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Even Amsterdam Wasn’t Always “Amsterdam”

11:55 AM PDT on June 22, 2015

If you live in a city where people are trying to make it easier and safer to get around on foot, by bike, or via transit, you've probably heard that what works in other towns won't work in yours.

Amsterdam is often held up as a place where people magically move about using bicycles, trams, and their own two feet, as if the city as it exists today was created from whole cloth.

But before Amsterdam chose to prioritize people over private motor vehicle traffic, it ceded its streets to cars. Matty Lang at Streets.mn posted the above video, which dates from the 1940s.

This short film shows a police officer patrolling the streets of Amsterdam in a Jeep with megaphone amplification telling women how to cross the street, telling people how to use the tram, exhorting a woman bicycling to keep to the right, and telling a young boy to get on the sidewalk with his scooter.

Of course, Amsterdam didn't become a world leader in livable streets by shouting at people, but by designing a city for walking and biking. Cities in the U.S. -- where we're still shouting -- would do well to follow Amsterdam's lead.

Elsewhere on the Network: FABB Blog reports that WMATA is adding bike parking facilities at Metro stations, and Market Urbanism chronicles urban decay in Havana.

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