April 30, 2007

The White Bicycle Plan or Why I Love the Dutch

Here's what you need to know about the Dutch: they still believe in the white bicycle plan. In 1964 a group an anarchist group Provo put out a magazine outlining the white bicycle plan. The idea was simple. The center of Amsterdam would be closed to traffic and the city sprinkle 20,000 white bicycles around the city. You would ride a bicycle whenever you needed one, stop wherever you needed to stop, and leave the bicycle in place. Then someone else could use it. ...and so on and so on. Broken bicycles would be flagged and fixed by authorities. It would be good for the environment and you would never have to worry about locking up a bicycle or having one stolen or broken.

The group kick started the plan by distributing 50 white bicycles which were promptly removed by the police who claimed they would encourage theft, ignoring Provo's arguments that bikes without owners could not be stolen. While the plan never got started in Amsterdam, it has been resurrected many times over the years in smaller cities and each time the plan ends the same way, the bicycles are stolen and repainted, often within days, but the Dutch are undeterred. "It could work," a serious looking student told me today, the problem is they never bought enough bicycles." Another student chimed in, "Yes. Of course it will work we just need to think bigger."

addendum: In 1967 Provo announced the white corpse plan for automobile drivers who kill pedestrians: "Whenever the monster strikes anywhere in Amsterdam and someone is flattened against the merciless asphalt, the police must trace the victim's outline on the ground with a piece of chalk. As soon as an ambulance has removed the sad remains, the murderer himself, using a chisel and hammer, must hack out the silhouette of his victim one inch deep in the asphalt, under supervision of the police. Next he will fill the hollow with white mortar. Then perhaps, all the prospective murderers approaching the scene of the disaster will let up on the gas for just a moment".

posted at 06:09 PM by raul

Filed under: travel

TAGS: amsterdam (2) provo (1) the netherlands (2) utopian (1) white bicycle plan (1) white corpse plan (1)


04/30/07 09:31 PM

Here in Toronto we had a program called BikeShare run by the Community Bicycle Network that was similar with yellow-painted bikes around the city. It had a nominal yearly subscription fee but unfortunately do to bikes being damaged and a lack of enough funding to repair or replace the bikes it shut down.

05/02/07 02:39 AM

I dig the White Corpse plan. (Pun was not intended) Kinda mindblowing to think of what the worlds roads might look like.

Hope you are enjoying your sojourn, and your feet are a little less itchy.

I love the Dutch too, such civilized, earthy and reasonable folk.

05/10/07 12:00 PM

Italo Calvino wrote a short story about a town full of thieves. Everyone would go out at night to rob each other's houses, returning home with a new bounty to fill their robbed house.

The town lived happily that way, until decent folk moved in and refused to rob. The newcomers didn't leave their houses that first night, so some unfortunate family could not rob them, and returned to their emply home emply handed. After that day, the town was never the same.

05/23/07 04:12 PM

Just started not quite free bikes in Stockholm this summer. You buy a card from the public transport office which unlocks the bikes all over the city centre. You can pick up and leave them in many convenient locations. Big advertising banners seem to detur thieves and the advertisers pay to maintain the bikes. Cards are cheap and work for one day or the whpöe summer.
We'll see if it works.

03/11/09 05:25 PM

The Provo´s White Bicycle Plan is made better and is now called the Black Bicycle Plan. Each year more then a million bikes are stolen in the Netherlands. But only a sellect group of thieves knew how to do this and bennefitted greatly thanks to their secret knowledge. By spreading this knowledge publicly and making it for everybody possible to steal a bicycle whenever they need a ride, the slightly modificated ideal of the White Bicycle Plan is made real: no owners bike can not be stolen!

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