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The Netherlands is known as a cyclists paradise.
Its safety levels, one of the best in the world,
are in staggering contrast with the US,
where you're around 20 times more likely to be injured while riding a bike.
In the Dutch capital nearly half the working population
commutes daily on over 500 km of dedicated cycle paths.
But the city only narrowly avoided
being taken over by cars.
Here's how Amsterdam put the brakes on cars
to give bikes a chance.
Following the Second World War, the mobility and
affordability of cars started changing people's lives.
Neighbourhoods around the world were being flattened
to make way for busy highways.
“Chicago is moving a city”
“New York striving to keep abreast
of the ceaseless teeming traffic”
Amsterdam wasn't going to be left behind.
Streets, once considered public
space in the Netherlands, were changing.
Their new function was purely for traffic.
The number of bikes in Amsterdam plummeted.
Between 1960 and 1970 the number of cars in the country quadrupled,
jamming the traditionally narrow streets.
Engineers and city planners wanted to modernise
Amsterdam to make it more car-friendly.
They proposed ideas like; filling in the famous canals with concrete,
levelling historic neighbourhoods, and building expressways and monorails.
This is what Amsterdam would have looked like in 2000
if the Das brothers had realised their futuristic vision.
Unsurprisingly, there was opposition.
Anarchist group Provo came up with the world's first bike and car sharing schemes.
They didn't take off at the time, but the sentiment to keep Amsterdam light on cars
was shared.
Dutch road fatalities peaked in 1972.
In response, protest groups like Stop De Kindermoord, or “Stop Murdering Children"
were organising blockades of areas with high accident rates to make their point.
Then, in 1973,  the oil crisis sent fuel prices skyward, prompting the Dutch government
to ban motor vehicles for one day a week.
“Reaction here to the Sunday motoring ban has been mixed.
The unions and the hoteliers are angry and annoyed.”
But the sales of bicycles started to rise.
Pressure groups jumped at the opportunity to show citizens how Amsterdam could look
without cars.
The government took notice and in 1978 introduced the Traffic Circulation Plan
to make Amsterdam less attractive to drivers.
It called for the closure of certain streets to traffic, reduction in car parking spaces
and gave priority to cyclists and pedestrians.
Amsterdam started embracing 'Woonerf' -
or 'living streets' - a concept that was already successful
in reducing traffic casualties outside of the capital.
The specially designed zones are landscaped to slow drivers down.
Without sidewalks, drivers share the space with cyclists and pedestrians and have to
move at walking pace.
Making Amsterdam more bike-friendly was really about making the city less friendly for cars.
Now, almost a quarter of the Dutch population cycles every day,
with 75% of children cycling to secondary school.
The number of cyclists on the road also makes it safer -
research shows a correlation between higher numbers of bikes and lower casualties among cyclists.
If Amsterdam's story is anything to go by  - there is not only safety but also power
in numbers.
Just as important as cycling lanes and car controls,
is getting people on bikes in the first place.
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How Amsterdam Became a Bicycle Paradise

817 Folder Collection
Li-chieh Young published on April 10, 2019
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