Think Cars Will Always Dominate Because ‘New York’s Not Holland’? Well, Neither Was Holland!

This is what many New York streets could be like. Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.
This is what many New York streets could be like. Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

This one’s for all you politicians and community board types out there who reject street safety plans because “New York’s not Holland.”

Video Valkyrie Clarence Eckerson has just returned from Delft — and his latest mini-doc for Streetfilms shows again why it’s foolish to protest life-saving road redesigns on the grounds that New York can’t be as nice as The Netherlands. The reason? The Netherlands weren’t even The Netherlands until they were The Netherlands.

With expatriates Chris and Melissa Bruntlett as his guides, Eckerson reveals the hidden history of the canal-ringed western Holland city sandwiched between Rotterdam and The Hague. Decades ago, Holland was the Detroit of Europe — filled with cars and roadways designed exclusively for their use. (See below)

This is what the road to the local university once looked like. Now, it's a bike and busway.
This is what the road to the local university once looked like. Now, it’s a bike and busway.

But with political will — and the desire to bring livability back to their car-choked streets — the Delfites fought back. It was a 20- to 30-year process to get the cars out of the city center, Chris Bruntlett says in the film. “They did it one street at a time.”

That’s how the revolution will start here. New Yorkers will simply get sick of roadways with 225,000 crashes per year and 61,000 injuries per year, and 200-plus deaths per year. So, no, maybe we’re not Holland yet.

But why not aspire to become better than we are now? Cars are a lifestyle choice that is destroying our city. Can we just make other choices easier?

This was another murderstrip before the Dutch fixed it.
This was another murderstrip before the Dutch fixed it.
  • Amerisod

    I’ve been hearing the “It won’t work here because we are not Europe/The Netherlands” thing for decades to explain why can’t have good rail service, bike paths, or drug policy.

    It’s exasperating because it’s such a lazy argument that has no basis in anything other than the speaker’s lack of imagination.

  • Rex Rocket

    Don’t forget good inexpensive health care.

  • Mimi

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  • Janssen

    Why is America more car-centric than Europe?

    In my opinion, American culture is more individualistic and heterogeneous. Why? It has to do with America’s pioneer spirit. Your country was born from a rebellion against taxes and more recently fought a Cold War against communism. Also, unlike Canada, the southern US enslaved millions of Africans due to the geography and climate of the area and developed a racial caste system which persists today. White people don’t want to take public transit or contribute to welfare because it is seen as helping the “other”. Republicans want whites to focus on brown and black people rather than the rich corporations dividing everyone and buying elections. Urban and suburban interests in your country are polarized especially because of campaign finance laws, gerrymandering, and the electoral college. The rich keep people out with restrictive zoning (and claim government is evil yet use it for their empowerment), and don’t want change in their neighborhoods. In these ways, the USA is also different from Canada which does not have as deep a history of slavery and racial hierarchy, so they are able to have better public transit, health care, etc.

    Here are some resources

    https://www.citylab.com/transportation/2014/02/9-reasons-us-ended-so-much-more-car-dependent-europe/8226/
    https://www.vox.com/platform/amp/2015/8/10/9118199/public-transportation-subway-buses
    https://represent.us/action/theproblem
    https://www.the-american-interest.com/2018/05/16/the-top-14-causes-of-political-polarization/

    Good luck USA

    Janssen

  • Mark A. Baker

    Well said, Mr. Canadian!

  • Orion L. Nauman

    What if we were more like Europe and let each state make their own decisions. You know like each country does in Europe. And only did a few certain things on the federal level. Every time I bring it up someone goes but we have to jave the federal government do all these things. I call bs. If we had less restrictions on healthcare and got rid of the mentality of somebody else paying for it whether through insurance or government, it would be far cheaper and readily available. Better than waiting 6 to 8 months for a gall bladder to be taken out, when we do that in a day.

  • Sky

    This—”Urban and suburban interests in your country are polarized especially
    because of campaign finance laws, gerrymandering, and the electoral
    college.”—misses a very important point. See https://www.amazon.com/Big-Sort-Clustering-Like-Minded-America/dp/0547237723.

    Also, the sheer size of America is necessarily a difficult problem because of the scale of investment required to provide fixed guideway transport for passenger service between cities.

  • Dave

    The argument about sheer size would be true if we were going entirely cross continent but the US east of the Mississippi is quite dense, in particular the Northeast/New England & the Great Lakes region (Chicago + say Milwaukee, Minneapolis, STL, Detroit, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Cleveland, etc.) would all be very well served by expanded (HSR in particular) rail networks.

  • Janssen

    Correct. The big issue preventing HSR along major corridors in your country is sprawl. For the same reasons as above, your country is more car-centric. Once you leave big cities in Europe, relatively quickly there are farms and forests, but the USA Northeast Corridor is non-stop strip mall after strip mall, impressively built up and so prohibitively expensive to straighten track and rebuild for HSR.

    Unlike China, private property rights are strong in USA

  • Kongatthegates

    America has much lower population density and higher incomes so land and cars are more affordable for people

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