“Hello, zebra crossing!”
“Oh, man, don’t say that!”
“You must stop, you bastard!”
Evening rush hour on the Haarlemmerdijk in Amsterdam. The liquor store is trying to cross a zebra crossing, his hands full of empty wine boxes. A delivery man on an e-bike, headphones on and looking at infinity, doesn’t stop and almost bumps into him.
“Really bloody irritating,” says off-licence Ron – rather not a last name in the newspaper – a few days later in the wine shop. That near-collision, that was his brother-in-law, who also works in the case. But he is also quite bothered by those passing delivery guys on their e-bikes. They go really fast, they rarely stop for the zebra crossing. “Occasionally I just throw my trolley in front of it, they have to hit the brakes full. More than a vague ‘oh, sorry’ usually can’t get rid of it.”
The Haarlemmerdijk in the center of Amsterdam is such a place where you can personally experience the growth in the number of delivery drivers. The dike, further on called the street, has a natural predisposition for a race track: straight and nice and smooth asphalt. Moreover, cars and scooters have been taboo here since the corona crisis: the city council decided to make the street car-free during the first lockdown. Since then, the Haarlemmerdijk has been the exclusive domain of cyclists, who blast through it at top speed. And in particular the meal, package and flash deliverers.
The flash deliverers have been on the rise in Amsterdam since this spring. With their large backpacks and recognizable colors, the boys and girls from Flink (pink), Getir (purple) and especially Gorillas (black clothing, black helmet, black bag, black mouth cap) really catch the eye. And for those who were not yet familiar with the new phenomenon, the city is currently covered with life-sized advertisements on columns, trams and even the ferries across the IJ.
Also read: The household store is also hesitating now: how fast should the delivery be?
The speed cameras operate from so-called ‘dark stores’, shopping areas that are shuttered from the outside and packed with products such as beer, ice cream, sauces and bread. The majority of the deliverers are in their twenties and do not speak Dutch. They arrive, load their bags and race off again: the groceries have to be delivered as quickly as possible.
This Monday, between five and six o’clock in the evening, 56 deliverers will be whizzing along the Haarlemmerdijk on e-bikes, as an hour of tallying learns. The vast majority (22) are meal deliverers, eight are flash deliverers – three of whom are on a cargo bike, with a cargo box. So they are not yet dominant in the streets – but they do drive the fastest and look around the least. The eyes are usually fixed on the cell phone on their handlebars.
The speed camera drivers are the latest addition to the increasingly colorful army of electric vehicles that moves through Amsterdam’s narrow streets and bicycle paths. You see parents with cargo bikes, people in their twenties and thirties on electric scooters and fat bikes (bicycles that look like mopeds), forties on trendy VanMoofs, fifties in Biròs (small carts) and people of all ages on electric scooters – although they are not officially allowed on the road in the Netherlands yet.
The speed differences between all these vehicles, as it turns out on the Haarlemmerdijk, increase the feeling of unsafety on the public road. “Traffic is hardening, there is more aggression,” says Walther Ploos van Amstel, a traffic expert at Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences and who lives in the area. “I myself increasingly avoid the Haarlemmerdijk. It’s starting to become a kind of no-go zone for me.”
Also read about traffic safety in Amsterdam: War on the bike path
One of the problems with the bicycle couriers, says Florrie de Pater of Fietsersbond Amsterdam, is that “almost all” ride on illegally tuned e-bikes. By law, electric bicycles are not allowed to go faster than 25 kilometers per hour, but that ceiling can easily be circumvented with an app. “We argue in favor of giving e-bikes that are easy to upgrade, a number plate with a license plate,” says De Pater. “Then you can fine them for a speeding violation, just like mopeds.”
The city government does not seem to be in a hurry for the time being. Alderman Egbert de Vries (Traffic, PvdA) does see the flash deliverers as a problem: they cause “too much crowds, stress and insecurity,” he says.
Yet the traffic behavior of delivery drivers is hardly checked and fined. The Amsterdam boas, already overburdened by the corona rules, are currently required by the city council to enforce other matters, such as scooters that are still illegally driving on the bicycle path. A systematic approach to deliverers, says De Vries, “is a matter for the next council”, which will take office in 2022. However, the municipality has organized a pilot “discussion training the behavior of meal deliverers” and a “workshop accident registration for the meal delivery companies”. The municipality does not have figures for accidents involving deliverers: they are not registered separately.
Another point of concern is the ‘dark stores’. Residents experience nuisance from the shops, says the GroenLinks party in the city council: noisy delivery guys on the sidewalk, vans that come to load and unload in the middle of the night. Questions have been asked about this this week.
“I thought very naively: those are a kind of mini-supermarkets in neighborhoods,” says Alderman De Vries. “But they become unpleasant places. Completely closed, instead of open shops.” The complicated thing, says De Vries, is that the municipality can do little against the shuttered warehouses, as long as they comply with environmental standards and do not cause any nuisance. De Vries would like to talk to the flash delivery companies, but only Getir has reported so far, he says. “It is not clear: we would like to do this together with the city.”
At the De Dolfijn bookshop, two hundred meters from the liquor store on the Haarlemmerdijk, manager Marieke Cobelens is shaking her head and watching the passing cyclists. “Look at that man swinging” – she points to a passer-by on an e-bike – “that’s idiotic, isn’t it?”
On the zebra crossing in front of De Dolfijn she sees “daily collisions and verbal abuse”, says Cobelens. In the future, the municipal council wants to build a separate bicycle street on the Haarlemmer Houttuinen, currently a busy main road parallel to the Haarlemmerdijk. But those plans have been shelved for now. Until then, says Cobelens, you just have to be very careful on the dike.
A version of this article also appeared in NRC Handelsblad on 20 November 2021
A version of this article also appeared in NRC in the morning of November 20, 2021
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