In the mid-nineties I frequently moved around Amsterdam on my bike, carrying an outsize camera around my neck. The Amsterdam Funds for the Arts and the Amsterdam Minicipal Archive had commissioned me to photograph panorama's of traffic situations in the city centre. My archive of this project consists for three-quartes of pictures on which the passage of traffic is blocked for brief or extended periods. The photographs show countless variations on this theme.
Some obstacles exist for just a fraction of a second. Everyone who moves around Amsterdam by bike is familiar with the phenomenon of the pedestrian who steps onto your intended cycling route without warning. A person walking on the pavement is suddenly seized by the urge to cross the street He or she commences by making a first step on the raodway, as if to lay claim to this space. When making this step, most pedestrians turn their head sideways to look whether is was is fact possible. But they increasingly tend to walk striaght ahead without looking at all.
Other forms of stoppage are more protracted. When you drive about town by car, you make the following estimations: parcel post delivery - 2:10 minutes, picking up handicapped persons - 3:20 minutes, forwarding agency J. Peeters - four minutes, removal of a glass container - 6.30 minutes, beer barrel deliveries easily run up to fifteen minutes and if you see a removal van, you put your car in reverse.
On the bike however you wriggle your way past. The civil servant at city hall who long ago determined the width of Amsterdam streets probably made the following calculation: average width of truck + widht of hanlebars = street width. However, in nine out of ten cases truck drivers making a delivery on a canal address park the car in the middle of the street, leaving space for just one handlebar on each side.
The behaviour of cyclists is hardly any less singular. If one cyclist comes from the Huidenstraat while another one is cycling along the Keizersgracht, they do not know, on reaching the corner, how to deal with the extremely complicated question who has right of way. They both ride onto the crossing, and the last one on the brake has right of way.
That's how we do things in Amsterdam. Does that tell us anything about the age we live in? I don't know. In a hundred's years time it may have become impossible to get through and everyone will be in an even greater hurry. Will we still be riding bicycles and driving cars then, or will we finally fly through the air using little rocket engines strapped on our backs?
Hans van der Meer, 2000