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Posts from the "Amsterdam" Category

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How Children Demanding Play Streets Changed Amsterdam

The above video, excerpted from a Dutch television documentary series, shows how children helped catalyze the fight for safe streets in Amsterdam more than a generation ago.

The documentary examines the conditions in a dense urban neighborhood called De Pijp, from the perspective of local children. In the film, neighborhood kids energetically advocate for a play street, free of cars.

Bicycle Dutch recently shortened the episode and added English subtitles. The documentary originally aired in 1972. That very same year, several play streets were installed in the city. In the 1970s, traffic fatality rates in the Netherlands were 20 percent higher than in the United States, but thanks to grassroots efforts like the play street campaign in De Pijp and the “Stop de Kindermoord” movement (“Kindermoord” translates to “child murder”), the Dutch changed their approach to street design. Today the traffic fatality rate in the Netherlands is 60 percent lower than in the U.S. — 22,000 fewer Americans would die each year if we had kept pace with the Dutch.

Here’s a look at one of those play streets in De Pijp today — a stark contrast from the streets pictured in the video:

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European Parking Policies Leave the U.S. Behind

Grosvenor Square, London, the site of Europe's first parking meter, shows how putting a price on parking clears up the street and makes parking available. Image: ITDP.

Grosvenor Square, London, the site of Europe's first parking meter, shows how putting a price on parking clears up the street and makes parking available. Image: ITDP.

Flashback to Europe, sixty years ago. Only still emerging from the ruin of total war, the continent was in the midst of a nearly unprecedented reconstruction. Over the next decade, however, industry finally was able to turn toward consumer products, from stockings to refrigerators and, of course, the automobile. Italians owned only 342,000 cars in 1950, but ten years later that number had increased to two million, according to historian Tony Judt. In France, the number of cars tripled over the decade.

With mass car-ownership fundamentally new for Europe, parking policy was practically non-existent. The first parking meter — an American invention — only made it to Europe in 1958, arriving in front of the American embassy in London. In most places, cars could park not only for free but wherever they wanted: on the sidewalk, in a public square.

When they realized that simply giving drivers free rein to park anywhere was untenable, Europeans attempted to build enough parking to meet the population’s galloping demand. Public space, from sidewalks to canals, was turned into parking space. Zoning forced all new development to use money and space for parking. All these concessions, however, only made European cities friendlier to cars and further drove up demand.

Today, however, all that is in the past. As outlined in the new report from the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, “Europe’s Parking U-Turn: From Accommodation to Regulation,” the continent is now leading the world when it comes to innovative, intelligent and sustainable parking policy [PDF].

Across Europe, cities have come to understand that oversupply or subsidy of parking leads to too much driving. The effect is considerable. In Vienna, for example, when the city began to charge for on-street parking, the number of vehicle kilometers traveled plummeted from 10 million annually to 3 million. In Munich, the introduction of a new parking management system has resulted in 1,700 fewer automobiles owned in the city center each year since 2000.

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NYC Gets Its First-Ever Physically-Separated Bike Path

The Department of Transportation revealed plans for New York City's first-ever physically-separated bike lane, or "cycle track," at a Manhattan Community Board 4 meeting last night. The new bike path will run southbound on Ninth Avenue from W. 23rd to W. 16th Street in Manhattan. Unlike the typical Class II on-street bike lane in which cyclists mix with motor vehicle traffic, this new design will create an exclusive path for bicycles between the sidewalk and parked cars.

DOT's plan also includes traffic signals for bicyclists, greenery-filled refuge areas for pedestrians, a new curbside parking plan, and signalized left-turn lanes for motor vehicles. "The left turn lane will be immediately adjacent to the bike lane," DOT Bicycle Program Director Josh Benson explained to CB4 members. "As a cyclist you’ll know that if there’s a car next to you, that car is turning left." Likewise, left-turning drivers' view of cyclists will be completely unobscured. The bike lane is 10-feet wide to accommodate street cleaning and emergency vehicles.


DOT planners consulted with Danish urban designer Jan Gehl on the plan, according to
Transportation Alternatives Deputy Director Noah Budnick. "They are drawing from international best-practice and being smart about talking to other engineers and planners who have implemented these types of designs," Budnick said. "They really thought holistically about everything that is going on on the street."

These types of physically-separated on-street bike lanes, increasingly referred to as "cycle tracks," are commonly found in bike-friendly cities like Copenhagen and Amsterdam. Livable Streets advocates have long pushed DOT to experiment with this type of bike lane design in New York City. After Benson's presentation, Community Board 4's transportation committee voted to approve the DOT plan which is part of a larger pedestrian safety and public space initiative around the intersection of 9th Avenue and 14th Street.

The new bike lane design is a break from previously stated DOT policy. In March, during discussion of a possible Houston Street bike lane, DOT officials told Manhattan's Community 2 that physically-separated bike lanes should only be installed on streets with a maximum of 8 intersections per mile to ensure fewer conflicts with turning vehicles.

A copy of the presentation DOT made at last night's Community Board meeting can be found here.


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Building a Better Bike Lane

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This weekend's Wall Street Journal has an massive, full-page report on bike friendly cities in Europe. Initially the arguments for more biking were mostly about health and congestion, but in the last year concern for the environment has become an important factor compelling people to travel by bicycle:

Flat, compact and temperate, the Netherlands and Denmark have long been havens for bikers. In Amsterdam, 40% of commuters get to work by bike. In Copenhagen, more than a third of workers pedal to their offices. But as concern about global warming intensifies -- the European Union is already under emissions caps and tougher restrictions are expected -- the two cities are leading a fresh assault on car culture. A major thrust is a host of aggressive new measures designed to shift bike commuting into higher gear, including increased prison time for bike thieves and the construction of new parking facilities that can hold up to 10,000 bikes. 

The new measures in Amsterdam and Copenhagen add to an infrastructure that has already made biking an integral part of life. People haul groceries in saddle bags or on handlebars and tote their children in multiple bike seats. Companies have indoor bike parking, changing rooms and on-site bikes for employees to take to meetings. Subways have bike cars and ramps next to the stairs.

The rest of Europe is paying close attention. Officials from London, Munich and Zurich (plus a handful from the U.S.) have visited Amsterdam's transportation department for advice on developing bicycle-friendly infrastructure and policies.

Officials from some American cities have made pilgrimages to Amsterdam. But in the U.S., bike commuters face more challenges, including strong opposition from some small businesses, car owners and parking-garage owners to any proposals to remove parking, shrink driving lanes or reduce speed limits. Some argue that limiting car usage would hurt business. "We haven't made the tough decisions yet," says Sam Adams, city commissioner of Portland, Ore., who visited Amsterdam in 2005. There has been some movement. Last month, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a proposal to add a congestion charge on cars and increase the number of bicycle paths in the city. It would also require commercial buildings to have indoor parking facilities for bikes.

Photo: Aaron Naparstek