Visitors to Amsterdam see a cute cycling paradise that they assume can only exist there. They do not believe cycling would be possible in their home cities. But what if I told you that Amsterdam also had a “car problem”?
Let’s look at the benefits of taking cars off the streets, starting with a photo showing how minds can shift and urban space be transformed:
How did Amsterdam undergo such a radical change?
In short, post-WW2, European economies were booming, consumerism and modernist ideas lived in citizens’ minds, and urban designers saw cars as essential to the city of the future [pdf]. Those minds changed as the dangers of cars grew obvious. Roughly 400 children were killed in 1971 [pdf] resulted in mass protests. The oil crisis of 1973 raised questions of car dependence. The Dutch government responded by heavily subsidising cycling infrastructure.
Cycling and walking brings numerous benefits. The photo above illustrates five benefits from lower congestion (I will not comment on the priceless** value of children’s lives):
- Lower air pollution
- Less noise pollution
- Lower risk of injury from cars
- Fewer cars and parking means more space for pedestrians and cyclists
- Redesigned roads add mobility options without preventing driving
I won’t consider the potential for replacing asphalt with greenery, but it’s also useful.
Bottom line: Redesigning streets away from cars raises the standard of living, accessibility, and environmental sustainability.
* Please help my Environmental Economics students by commenting on unclear analysis, alternative perspectives, better data sources, or maybe just saying something nice 🙂
** DZ notes: In practice, economists do put a value on life, as “priceless” can lead to unhelpful results (e.g., lock children up to protect them from risks).