Thursday, June 14, 2012

How the Dutch saved their cities

"If you demolish the whole city for the flow of traffic, what destination for that traffic would be left?" - Mark Wagenbuur, How The Dutch Got Their Cycle Paths

Whenever I show crime prevention successes and examples of livable streets it doesn't take long before someone barks: That can never work here! We're too different!


Everyplace is different. Everyplace has similarities. Transferring a good idea from one place to another depends on one factor: Imagination!

Transferring ideas from one place to another is called scalability. No successful company says "that can't work here". They say, "how can we make it work here."

With that in mind I found a fascinating Twitter this week from my livability consultant colleague Megan Carr. Megan highlighted a short video by Mark Wagenbuur called "How the Dutch Got Their Cycle Paths".

Screen shot from Mark Wagenbuur's video "How the Dutch Got Their Cycle Paths"

Holland has more bicyclists per capita than anywhere. Yet it is the world's safest place to cycle due to a carefully designed bike infrastructure.

It wasn't always this way. Following WW2 the Dutch copied the American auto orgy: bigger roadways, more cars, tearing up public transit. They destroyed their old bicycle paths.

Eventually they realized their cities couldn't cope with expanding traffic and increasing traffic deaths. By 1971 the annual number of car child deaths on roadways climbed to 1,400. Then came the 1970s oil and economic crisis. Costs skyrocketed.

Sound familiar? Today in the middle of the Great Recession the leading cause of US deaths for 4-14 year olds is car crashes!

The Dutch changed direction. During the 1973 oil crisis they instituted Car free Sunday's. Their goal was to cut oil dependency, increase road safety and street livability. It worked. By 2010 the number of child car deaths plummeted to 14 and that's not a typo! Drop two "0"s from 1,400! Today Holland has among the most livable and walkable streets in Europe.

My favorite line from the video is for the can-never-work-here crowd: "The Netherlands problems are not unique. Their solutions should not be either."

Designing bike paths away from cars