BICYCLE DUTCH

All about cycling in the Netherlands

Amsterdam children fighting cars in 1972

“This would be a perfect area for a trial with a maximum speed of 30km/h” (18mph) explains a traffic expert of the city of Amsterdam to a child in a film that was broadcast on Dutch national TV almost 42 years ago.

The TV documentary was made for a progressive broadcasting corporation and shows the Amsterdam neighbourhood “De Pijp” which was about 100 years old at the time. The homes were run down and small. The streets were never built, nor fit for all the cars brought in by the 40,000 people living in the small area and its many visitors. This led to an overpopulated neighbourhood with a lot of dirt and filth and especially the children suffered. The documentary is one of a series and this particular episode looks at the situation from a child’s perspective.

amsterdam1972

Image from the documentary from 1972. The streets are dominated by cars and there is not a tree in sight.

amsterdam2012

The same street as seen in Google Streetview is very different. The carriage way was narrowed. The homes renovated and the trees and bicycles make the area a lot friendlier.

The original film was published on YouTube and it was found by the Amsterdam Cycling professor. It is 40 minutes long and of course in Dutch. I made a shorter version, cutting out most images of the housing situation and parts about the dog poo on the streets, to focus primarily on the public space and traffic situation. My excerpt is almost 10 minutes long and I subtitled it in English.

Excerpt from a 1972 TV-documentary about the traffic situation for the children in an old Amsterdam neighbourhood.

The documentary aired on 16th March 1972 a bit later at night (8:55pm). The following day newspaper commentators from the far corners of the country wrote how touched they were by the tough everyday life of these children.

“This film moved me deeply. The situation for the children living in this slowly decaying neighbourhood was portrayed in a beautiful way through their own eyes. Amsterdam alderman Han Lammers had a tough time with them although they just want to play like their parents could. It won’t be easy to close down streets to traffic as was revealed by the scene with the enraged driver who turned violent at the adults who helped the children with closing the street.” (From the Leeuwarder Courant 17th March 1972.)

Even though the alderman’s response to the children’s questions about when their play street would be ready seemed to be evasive, several play streets were indeed built in that very year 1972. The one way street system to make through traffic more difficult was also installed. Today all residential streets are 30km/h zones, although I do not know how soon after 1972 that was implemented.

hemonystraat2009

Hemonystraat in Amsterdam. One of the play streets the children fought for was built in 1972 and it is still there today. (Google Streetview)

The rage of the white van driver and the resolute way in which others dismiss the idea of streets closed to motor traffic are incomprehensible looking at it today from a Dutch view point. It does explain why the actions turned more violent later when streets were closed with car wrecks turned upside down.

protest

A 1970s protest with upside down car wrecks in the Amsterdam neighbourhood De Pijp for a better environment with fewer cars. Painted on the cars it reads “car free”.

At first I had the feeling this film portrays the birth of the “Stop de Kindermoord” (stop the child murder) organisation. But that emerged only in September 1972 and in a very different region of the country. But newspaper clippings reveal that the protests of December 1972 in this very neighbourhood did take place under the umbrella of “Stop de Kindermoord”. That that organisation grew so quickly makes clear that they were an answer to how a lot of people felt about (child) traffic deaths at that time in the Netherlands.

stop-kindermoord-pijp

Newspaper article about yet another protest for a better neighbourhood with fewer cars in De Pijp. December 1972 under the umbrella of the organisation “Stop de Kindermoord”.

Today this neighbourhood “De Pijp” is an area where people want to live. It is close to the city centre and the houses were renovated or renewed. In 2009 13,666 people lived in “Oude Pijp” compared to the 40,000 of 1972. The streets really have a very different feel today. Even though nothing changed about the widths of the streets, the carriage ways were narrowed dramatically, there are far fewer parking spaces for cars and that created room for trees, wider sidewalks and parking spots for many bicycles. With the closure of several streets and the one way system, rat running has been made impossible. But one thing remains very bad: the situation on the main streets that haven’t changed at all in the last 40 years. How necessary it is to update these streets was again brutally underlined just last Friday, when a 7 year old girl on a bicycle was gruesomely killed under the wheels of a garbage truck. She was riding on a cycle lane with her father walking besides her on the side walk. It led to unrest in the neighbourhood and residents now demand changes to especially the through streets.

The percentage of children playing outside on a daily basis is also telling. For the Netherlands as a whole that is 60%, but for Amsterdam and Rotterdam only 16% of the children play outside every day. (Figures via Angela’s Bike Blog)

De Pijp

Nowadays the residential streets in the Pijp look very different. The homes were renovated. The carriage ways were narrowed, there are fewer parking places, more trees and many more bicycles. All together that creates a far better living environment. (Google Streetview)

So even though a lot has changed for the better here and in the rest of the Netherlands in the last forty years; there is always more to do, the work is never finished!

I have a personal connection with the neighbourhood “De Pijp” because my father’s father was born in Albert Cuypstraat in 1906. That is right in the heart of De Pijp and the site of the famous Albert Cuyp Market.
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40 comments on “Amsterdam children fighting cars in 1972

  1. Pingback: מקבץ סרטונים אורבניים היסטוריים לתחילת השנה | עוד בלוג תל אביבי

  2. Diane
    14 June 2014

    I loved your article! I was an exchange student in Amersfoort in the ’70s and would love to talk with someone who was a resident in de Pijp during that time of transformation. I would like to hear about their experience of life, especially in regards to the ’70s. Any suggestions?

