During the first half of April I spent time in the Netherlands, Belgium, and France. The Netherlands in particular struck me as a country that really understands pedestrian needs and has totally embraced alternative modes of transport.

A shared bike, tram, and car intersection in Amsterdam

Cities across the Netherlands are connected via many different transport systems. Of course, highways, and railways (including high speed rail) are the most dominant rights-of-way, but in most parts of the country you can get from one city to another via a highway-like system of paved (and well maintained) bike trails. You can ride from Amsterdam to Haarlem to Den Haag to wherever via this network. It is quite insane.

Smaller sized bike parking area located in Damplein in Amsterdam.

In addition to the bicycle trail network, municipalities just get it when it comes to neighborhood levels. They may it easier to get around on foot, or bike (bike racks are everywhere. I even saw a small bike parking garage in Breda), than by car. This is what American cities need to do to ween us off of car-dependence. There are roads dedicated to trams and buses only. There are seperated cycle tracks, and paths. Pedestrians share the street with bikes and cars. Plazas integrate space for all three. This is the model that Seattle needs.

Of course, like Seattle, once you head further out in the city the density does go down and cars become more prevalent, but bikes and trams still have the right-of way no matter what. The Dutch just accept that sometime it really is easier to get from point A to point B in the city without a car, and the government has given them abundant alternative resources in which to do so.

I always stress that Seattle can do this. Hello, Post Alley anyone? Yes, you have been on Pike Pl. as well. Did you know that Pine St., between 4th and 5th, was closed to motor vehicles for half of the 90’s? Yes, we can do this sort of thing, and the Broadway alignment of  the First Hill Streetcar seems to be taking shape around this idea. Why not go further?

Bus-Tramway and cycle track in Amsterdam

No Cars Allowed: Bus-Tramway and cycle track in Amsterdam

Motor vehicle traffic has gone down exponentially over the last decade in the Seattle metro area. Maybe we can dust of the plans for Pine and try closing it down again. Close down 5th between Pine and Stewart as well, when the McGraw Streetcar Plaza is built and provide enhanced pedestrian access from these areas downtown to the Bell Street Boulevard park area.

Seattle has a lot of ideas it seems, but the obstacle to overcome for us is to have an integrated network of alternative transportation and pedestrian rights of way, not a disjointed set of projects aimed at serving a small area. I say think big and force people out of their cars, and back on foot.