“The plan was to stop the car, the destruction of the town, the pollution, by leaving cars outside the town, and give a new instrument for people to use when they want to travel around: free bikes, for everybody. But the police took them away, of course in their feeling it was not allowed to put a bike without lock.”
Interview with Luud Schimmelpennink
Luud Schimmelpennink is a social inventor, industrial designer and politician in Amsterdam. In the 1960�s, as a member of the Dutch Provos, a group of youthful social provocateurs, he became known as the main figure behind the famous White Bicycle Plan.
Interview with Christopher Sumpton
What used to happen in this square?
This statue was the point where every Saturday night at 12:00 a happening started. In this area we also painted the first bike white for use by everybody. Not a lot of them, only to demonstrate the idea, maybe ten bikes or something, and the bikes went off from here, and you found them around town.
What was the idea of the White Bikes?
The plan was to stop the car, the destruction of the town, the pollution, by leaving cars outside the town, and give a new instrument for people to use when they want to travel around: free bikes, for everybody. But the police took them away, of course in their feeling it was not allowed to put a bike without lock.
What was wrong with that?
Nothing, but that was their way of thinking. The point was we were not making a system at that moment; we were… making an idea, huh? Later on, when I had the seat on the town council, we brought it in as a proposal. A proposal that White Bikes would be provided by the municipality: 10,000 bikes, painted white, maintenance by the town, for everybody.
But, we got voted down. In the minds of the politicians, bikes were a thing of the past. In their opinion, the future was through the car. But they were wrong, huh? We know that now in this moment, bikes are the future, and the car will be changed.
It was a very powerful idea.
Yes, it has taken maybe forty years. But now when you come to major cities, like Paris, the bike is coming back. In cities where bikes were completely out, now there are public bikes. And we are still in the beginning of the idea. Because this is part of public transport. When you want public transport, it is waiting for you, and you take it for the time you want it, in the direction you want, and then you leave it and go on. That is the way with regular public transport. That is the way it should be with bicycles.
How is the future of the car being changed. With electric cars?
Yes, but the use of the electric car must be completely different. The time of misuse of cars is over. In the past people would go with their car on their holiday for 2,000 kilometers and so on, that is ridiculous. This time for the car will never come back. I think that occasional use of cars, like part time car, is a good solution. Bikes are better. But I see a small position for the electrical car, but not so much as the old cars in the past.
What about people outside of towns?
I understand. They are living in situation that you need a car. But there is no need in towns, like I’m living here in a town I don’t need a car, I have no car. I go by bicycle or public transport. And when I need a car I rent a car, but maybe I do that two times a year, not more.
Is there a plan to keep private cars out of the centre of Amsterdam?
In the early times, in the 16th century, Amsterdam was already a very important town, and a lot of people had their horses with carriages, and when they wanted to come into the centre, we had places outside the town where they could leave the carriage, and walk in. That’s what they did in the 16th century. So why not do the same now? Hold the cars outside the town and let people come in other way, by walking, by cycling, by tram, or by a small public electric car. We think that we need a system of 80,000 bikes and 2,000 electric cars.
The result is that in maybe 10 years, maybe 8 years, that’s a political decision, we’ll have no cars with internal combustion engines within the ring road around central Amsterdam.