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Meet Amsterdam’s first Bike Mayor

Anna Luten talks about being the first-ever cycling representative for the bike-crazy city

Like many Amsterdammers, 28-year-old Anna Luten grew up with biking in her blood and rode to school every day. Cycling through the city becoming second nature. But even in a place where everyone seems to travel by two wheels, she didn’t expect to become the city’s first Bike Mayor.

Luten, who now works for the manufacturer Giant Bicycles as a brand manager, won the independent post by popular vote earlier this year, becoming the first municipal Bike Mayor in the world. It’s all part of a program created by the cycling advocacy group CycleSpace, which hopes to make Luten a model for other such positions in cities around the globe, in a bid to raise awareness and promote better transportation planning around the globe.

While Luten doesn’t have official power, she does have the support of many Amsterdammers who prize biking—in a city of 1.1 million people, there are more than 1 million bikes—as well as the ear of a bike-friendly administration that’s devoted extensive resources to bike infrastructure.

Curbed spoke to Luten about her role as Bike Mayor, and goals for the position. The interview has been edited for clarity.

"I just started at the end of June, but it seems to be getting a lot of attention. Sometimes, people recognize that I’m the Bike Mayor on the street and it’s funny. They ask me to help with certain things; ‘can you help keep the cycle paths dry in the rain?’ (laughs). I'm not sure what to say sometimes. What if I get bumped by a car on the road; do I tell them, 'Hey, I’m the Bike Mayor?'"

"It’s a really cool opportunity, and a lot of doors are opening up for me. But I also get to open doors for new cycling infrastructure, initiatives, and insight. I think that’s really great."

"Our biking infrastructure in Amsterdam is super successful. We have more and more people getting on bikes. But now, they’re on e-bikes, or electric bikes, and you also see bigger bikes with wider wheels, which don’t fit into bike racks, and even Segways. Delivery companies are using bikes with big baskets; cycling is actually taking over the delivery business in the city center. We need to take a deeper look at how the idea of a bicycle is changing; how these different forms of mobility can work together, and what our infrastructure will look like in 10 years."

"Cities from around the world can learn a lot about how we built up our cycling infrastructure. It doesn’t just happen in a few years. But we can learn from different cities as well. We’re all facing similar situations. That’s why we created the Bike Mayor position, and plan to spread it to other cities. We believe that cities can be transformed if you integrate bicycles."

"I just started the job, which is part-time, and I’m still figuring out the structure of the role. How can people who need me find me? Who’s doing what in the city? I hope in the future, it’s a full-time job, just like the Night Mayor." Right now, I’m trying to talk to all these different groups and connect them. Next week, I have a few appointments at city hall to help work on the four-year plan for cycling. I’ll be talking about the program, and what I think is missing. It’s good to be able to work closely with the city."

"I have three main projects I want to work on during my term, which is one year. I want to help define the role of Bike Mayor and export it abroad. I want to examine the behavior of cyclists, both Amsterdammers and tourists, and see what we can do to improve it. I also want to involve kids more, and encourage them to cycle. Children usually learn from their parents or friends, but there are some areas of Amsterdam where kids aren’t cycling. Maybe it’s because they have a different background, or are immigrants, and their parents don’t cycle. We want to do something to get them riding, to show them a safe, healthy, and playful experience."

Anna Luten's video asking for votes to become Amsterdam's bike mayor, from CycleSpace on Vimeo.

"The last thing I want to do is help create better infrastructure for cyclists. I had a conversation with city planners and engineers about what the city center will look like 30 years from now; how space will be utilized, how much space will bikers, pedestrians, and cars will get, and how they will share the road. I'm also helping run an experiment to see what happens if we have a car-free street. It's already being done in one area of Amsterdam, but I want to do more trials and show City Hall, and see if it changes how they think about cycling and transportation planning."

"Today, I was biking around and saw young people and old people, all zooming past each other. It can be busy, but there’s a structure to bike traffic here. We understand each other, but I can imagine a tourist might be overwhelmed by it. We need to look at how to give tourists a good, safe experience. Cyclists also need to look at their own behavior sometimes; there’s so many of us, we can act like we’re the kings of the streets, and that makes it less safe."

"I have three different bikes. And I want to get a fourth one. I have a commuter bike for groceries and stuff, it’s actually quite a crappy bike. I don't worry about it getting stolen, I have a light commuter bike. It’s an old, retro bike. Then I have a Liv, which is a Giant bike, where I work. That’s my Ferrari, my Porsche, my Maserati. It’s a cool race bike, and I often take it outside the city and explore other part of the Netherlands. I don’t have that much time for it, which is a pity. One of the things I love the most is taking my banking card with me, and just riding for hours. The weather is nice tonight, so I’ll probably go explore."