Charging ahead with its enviable plan to remain the world’s most bike-friendly city, Amsterdam has recently announced the appointment of the world’s first bicycle mayor. The person who will fill the semi-official person is set to be selected June 24, according to CityLab. The mayor’s roles and responsibilities are all focused around promoting and protecting cycling in the Dutch city – acting as a mediator between city hall, cyclists, community groups, residents, and anyone who has an interest in or may be affected by the city’s bicycling policy. While we’ve seen similar concepts, such as in the case of Atlanta’s recent appointment of a Chief Bicycle Officer, this is the first time a city has inaugurated the official position of “bicycle mayor,” and offered such a breadth of responsibility.
The idea was developed by local cycling advocacy CycleSpace, whose ultimate plan is to roll out the concept internationally. “This global program launched in Amsterdam is [intended] to elect the city’s representative of cycling progress,” said CycleSpace co-founder Roos Stallinga in a press release. “We plan to inaugurate our first 25 cycle mayors in cities as diverse as Beijing, Sao Paulo, Chicago, Cape Town and Warsaw. It will result in a yearly conference, starting in Amsterdam in 2017.”
The bike mayor will be a public representative, but not strictly a politician in the classic sense. Since they’ll technically be an employee of CycleSpace, an independent NGO, they won’t be elected by an entirely democratic process. The benefit of this system, however, is that they won’t be as constrained by the political system as elected officials are, and as such will be better able to represent a diversity of interests.
The bike mayor will be selected by a combination of public vote and an expert jury. Candidates who express their interest (via a short video) by May 1st will be put forward for the public vote. The public is able to weigh in until June 24, and while their opinion will hold influence, the final selection will ultimately be up to a jury of relevant parties including Amsterdam’s mayor and representatives from the city’s transit authorities and cycling groups.
While outsiders may think Amsterdam – already a beacon of hope for what a bike-friendly city could look like – is creating a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist, the people at CycleSpace see it differently. “We are really far ahead in Amsterdam, but there is a tendency now to see bikes as a problem,” CycleSpace co-founder Maud de Vries told Citylab. “People don’t see the magic of it anymore, because they’re so used to it.”
In danger of stalling on the path towards a virtual bike mecca, advocates believe the bicycle mayor could be the push the city needs to renew residents’ enthusiasm for bikes. Whether or not it really is necessary in Amsterdam though, is only half of the equation. By using that city as a testing ground for the logistics, operations, and function of such a role, CycleSpace is developing a new form of institutionalized bike advocacy that then could then be exported around the world to the cities that need it the most.
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