relied on the better implementation of already existing traditional policies common in many European cities. The traditional has been enhanced by the innovative projects such as the bike anti-theft program and Park and Bike program. In this manner, Amsterdam has created a city that emphasizes cycling as a safe and convenient mode of transport and denounces car use as inconvenient and expensive by creating concrete and feasible projects.

A recent, more holistic project has been put in place called Amsterdam Smart City. The municipality, in collaboration with business within the city, created it in 2009. It focuses mainly on the challenge of saving energy to reduce CO2 emissions through the use of innovative technology with stimulating behavioral changes of residents. Different projects were introduced within 4 different sectors: sustainable public space, sustainable mobility, sustainable living and sustainable working (Amsterdam Smart City 2012). The goal of the Smart City project is to test different environmental projects and technologies by launching environmental pilot schemes throughout the city. These initiatives will then be tested for their success and drawbacks and their feasibility on a larger scale (and of course these must be economically sustainable). This process is inclusive and creates a platform for the discussion of sustainable solutions.

One of the better-known projects includes “Climate Street”. On this popular shopping street, different technologies and approaches will be tested to create sustainable solutions for other streets within the city. The focus is on entrepreneurs, the public space and logistics. A few examples include the implementation of smart meters to measure energy consumption, energy display providing feedback, smart plugs that automatically dim un-used lights, integrated street lighting using energy saving lamps and solar-powered waste bins with built-in garbage compactors (Amsterdam Smart City 2012).

Many different projects are in place simultaneously, making it hard to see the current impact on long-term sustainability. However, this program has become an inspiration for other cities around the world as it has created a foundation for the possibility of extensive change within a city. The information gathered from the Amsterdam Smart City project is shared on their website to ensure dispersal of knowledge ( The challenge that lies ahead is in keeping the momentum going and ensuring that the environmental technologies used are feasible on a large scale.

Important lessons can be gathered from the development of Amsterdam’s transit projects. One particularly important factor that could be useful in the development of Montreal’s public transit system is the idea that to achieve synergy, what is needed is both the supply of mobility provided by the transport system and the demand for mobility, created by different land-use patterns (Bertolini 2003). Innovations in transport policy are needed such as upgrading and expanding the train, tram, metro and bicycle infrastructure. However, this type of development must be matched with the renewal of neighborhoods and the development of new mixed-use neighborhoods to decrease distances traveled, as was done in Amsterdam (Bertolini 2003). Nieuw Sloten is a neighborhood that was developed as a mixed-use district of Amsterdam blending people, activities and housing with compact urban growth. This neighborhood is easily connected to the city center through the new tramlines and is friendly to pedestrians and cyclists. This example shows that transit investments will not be successful unless they are met with land-use change to create the demand and continuous use of these modes of transportation (Beatley 2000).

At 1,650,000, Montreal’s population is much larger than that of Amsterdam’s (Ville de Montreal 2011). In addition, cycling in Amsterdam is much more attainable because of the year-round temperate climate. Nevertheless, lessons can still be learned from the successes of what has been highlighted in this study: cycling as an important aspect of urban sustainable development in Amsterdam and the Amsterdam Smart City project aimed at reducing CO2 emissions. As we have seen, governments are critical players to encourage environmentally friendly behavior and promote such projects. There is no one path towards sustainability yet the policies and projects implemented in Amsterdam can provide valuable lessons in Montreal’s quest to become a more sustainable city.

SOURCES (2012). Park and Ride – P+R in Amsterdam. From:

Amsterdam Smart City (2012). Projects – Cliamte Street. Amsterdam Smart City. From:

Beatley, T. (2000). Green urbanism: learning from European Cities. Washington, D.C., Island Press.

Bertolini, L., le Clercq, F. (2003). Urban development without more mobility by car? Lessons from Amsterdam, a multimodal urban region. Environment and Planning. 35:575-589

Buehler and Pucher. (2010). “Cycling to Sustainability in Amsterdam”. Sustain: a journal of environmental and sustainability issues 21. From:

Gilderbloom, J. et al. (2009). “Amsterdam: planning and policy for the ideal city?”. Local Environment 14(6):473-493

Pucher and Buehler. 2007. At the Frontiers of Cycling: Policy Innovations in the Netherlands, Denmark, and Germany”. World Transport Policy and Practice.

Scott, M. (2009). Amsterdam: A Smart City Goes Live. Business Week June 8 2009. From:

Sustainable Cities. “Case: Amsterdam: Smart City”. Sustainable Cities: A part of Danish Architecture Centre. From:

Ville de Montreal (2011). Population totale. Montréal en Statistiques. From:,67887840&_dad=portal&_schema=PORTAL

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