Nudgespotting: Abroad in Amsterdam

BY: DJ NERI (IDEAS42)

Amsterdam is a city with a reputation for allowing people to pursue their vices. But beyond its infamous coffee shops and Red Light District, there’s another side to the city: a side that nudges us towards behaviors that are both good for us and those around us. Below are three nudges that caught my eye on a recent trip to Amsterdam. 

PAINT IT RED

Most of us have had frustrating experiences on public transportation. Previous posts on Misbehaving have done an excellent job documenting clever nudges that can improve everyone’s experience on public transportation. Amsterdam’s ferry platforms offer another compelling example of the power of a simple nudge.

First, consider the status quo: on the ferry from Amsterdam Noord to Central Station (picture 1), anxious passengers waiting to board drift towards the center of the platform before all passengers can exit the ferry, increasing the length and difficulty of the boarding process for all. Compare this to the red and green painted platforms of the Westerdoksdijk ferry terminal (picture 2), where a nudge has been cleverly deployed. Here, people queue up neatly on the green shoulders, avoiding the red. The contrast was even starker as I approached a different platform in Amsterdam Noord, where passengers were entirely on the green shoulders (picture 3). Note that this success was achieved without any signage indicating where to stand or the significance of the platform colors.

Picture 1. Boarding passengers creep towards the center of the ferry platform.

Picture 1. Boarding passengers creep towards the center of the ferry platform.

Picture 2. Passengers waiting for the ferry to arrive mostly queue on the green shoulder.

Picture 2. Passengers waiting for the ferry to arrive mostly queue on the green shoulder.

Picture 3. Passengers waiting to board the ferry stay entirely on the green shoulders.

Picture 3. Passengers waiting to board the ferry stay entirely on the green shoulders.

KEEP 'EM SEPARATED

Many of Amsterdam’s cycling paths are considered the gold standard for both safety and cyclist comfort. One reason why? In many parts of the city, especially busier areas and areas in which the bike lanes are directly adjacent to the road, the bike lanes are simply paved a different color (picture 4). In a city full of tourists – some perhaps not in the most “rational” state of mind – a different, salient color helps them realize it’s not a walking path. And drivers – just like onboarding passengers in the ferry nudge – are disinclined to cross the color barriers. 

Picture 4. This cycle path's distinct coloring helps to demarcate the area of the road just for bikers.

Picture 4. This cycle path's distinct coloring helps to demarcate the area of the road just for bikers.

HEALTHY MUNCHIES

In one Albert Heijn supermarket – a store almost as ubiquitous as cyclists or tourists – I spotted this well-documented nudge (picture 5).  Placing healthier snacks in the checkout line makes them more salient to the consumer, especially when they need a quick fix. Unfortunately, further along in the checkout lane you can find Snickers and Butterfingers, and the display was admittedly slightly tarnished by a stray beer can and wine bottle. Still, a small step in the healthy direction!

Picture 5. Nudging shoppers to choose a healthier snack at checkout. The display reads, "Healthy To Go: Treat Yourself to a Healthy Snack."

Picture 5. Nudging shoppers to choose a healthier snack at checkout. The display reads, "Healthy To Go: Treat Yourself to a Healthy Snack."

As many cities begin to integrate principles from behavioral science, these types of nudges will hopefully become more widespread.


Have you seen a nudge in your city or while traveling? Send it to misbehavingblog@gmail.com and we may feature it in an upcoming post.