Amsterdam’s new neighborhood: where bikes and pedestrians rule the road
September 02, 2010
During a period of unprecedented momentum for urban bicycling in the U.S., the Bikes Belong Foundation is leading a fact-finding trip to the Netherlands to bring home European transportation best practices. Eleven city leaders from the San Francisco Bay Area will spend a week in four Dutch cities between August 29 and September 4. This trip is part of Bikes Belong's Bicycling Design Best Practices Project.
Transportation writer and editor Jay Walljasper is accompanying the delegation on the trip to the Netherlands to chronicle the events, observations, and inspirations gained by the tour. The BIkes Belong newsfeed will feature his blog posts this week.
The experience of biking through four Dutch cities has provided a team of transportation leaders from the San Francisco Bay Area with plenty of clear examples for what they can do back home to make cycling more safe, popular, and pleasurable. Bridget Smith, for instance, director of the city of San Francisco’s Livable Streets Program, is excited about using more color on the roadways as an inexpensive but dramatic way of making sure everyone can tell bike lanes from car lanes.
But this opportunity to actually pedal the streets of Utrecht, the Hague, Rotterdam, and Amsterdam alongside Dutch cycling experts also fuels the imagination about what the future of cities might look like.
Today we explored Amsterdam’s Java Island, a development built over the past 10 years in what was once the city’s harbor. It’s a scenic waterfront location with strikingly handsome modern architecture in a pleasing variety of styles. Although brand new, it exudes a charm reminiscent of the city’s famous canal neighborhoods—which for my money are one of the most vibrant and downright pleasing urban quarters on earth.
Like old Amsterdam, Java Island enjoys a picturesque waterfront setting. But it shares another trait with the city’s medieval districts that you would never expect in a newly built housing development—it accommodates bicycles more easily than cars. Traffic is shunted to the side of each cluster of apartment buildings in underground parking garages, while pedestrians and bicyclists have free reign of the courtyards that link people’s homes like a green commons.
This results in a place that is more than just lovely—Java Island represent a bold new vision of urban planning where people’s movements matter more than that of motor vehicles. You felt a sense of ease moving about these new neighborhoods—and so do the residents. I’ve never seen kids—even really young ones—who looked so completely free running around their neighborhoods, not even in my own childhood during the days before autos so thoroughly ruled the road. We passed two elaborately staged tea parties, one of them taking place on a blanket just inches from the joint biking/walking trail.
Amsterdam city council member Fjodor Molenaar, who met us on Java Island, explained the Dutch call this an “Auto Luw” development, which translates as “car light” or “car sparse,” adding that this planning idea is now the official policy of the city.
Pascal van den Noort, a transportation consultant leading our tour through the city, urged the elected officials and transportation planners from California to “try and imitate this,” noting that 60 percent of the traffic in central Amsterdam is bikes, and that only 7 percent of area households use a car every day.