Sunday, April 14, 2013
Congestion in Amsterdam
Amsterdam is currently one of the least congested major cities in Europe, but this was not always the case. A series of transportation policies beginning in the 1970’s were responsible for the dramatic decrease in automobile congestion and the rise of cycling as the primary mode of the transportation in the city.
In the 1960’s Amsterdam’s economy prospered, leading to a great deal of new development. Like in many US cities at the same time, the bulk of this development was centered around the automobile. Prior to the 1960‘s, cycling had been the dominant form of transport in the city, accounting for approximately three-quarters of all trips. The rapid suburbanization of Amsterdam led the average daily commute of residents to increase from under four kilometers in 1957 to over 23 kilometers in 1975. The percentage of trips by bicycle also declined significantly to a low point of less than one-quarter of all trips in the 1970’s.
Amsterdam’s historic downtown was ill-equipped to handle the massive influx of auto traffic. Narrow streets and the large number of canals made congestion a major problem in Amsterdam. Traffic safety also became a critical issue with over 3,300 (including 400 children) deaths by motor vehicles in 1971 in the Netherlands, for a rate 20% higher than the comparable figure in the US. The high number of traffic deaths, especially children, led to a series of public protests calling for improvements in traffic safety.
These pressing problems, combined with the oil crisis of 1973, sent Amsterdam on a new path aimed at increasing alternative forms of transit to the automobile. The Prime Minister of the Netherlands introduced a number of policies to decrease auto dependence. This included car free Sundays throughout Amsterdam, banning cars in entire neighborhoods, investing in car sharing programs, and high central city parking fees. At the same time, Amsterdam also began extensively increasing its bicycle infrastructure and public transit systems. Separated bicycle lanes were built throughout the city, and traffic calming was put in place on many streets that did not have dedicated bicycle lanes.
The transportation policies undertaken in Amsterdam since 1970 have been so successful that congestion from bicycles is now more of an issue than congestion from cars. The government continues to invest in improving its bicycle infrastructure to ensure that cycling remains the most effective and efficient mode of transport in the city. Overall, Amsterdam demonstrates the powerful influence that policy can have on transportation, and provides a model for other cities looking to lessen congestion.
Cycling in Amsterdam: http://www.velomondial.net/velomondiall2000/PDF/LANGENBE.PDF
The Origins of Holland’s “Stop Murdering Children” Street Safety Movement: http://streetsblog.net/2013/02/20/the-origins-of-hollands-stop-murdering-children-street-safety-movement/
How the Dutch got their Cylcle Paths (Video): http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=XuBdf9jYj7o#!