05 November 2015

Are cities for cars or people?

I've told many people that we moved back to Amsterdam from Vancouver ("best city in the world") because we hated the North American preference for cars over people in cities.*

Thus, I am glad to see that the German Greens are proposing that pedestrians and bicyclists not be constrained by red traffic lights. Yes, they are proposing that people and bikes can "run red lights," thereby reversing nearly 100 years of policies that promote cars over people. (Auto companies created "jaywalking" as a problem because cars were not getting priority.)

Will this change in laws, if implemented, result in death for walkers and bikers? I'm not sure if it will result in fewer or more accidents. In the one hand, more people will be crossing against lights. On the other, cars will have to slow down to make sure they are not going to hit people. (Cars often ignore speed limits as they drag race down streets.)

In the US, 5,478 pedestrians and cyclists were killed in 2013 (1.73/100,000)

In the Netherlands, 240 pedestrians and cyclists were killed in 2013 (1.43/100,000)

I cannot find good data on "mode share" (percent of people riding or walking) in both countries (here's some US data), but I'm guessing that the Dutch are FAR MORE (3x?) likely to ride or walk places, making their death rate even lower when considering the frequency of activity.

Bottom Line: Cities are for people, not cars.

* Related: Cars isolate people, making it harder to have relationships.


  1. Where will the people living in car free inner cities shop? How will those stores become stocked? When stores and businesses move out of the central city in order to get customers, who will live in the central city, will residents follow them? The clearing out of vehicular traffic from central cities has been done before, mostly in the late 19th century and the early 20th century. It gave rise to the suburbs and the emptying of the central city, except for spending decades (in the early twentieth century to put in rail and subways. Do European cities have enough transit to support people, especially the older ones, fleeing the central cities?

    1. @Eric -- well, there are 2 food shops within 200m of our place (2 min on bike) as well as endless shopping on highstreets, markets etc. The key is SMALL quantities. We shop every other day by bike, not twice a month by SUV, so everything "fits in".

      Old people, to the contrary, like staying in the city b/c there are people around all the time, and it's convenient to get to their local store, bar, etc.

      N American cities can put this model into practice one neighborhood at a time, reversing the "hollowing" driven by suburban malls and separated zoning.

      Come to Amsterdam to see :)

  2. Hm ... I don't think that such an article would receive any attention if it was written in German, published in a German newspaper and longer than 6 lines. What's up? Nothing to report on so create a story around a stereotype to meet your daily word target?

    Well, at least in my hometown Frankfurt red light is actually perceived as "anticipated-green-what-are-you-waiting-for" by almost everyone. The funny thing is: when doing the same in one of the former Prussian provinces, e.g., in Bonn, Cologne, or Berlin, it could be perceived as a crime. (Same is true for Suebia.) There, there'll always be at least one (50+) guy to shout at you when jaywalking.

    The other point the artice tries to make: The Greens, ... the Greens, ... a party suffering from overaging (-you'll see more young people around where conservatives meet) and finally fizzled out do-gooder topics of the 1980s. The Greens are desperately searching for (marginal) topics to jump on and put on their agenda. But for more than 10 years the Greens have been failing to suggest solutions for the big questions driving German society. Energy transition: their "EEG" legislation (issued when they where part of the fed gvmnt.) messed it up for the next 20 years. These days Green politicians are pro and con wind farms, it just depends on where they live themselves, etc., etc. So energy transition politics and corresponding debates have been hijacked and completely controlled by the Conservatives. Eventually, being a friend of the natural environment ... I'd say the decline of the Greens is a tragedy. But inherent when looking at the mindset of people that join and drive that party.


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