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How many bicycles and cars end up in the canals?


April 16th, 2012 | Last updated: December 4th, 2012


DutchAmsterdam.nl — Here’s a trivia question you use to stump your friends: On a yearly basis, how many bicycles and cars end up in the canals of Amsterdam?

It is a well-known fact that Amsterdam is the most bicycle-friendly city in the world.

Bicycle parking in Amsterdam

Creative bicycle parking along -- and above -- Brouwersgracht

One third of working Amsterdammers commutes to and from work on a bicycle. Many more use their bikes for other reasons as well: for leisure, trips to the supermarket, bringing the kids to school, or even walking the dog.

The city’s marketing website, I Amsterdam, says “Perhaps unsurprisingly, the latest estimations conclude that there are more bikes in Amsterdam than permanent residents.” Sure enough, Amsterdam has 780,559 inhabitants, who together have an estimated 881,000 bikes.

Bicycle parking in Amsterdam

Properly locking your bike to a steady object does not always prevent morons from messing with it, but at least this bike stayed dry

Amsterdam’s Statistics Bureau, Dienst Onderzoek + Statistiek, O+S, says the method used to arrive at the number of bikes in the city is known as ‘Wisdom of the Crowd.’ The idea is that when there is no simple way to arrive at the right number, the average derived from the guesses of a selection of experts will provide ‘the truth’ — and that’s how O+S came up with 881,000 bicycles.

Now, keep that number in mind.

Next thing you need to know is that Amsterdam has 165 canals, with a combined length of 100 kilometers (60 miles) — providing plenty of opportunities for a bike or two to get wet. In fact, here’s a video of a Good Samaritan who salvaged a bike that was blown into the water by the wind.

And here’s a look at how the professionals of Waternet — Amsterdam’s Water Authority — approach the job:

Does the number of bikes on that barge give you a clue? Perhaps it does if you know that this pile of bikes is the result of about 3 hours of dredging in Prinsengracht.

Theft or Vandalism

In a story filed by the Associated Press last year, Arie Beer, Superintendent at Waternet, says “Bicycle fishing is a peculiar story. Every year we fish up between 12,000 and 15,000 bicycles. Yeah, where do they come from? Well — the owners won’t throw them into the water so quickly, so we assume that either theft or vandalism is the reason for the bicycles to end up in the water.”

While some of the bikes dredged up still look serviceable, all bikes retrieved from the canals of Amsterdam end up as scrap metal.

Workers on the boat shown in the video above say they occasionally also bring up other items, such as fridges and even a safe, but that bikes are their main catch.

Boat Wrecks

An information officer at Waternet said the crew normally gets a list of boat wrecks that need to be removed from the water.

Sunken sloop at Oudezijds Achterburgwal, Amsterdam

Sunken sloop at Oudezijds Voorburgwal, Amsterdam

For one reason or another each year an average of 500 vessels — small sloops and cabin boats, for the most part — sink or are otherwise wrecked.

Some people simply abandon their boats when they move away or don’t want to keep paying mooring fees.

Some of the boats are stolen, used for the water version of joyriding, and then dumped.

Others are scuttled by vandals.

Once the list of boat wrecks is cleared, the Waternet team starts dredging for bicycles.

Cars in the canals

Some canal tour companies play a tape on board in which a lady explains, in four languages, that the short rails seen along many of the canals are there to prevent cars from driving into the water. The guide claims that nevertheless on average one car a week falls in.

That information (along with some other claims made on those tapes) tends to puzzle Amsterdammers who accompany their tourist friends for at canal tour.

One car a week — 52 cars a year — sounds like a lot.

Indeed that number in on the high side.

In Amsterdam whenever a car falls into a canal a special diving team of the Fire Brigade springs into action.

Amsterdam is the only city in the Netherlands that has four professional divers on call 24 hours a day. On special occasions, such as during the Gay Pride Parade, SAIL, Queen’s Day and the annual arrival of St. Nicholas, there are four extra divers.

According to the diving team, on average 100 people and 35 cars a year fall into the canal.

In most cases cars end up in a canal as the result of an accident, but sometimes vandalism comes into play. That was the case earlier this month (we’re talking April, 2012), when a Fiat 500 was pushed into the Leidsegracht.

At 5:00 am Locals heard a loud splash a some reported that they saw 3 laughing boys run away.

In 2009 Amsterdam police was concerned about ‘a new craze’ in which vandals toss parked cars from the Smart brand into the city’s canals.

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