AMSTERDAM (AP) — Guards removed the final barriers blocking the way, and a cheer went up from the crowd. Moments later, a small army mounted on bicycles of all shapes and sizes eagerly stormed the path that leads straight through the heart of the Netherlands' newly renovated national museum.
Their bells were ringing all the way.
It has taken Amsterdam's pro-bike lobby years of fighting to overcome architects, museum directors and a local government that sought to have the path closed forever. And there is still some doubt as to whether the path may not be closed at times to prevent unsuspecting tourists and pedestrians from being struck by bikes.
But in a city where there are more bikes than people, cyclists savored the path's opening as a triumphant moment Monday.
"There was so much commotion over this, and some really heavyweight parties, such as the Rijksmuesum and the muck-a-mucks who said 'you can't do this, the bikes shouldn't be let through," said Bicylists' Union spokeswoman Marjolein de Lange. "Above all else, we're happy that we did it."
The Rijksmuseum, which houses Dutch national treasures including paintings by Rembrandt van Rijn, Vincent van Gogh, Jan Steen and Johannes Vermeer, reopened last month after a 10-year renovation. But the dispute over the bike path lasted a little longer.
Traffic had been allowed through a tunnel-like passage under the somewhat eccentric brick building since it was constructed in 1885.
The Rijksmuseum itself resembles a fairytale castle, and the path runs through the middle, where a castle gate would be.
In 2001, Spanish architecture firm Cruz y Ortiz won a contest for a design to renovate the museum. Their original plan brought light into the center of the building by opening its central courtyards to natural light, and eliminated the path to make way for a new entrance.
That set off the first round of the dispute, with the museum's previous director, Ronald de Leeuw, fighting what he termed the "provincial" standpoint of the bike lobby that opposed the plan.