Environmental activists fighting against polluters and attempted government rollbacks of emissions standards. That’s to be expected. But in Amsterdam, the two foes are more surprising: pedestrians versus cyclists.
- As greener forms of transportation take hold, there is the question of who has the right of way on city streets and sidewalks.
- When modern cities were built, they were planned around the car.
- It’s great news that people are choosing more environmentally friendly travel, but cities must make sure to accommodate all alternative options to prevent infighting and recidivism to fossil fuel-powered options.
An article on Citylab shines a light on an overlooked problem. How do cities and towns allocate space once they’ve convinced residents to make greener transportation choices?
Cyclist behavior in Amsterdam has gotten so bad the city had to send out “street coaches” to educate riders. (Photo: Getty Images)
The most friendly bike city in the world
Amsterdam has the reputation as being the friendliest city in the world for cyclists. That wasn’t the case 10 to 15 years ago when traffic hampered the free flow of traffic. The transition came in large part due to the powerful Fietsersbond (Cyclists’ Union). Cyclists scored another victory when scooters were banned from using bike paths this year.
According to Citylab, cyclists account for a whopping 36 percent of travel. That’s an impressive stat, one that’s beneficial for the health of cities, citizens and the earth. But, the transition to cycling has happened faster than Amsterdam can accommodate. Since the city was built to cater to cars, cyclists weren’t even a blip on the radar when the city was planned.
As a result, pedal pushers are vying for more space, often at the expense of hapless pedestrians. Reportedly, cyclists barrel through red lights and crosswalks, unexpectedly take detours onto the sidewalk, park wherever they feel like it, and are generally getting a reputation for boorish behavior.
Instilling some manners
To educate cyclists, the city is attempting to send them to charm school by dispatching “street coaches”.
“We are investing in coaches and enforcement to teach cyclists how to behave … and we are stimulating cyclists to park in the racks by building extra facilities (thousands of new spaces),” wrote Amsterdam city spokesman Marten Gupstra in an email to Citylab. In addition, he said that the city commissioned a study examining the conflicts between pedestrians and cyclists, to be published this fall.
New York City closed down traffic to parts of Times Square to make way for pedestrians. (Photo: Getty Images)
Taking a hard line on hipsters
In the hipster district of De Pijp, the city has taken a harder line, banning bicycle parking in busy areas and diverting them to underground parking. Also, metal fences and large planters block bikes from traveling on certain streets.
Woe to the person caught texting while cycling. Traffic wardens will slap offenders with a $105 fine. More than just acting as watchdogs writing tickets, Citylab notes that traffic wardens have the authority to “cajole, advise, and (if necessary) threaten cyclists into behaving more sociably.”
Who has the right of way?
The problem of space allocation isn’t unique. New York is experiencing growing pains as well. Residents are opposed to restructuring transportation routes to curb traffic and emissions because they think it will impinge upon their quiet neighborhoods. But, there have been notable successes.
Back in the summer of 1999, New York City’s Department of Transportation was prompted to temporarily close off Broadway to vehicles after an increase in traffic accidents. The trial proved so successful that the change was made permanent and celebrated with the building of a permanent plaza unveiled in 2014.
Even Los Angeles, a city notoriously known for absolutely needing a car, is trying to make greener forms of transportation an attractive option. This April, it opened its first two-way bike lane in downtown, with the possibility of a second in fall.
WHY THIS MATTERS
Cities haven’t thought through how to handle the success of their efforts to get people out of their cars. To encourage even more people to travel green, cities must make the transition easy, and that requires a thoughtful redesign of space.