Playful Passageways in Amsterdam

Amsterdam uses pedestrian and bike tunnels to inspire a sense of play and wonder

Underpasses can be foreboding places in a city, but Amsterdam inspires non-motorized travelers with the playful atmosphere they create in bike and pedestrian tunnels.  This post features a few of my favorite pedestrian and bicycle tunnels in Amsterdam, highlighting how the city has invested in activating spaces that support active transportation.  The highlighted spaces inspire a sense of curiosity and fun at the human-scale.       

The Living Tunnel

The Tugelaweg bike and pedestrian tunnel has been retrofitted with a light installation that has transformed this once dark and ominous space to one of fun and curiosity.  The municipality sponsored a competition in order to active the space, as the tunnel used to be perceived as desolate and unsafe.  After neighborhood voting, the winning design features a wildlife inspired LED installation, where the people become visitors.  As you pass through the tunnel, you may spot shadows of an elephant or a lion, as the big five from the African savanna roam the walls.

The Most Magnificent Passageway

Have you ever biked through a museum?  Most Amsterdammers have.  The passageway through the center of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam has marvelous gothic style ceiling and views directly into the entrance hall of the museum.  Riding through the most magnificent bicycle tunnel did not come without controversy.  While the original design of the museum included a traffic corridor though it, over the years there has been continual pressure to close the passageway to cyclists.  Most recently when the museum was being renovated from 2004 to 2013, the head architect furiously tried to close the tunnel to cyclists, but was overruled in great part due to the work of the cyclists union.  Today,  the priority of beauty that cyclists and pedestrians experience when traveling through the Rijksmusem passageway tells the story of a city that has fought to prioritize life and a livable city where people really get to experience the splendor of Amsterdam. 

The Tunnel as an art gallery

The Voormalige Stadstimmertuin tunnel, once simple and short, has been dressed up with a collaborative art project.  Students helped to create art in the tunnel that connects the Amstel river to the Wibaustraat.  Not only is the tunnel now exciting to look at, but it is further connected to the place where it hangs.  The ostentatiousness of the art is intentional, meant to connect with the Carre theatre just down the street.  The first time I rode through the tunnel after the art was installed in July, I was immediately struck by the art, so much so that I came back later that day on foot to really admire this new free, street gallery.     

The most convenient bicycle tunnel

The Amsterdam Central Station tunnel was long anticipated and after running several years behind schedule, it was recently opened a couple of months ago!  It runs through Amsterdam central station directly connecting the Ferry terminal behind the station to the city center.  This vital connection prioritizes and caters to active modes in the city and it has been estimated that around 15,000 cyclists and 10,000 pedestrians will use the tunnel daily.  With such high-anticipated volumes of traffic, a lot of care has been taken in the design of the tunnel to influence the behavior of pedestrians and cyclists, using lighting, pavement treatments, and heights.  Besides providing a new, safe link, the tunnel features a beautiful, hand painted tile mural inspired by a 17th century scene of the IJ river, connecting the space inside to tunnel to the spatial surroundings.   

These examples demonstrate how a focus on the human-scale caters to and inspires bicycle and pedestrian trips.  These spaces have been reclaimed, activated, and connected to their surrondings so that tunnels and passageways are no longer perceived as threatening, rather they actually attract people to come and enjoy them.  See the map below to explore the tunnels yourself or join one of our Play City Tours where we will explore them in further detail.