Amsterdam’s people-friendly streets

Maksim writes*

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:

The Damrak (a main street in Amsterdam)

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):

  1. Lower air pollution
  2. Less noise pollution
  3. Lower risk of injury from cars
  4. Fewer cars and parking means more space for pedestrians and cyclists
  5. 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).

Author: David Zetland

I'm a political-economist from California who now lives in Amsterdam.

4 thoughts on “Amsterdam’s people-friendly streets”

  1. Hey Max,
    As a cycling lover, I really appreciate your post and I find your topic super intriguing. As it is just a blog post, I cannot criticize the shortage of depth in your argumentation, but I am a little bit confused on what’s exactly the purpose of your research?! Are you comparing a city environment in which there is an abundance of cars vs bikes, or more of the perks of transferring existing cities into more cyclist friendly environments? What I get from the first sight, is the fact that you provide a nice benefit framework, which I believe it can be expanded into a viable argument. I would also recommend maybe concentrating on only one variable, cause at the moment you provide 5 dimensional causal structure and I think this can maybe bring you some extra challenges when it comes to the actual evaluation process. Nevertheless, good job and GOOD LUCK! 🙂

    1. There are a few between the sidewalk and car lane but this is a street cyclists tend to avoid due to light rail tracks and car lanes. Other streets are usually packed with cyclists.

  2. Hey Max,

    Thank you for your interesting blog post! I think you chose a really nice topic! At the beginning of your blog post, you say that some people believe that cycling would not be possible in their home cities. You talk about the benefits of cycling but you don’t explain how Amsterdam overcame its car problem (because it is only a short blog post). I think that something that is interesting to look at is the historical development of a city and how it was built. For example, cities built for cars (e.g., Paris) have large avenues that make it very easy to add cycling lanes.

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