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Old Posted Apr 29, 2012, 7:51 PM
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M II A II R II K M II A II R II K is offline
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How Public Protest Kept the Car From Taking Over Copenhagen and Amsterdam

Why the Streets of Copenhagen and Amsterdam Look So Different From Ours

Apr 25, 2012

By Sarah Goodyear

Read More: http://www.theatlanticcities.com/com...ent-ours/1849/


Fundamental changes in infrastructure and in law have solidified an attitude of resignation to the idea that people on foot or on bikes will inevitably be struck by vehicles. That “accidents happen.” It didn’t have to go that way. There are cities in the world that could have become just as hazardous to pedestrians, but whose citizens demanded something different.

- Amsterdam and Copenhagen are the best examples. These cities – today widely viewed as paragons in the area of "livable streets" – were headed down the same auto-centric route as the U.S. in the period following World War II. And then they turned around. To help me figure out why and how the Danes and the Dutch changed course, I turned to a couple of cycling advocates and bloggers from those countries.

- Mikael Colville-Andersen, who writes at Copenhagenize, traces the roots of Denmark’s cycling success back to the 19th century. “The bicycle was regarded, more than most places in the world — as ‘good for society,’” he writes in an email. “After the bicycle boom in the late 1800s, many cycling clubs merged and then many of them merged again, morphing into cyclist 'unions', with political goals. What happened in most countries in the early 20th century was that sports cycling organizations were formed to further cycling as sport…. Not so in Denmark and the Netherlands. The cyclist unions -- meaning organizations for promoting cycling as transport, etc. -- stayed strong and separate and they gained political influence.”

- By the early 1960s, much of the cycling infrastructure that had existed in the pre-war era was gone, and the percentage of the population using bicycles for transportation fell to an all-time low of 10 percent. Then history intervened. “The energy crisis in 1973 hit Denmark hard. Very hard,” writes Colville-Andersen. “Car-free Sundays were introduced in order to save fuel. Every second streetlight was turned off in order to save energy. A groundswell of public discontent started to form. People wanted to be able to ride their bicycles again -- safely. Protests took place….

- The energy crisis faded, but then returned in 1979. More protests. One form of protest/awareness was painting white crosses on the asphalt where cyclists had been killed. This time, things happened. We started to rebuild our cycle track network in the early 1980s. Fatalities and injuries started falling. The network was expanded. “What happened was that urban planners started thinking bicycles first and cars second. Building infrastructure to keep cyclists safe and save lives. We haven't looked back since.” During the same period, as Danish architect and urbanist Jan Gehl has chronicled, large parts of Copenhagen were being taken back for pedestrians.

- In the Netherlands, a similar trajectory unfolded. “Cycling in the Netherlands declined sharply in the post-war period,” Marc van Woudenberg of Amsterdamize writes in an email. “In the 1950s and 1960s, existing cycle paths were in many cases removed in order to make space for more cars. From 1950 to 1975, the bicycle was almost entirely excluded from the government's vision…. The number of deaths rose, especially amongst children on their way to and from school. In 1972, a total of 3,264 people were killed on Dutch roads, and in 1973, 450 road deaths were of children.” Those child deaths created public outrage and sparked mass demonstrations.

- It successfully influenced the Dutch government to re-emphasize the construction of safer streets and segregated cycle paths, and to make more money available to pay for them. It was a pivotal moment in time, when the Netherlands and the rest of the world were dealing with an oil crisis, a currency crisis, and an environmental crisis. It galvanized the call for more livable and safer cities. This call was answered by a transportation policy change that halted car domination and an overall vision to integrate that in other aspects of governance.”

- It seems that by seizing a historical moment – the energy crisis – in an era when the power of public protest was arguably at its peak, ordinary Danish and Dutch citizens were able to change the course of development in their urban centers. Livable streets advocates in the U.S. look longingly at Copenhagen and Amsterdam today. There, the path not traveled by America is clearly visible.


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Old Posted Apr 29, 2012, 9:51 PM
pesto pesto is offline
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This is a bit exaggerated. Of course, Amsterdam was not built to accommodate cars and congestion in the city center is quite bad. The center is covered with cars day and night and very square inch of legal parking space is in huge demand. Illegally parked cars are everywhere. It is hardly a "car-free" zone.

Pedestrians not getting quickly out of the way of public transit, cars, cabs, bicycles, or whaterver are in serious risk of getting hit. You learn to avoid the tracks, streets, bus and cab lanes and bicycles and when you live there.

Once you get out of the center, the streets become much like anywhere else. The main streets and freeways are clogged with cars, the medium sized streets have LRT and bikes as well as cars, and the smaller streets and shopping centers have pedestrian areas. The shopping centers tend to be smaller, but almost always have parking attached or people parking on side streets.
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