A similar story, but with a different ending

As per the course directions, I explored several online videos on Dutch bicycle design, explorations of cycling in the city, and the importance providing safe routes to school children. All of these videos touched on the fact that the Dutch had made deliberate choices in regards to infrastructure, design, policy and education. This ‘conscious decision’ to move from car-centric planning to a bicycle friendly country greatly peaked my interests. How did this happen and why?

After visiting the video How the Dutch Got Their Cycle Paths, by Markenlei, I had a better understanding of this cultural shift. I think many American’s think that the Dutch naturally through their genes are drawn to the bicycle. However, that was not always the case. A culture against the slaughter of innocent people by motor vehicles and the irreparable damage being done to the earth by carbon emissions were the leading causes in spurring a country to take up alternative means of transportation.

The most enlightening aspect of this historical account is the fact that Dutch were on the same trajectory as the United States in terms of car use and growth. Shortly after WWII the car became the idealized means of transport. A status symbol of prosperity and the rebirth of a nation. Moving into the 1950’s and 1960’s, the same form of “urban renewal” took place. The destruction of buildings and cities to make way for widening streets and parking lots to accommodate the growing demand. And in the 1970’s the same oil and economic crisis hit the Netherlands, devastating the nation. However, at this point in time is where the Dutch reached a pinnacle conclusion that would forever change their nation, culture, and lifestyle. As deaths from motor vehicles steadily rose (3300 deaths in 1971 alone, and of those deaths, 400 were children under the age of 14) the public declared a crisis. This public outcry coincided with the oil crisis and politicians used this historical moment to forever change transportation in the Netherlands.

Deliberate choices (as supported by the nation) influenced design, policy and education in the Netherlands. Financed by the national government- the first cycle route was built. The cycle route increased cycling by 30 to 60 percent (percentage dependant on city – not national percentage rate). This proved the theory that “if you build it, they will come”, this concept can be easily seen in Portland, Seattle, and Minneapolis where investments in bike and ped. infrastructure increases use of those modes. The shift from car-centric policies to ones that promote other modes is not an easy feat. It took political will on a national and municipal level and public intolerance of vehicular related deaths to make the shift.

Although I live in the U.S. which remained car-centric after the 1970’s oil crisis and continues to support personal vehicles as a valid means transport. I admire, and perhaps a little envious, of the fact that the people of the Netherlands recognized the deaths of innocent people in their communities, and the environmental degradations that was happening, and opted take responsibility and acted on it in a selfless way. The safety for their children rather than the connivance of mobility was a priority, and that the nation as a whole was represented by their leaders and forever changed culture.


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