Wheel (un)friendly

Walking the streets of Amsterdam, one encounters all the myriad ways that space’s various owners and tenants encourage and discourage wheeled interactions with their respective domains. Whether for bicycles or wheelchairs, the form factor designed to ease passage over thresholds and into/out of places has more-or-less stabilized around a standard form:

The sturdy metal ramp-lets almost always feature Amsterdam’s distinctive escutcheon: three X’s arranged in either a vertical or horizontal row. With this simple gesture, the notion of “accessibility” is written into the fabric of the city.

In contrast to the fairly-standard threshold access ramps, bicycle ramps that adorn nearly every public and private stairway come in a wide variety of materials, and sport a wide range of patinas. Some are designed into the stairways themselves, carved out of the stone of the steps they complement.

In other cases ramps have been bolted on after the fact to make stairways navigable by their owner’s bicycles – in both metal and wood, either screwed into the pavement or cut to fit precisely into the stairwell it complements.

Rivaling the variety of form factors for ramps, Amsterdam’s streets host an equal number of designs that discourage access to places. The practice of locking one’s bicycle to things when parking it is hard to forcibly prevent, so discouraging this behavior typically comes in the form of a painted warning somewhere in the nearby environment next to a piece of infrastructure that would otherwise be attractive as a candidate to lock one’s bicycle to.

Compared to bicycles, cars’ potential pathways through Central Amsterdam are far more limited through a dazzling variety of forms embedded into the streets. On the spectrum of analog to digital, the “most manual” forms are the red-and-white (coincidental Amsterdam colors?) metal poles with locks on top. Presumably those few who have the right to park on that street hold the keys.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the more tech-driven solution is a pair of squat, red-lit columns that, when the proper credentials are shown to the card-reader on the control post mounted on the adjacent sidewalk, descend into the meticulously maintained cobblestones.

Consider the infrastructure around you and in what ways it enforces its creators’/purchasers’ desires to subtly encourage or discourage access.

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