How a Dutch neighborhood pioneered an innovation now sweeping the globe
TRAFFIC CALMING HAS SWEPT THE WORLD over the past 20 years. It’s based on the rather simple idea that cars and trucks don’t have exclusive ownership of our streets. Streets are shared public space also belonging to people on foot and bicycles, in baby strollers and wheelchairs. Reminding motorists of this fact, traffic calming uses design features such as narrowing roads or elevating crosswalks to slow traffic and assert pedestrian’s right to cross the street.
This idea has altered the literal landscape of urban life in the Netherlands, Scandinavia, Germany and Australia as people move about their cities with more ease and pleasure—and it’s now taking off in other parts of the world.
THE ORIGINS OF THIS INGENIOUS IDEA CAN BE TRACED TO DELFT, NETHERLANDS, where residents of one neighborhood were fed up with cars racing along their streets, endangering children, pets and peace of mind. One evening they decided to do something about it by dragging old couches, planters and other objects out into the roadway and positioning them in such a way that cars could pass but would have to slow down. Police soon arrived on the scene and had to admit that this project, although clearly illegal, was a really good idea. Soon, the city itself was installing similar measures called woonerfs (Dutch for “living yards”) on streets plagued by unruly motorists.
One can only imagine the response of city officials if these neighbors had meekly come to city hall to propose the idea of partially blocking the streets; they would have been hooted right out of the building. But by taking direct action, they saved their neighborhood and changed the face of cities around the world.