Look How Much Better A City Can Be When It Designs For People Not Cars

It's a common argument when a city wants to take away space for cars: "This isn't Amsterdam." But guess what, Amsterdam -- where half the traffic movement in the city center is by bike -- wasn't always Amsterdam, either. The image above serves as proof proof that better street design can improve daily life, not just for people on bikes but for all residents.

Once upon a time, Amsterdam was just like every other city in the middle of the 20th century: planning for cars, paving parking lots, and proposing urban freeways. Then the oil crisis of the 1970s happened. To help its citizens save gas, the Netherlands implemented a nationwide "Car-Free Sunday" in November of 1973. For one day each week, the country's three million cars were not allowed on roads, leading to some interesting photos of horses and bikes on the country's highways. Like similar car-free days in other countries, seeing the positive impact from this weekly activity inspired residents to bring about permanent change.

As part of her masters' thesis at the University of Amsterdam, Cornelia Dinca started a blog called by Sustainable Amsterdam, where you can find before-and-after photos of Amsterdam's streets that show a stark transformation. Working with photographer Thomas Schlijper, Dinca was able to create historic-contemporary photo comparisons for some of Amsterdam's most impressive urban design transformations. We've included a handful of the photos below.

What's important to note is that it's not just about swapping car lanes for bike lanes. It's also about adding trees, footpath dining, benches, parks, markets, fountains. The sum of these smaller changes make a street a destination in itself not just a way to get somewhere else.

Van Beuningenstraat and Van Boetzelaerstraat in 1962 and 2015

Plantage Middenlaan in the 1970s and 2015

Maasstraat in 1977 and 2014

Nieuwe Doelenstraat 1981 and 2014

Mr. Visserplein in the 1970s and 2015

Haarlemmerplein in the 1970s and 2015

Gerard Doustraat 1982 and 2015

Check out more comparison shots at Sustainable Amsterdam and @SustainableAMS.

[Sustainable Amsterdam]

Top image: Sint-Antoniesbreestraat in the 1980s and 2013

Historical photos via Beeldbank, the Amsterdam city archives; contemporary photos by Thomas Schlepper; special thanks to Marco te Brommelstroet at the Urban Cycling Institute, University of Amsterdam who you can follow at @fietsprofessor

Follow the author at @awalkerinLA



    So it looks prettier? Thanks for making me read something for no reason.

    I wonder if anyone has done research on heart rate & blood pressure [stress levels] when moving from a quiet leafy pedestrian area to a noisy, chaotic main road.
    All this makes Sydney's Anti biking philosophy look even more dumb.

      It has a lot to do with culture. This worked in Holland because they have the mindset to allow the change. Any country with SUVs fitted with bullbars roaming around town is going to be impossible to talk around to this idea.

      You only have to look at how the western world was completely confused by the Segway concept (bicycle for the laziest of people) to know most of it is not ready for "de-carring".

    What a freakin' nightmare! Seriously, none of those areas seem improved to me and in Maasstraat there are now fewer trees than there were in the old photo. If Sydney were to introduce "car-free Sunday", I would move interstate. I certainly almost never go to the CBD any more, since the council made it impossible to find anywhere to park.

    You also need to remember that Amsterdam is dead-flat so cycling is viable. Here in Sydney, as well as in places like Brisbane, it is a very different story and you need to be dead-keen to use a bike as your primary means of transport.

    We visited both Amsterdam and Ghent last year and noticed there were very few cars and a heck of a lot of cyclist. I quite liked it to be honest, but it looked like it worked partly because the cities were very flat but also because they are quite dense and had things such as very frequent light rail that made up for the lack of cars. Go a bit further out and the train networks around Europe were quite good too.

    If love to see less cars in Australia cities, but it'd be a very tricky thing to implement and the mindset of Australians wouldn't allow it I gather given how many people buy giant SUVs, 4WDs and the like for one or two people inner city commutes.

    Making cities pedestrian friendly would be great for the high income / no children crowd within bike distance of the the CBD. Aren't they already privileged? These yuppies have already stolen road space in Sydney city which would be better used for buses.

    From my place, public transport into the city takes 1 hour 15 minutes minimum (one way). By car, crawling in the traffic, it takes 35 minutes. Most studies have shown more than 2 hours travelling per day decreases productivity, so as well as a longer day, I would be less effective. Multiply this by 100,000. Can Australia afford this utopia?

      I don't think anyone is suggesting ALL the city becomes pedestrianised, just the hubs.

    One thing you have to remember about Amsterdam is that it is very flat. Most of those bikes you see do not have gears. They don't need them as there are no hills to negotiate, it is easy and comfortable to commute by bicycle. That is not true of most Australian cities.

      Adelaide and Perth and Darwin are quite flat.

      The Dutch cycles don't appear to have gears, because they are in-hub.

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