Some years ago, already working in ‘active transport’, and seeking to deepen my understanding around urban design, I took the opportunity to take a family holiday for a week in the Netherlands. Among many many reactions to the experience, one big one I experienced was simply surprise that nobody had told me about most of the amazing things I’d see.
I’ve been meaning simply to write a list of these amazing things for years now. Unfortunately I’m not all that sure that there is any way to convey the ‘amazingness’ to those who haven’t visited.
The Netherlands is one of the most – if not the most – densely populated western countries, which forced urban planners to get creative. Growing up and living in The Netherlands it’s easy to take for granted just how good we are at traffic and urban design. That is, until you take a trip abroad to pretty much any other country – even our beloved neighbours like Germany or Belgium – and realise just how terrible everyone else is at properly segmenting and protecting cyclists and pedestrians, even in densely populated and tightly packed cities.
Urban design is a fascinating subject, and once you start paying attention to it here in The Netherlands, you’ll discover an endless array of affordances to protect cyclists, pedestrians, and cars (yes!), while also creating neighbourhoods that usually have only one entry/exit point for cars so they can’t be used for through traffic, all designed with the goal of corralling cars away from where people actually live.
I often wonder – will this make The Netherlands a haven for self-driving cars, or a hell?