  3. Pingback: Amsterdam children fighting cars in 1972 | Gonzalo Camacho, P.E.

  4. Kevin L
    31 March 2014

    This is wonderful, thank you so much for posting it (and all the other videos/articles about the history behind Dutch cycling). I am working on a project about Dutch Cycling history…does anyone know who any of these kids are? I would love to try contacting them them if possible. Thanks!

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  12. Hector Zamarron
    19 December 2013

    People in Mexico city use to say “we do not live in Amsterdam” when they hear about urban cycling, but they do not know that even in Amsterdam citizens had to fight to get a nice bike friendly city. Great work!

  13. Norms
    16 December 2013

    http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2013/12/14/maddow-do-not-accept-that-we-are-helpless-to-stop-gun-violence-against-kids/

    Quote

    ‘There was a time when bikes and cars shared the road uneasily in the Netherlands. In the 1960s and 1970s, the Dutch mounted a campaign to end traffic deaths of children and other people on bikes.

    “That movement was started in the Netherlands by kids,” Maddow said. “Stop murdering children with your cars” was the unofficial motto of the movement.

    Grade school kids, she explained, started a petition drive to create safe urban spaces for children.’

    She must have read your post :-).

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  15. Thanks for translating and posting. Very interesting and inspirational. I wonder what we, in the UK and other car-dependant nations, can learn from this experience.

  16. FrankR
    15 December 2013

    We need a “What are they doing now?” for these kids. They’d be in their early fifties now! (gulp!)

  17. Son of Shaft
    15 December 2013

    Do you know if Jantje Beton or a precursor to it were involved? Or was it completely organised by locals?

  18. lkingman
    15 December 2013

    Very inspiring, thx! I wonder how much the children’s Montessori education that they received in the Dutch public schools influenced their feeling of empowerment? I’m a Montessori teacher w/ two Montessori educated, staunchly cyclist sons who have vowed never to own cars! They would love it if their neighborhoods were like this. Now, wouldn’t it be an interesting follow up story to see if there was also a correlation to the Dutch gun safety situation and the children’s impact on that?

  19. Eli
    15 December 2013

    BTW, Mark – if you’re ever looking for more ideas (ha ha), have you considered making a YouTube video translation the KvK “Anti-Auto Lied” kids’ song to take it to an English-speaking audience?

    It surprised me how cogently it distills the primary infrastructure & driver behavior obstacles that people of all ages face riding bikes in an urban environment, into a totally adorable kid-sized package.

    I’ll probably do it sometime next year if nobody’s inspired.

  20. Pingback: How Children Demanding Play Streets Changed Amsterdam | Streetsblog Capitol Hill

  21. Pingback: Not culture, not history – physical change | As Easy As Riding A Bike

  22. Clark in Vancouver
    13 December 2013

    This made me think of the film “Ja zuster, nee zuster”, while made about ten years ago, was set in the 1960s. It inaccurately portrays many characters all cycling home together from the courthouse which wouldn’t have happened until much later.

    (Great movie by the way. You all should see it.)

    • Jan
      13 December 2013

      Why not? Bicycle modal share in the 1960s was higher than even today. The dramatic drop was in the ’70s, with the lowest point around 1978.

      See http://drawingrings.blogspot.nl/2011/01/historic-cycling-rates-in-netherlands.html and http://john-s-allen.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/IMG_6792Cyclerates.jpg

      • Clark in Vancouver
        13 December 2013

        So it wasn’t that much earlier that there had been high cycling rates? This would mean that people would have remembered “the old times” before auto usage got so high.
        I don’t know if there’s an exact year that the film was supposed to be set in. It was originally a TV series produced in 1966 and ’67. In those years cycling was still relatively high.

        I found it online:

        The scene starts at 45:20
        Also check out the crazy musical dance number right after at 45:56

  23. Will Andrews
    13 December 2013

    Thank you so much for producing English version, Mark – it’s an excellent tool for living-city advocates everywhere

  24. Eduardas Kriščiūnas
    12 December 2013

    It’s useful to know, that even in the Netherlands, known for their „polder politics“, campaigning and change in direction for transportation in the cities went through conflicts and demonstrations. This was impulse to start a dialogue.
    It’s clear, that campaigning without conflicts is waste of time.

    • Eduardas Kriščiūnas
      12 December 2013

      Oh, sorry, forgot to THANK YOU for very informative blog!

  25. Rebecca
    12 December 2013

    That was so powerful! I can not imagine that happening here in the US. The police would come, in an instance. And now-a-days, I see NO children out on the streets playing! Though we did in the 1950’s and ’60’s. I am told, we need to build another school in my town for the burgeoning population of children. But where are the kids? It is like Rachael Carson’s ‘Silent Spring’ ! I live in a town where cranky adults call the police when they hear kids skateboarding or playing in the street! And one person called the police because parents and children were playing in a playground across the streets from apartments at 9pm on a Saturday night!!

    In 1966,’68,’69 and ’75, I visited my grandfather who lived in Amsterdam. I remember being told that my grandfather would shake his fist out through the roof of his car to signal his displeasure at traffic. My father visiting in ’58 or ’63 reported to us that his father drove up onto the sidewalk to bypass traffic! The sense of entitlement was astounding! I brought my dropped handlebar bicycle to Amsterdam in 1965. My uncle was amused by the racing bike that I had planned to tour with. I rode the bike in Amsterdam and to Delft and a few other places. Of course it seemed better than the conditions I was use to here in Boston. There was a bike path. I had no idea that big changes were occurring for bicycles when I was there in 1975.

  26. Enrico Melissano
    12 December 2013

    Really good demostration che if an administration want can be usefull from smart citizen.

  27. Paul Martin
    12 December 2013

    This is fascinating, Mark. The behaviour of motorists and those that defend their ‘right’ to rat-run in AMS in the 1970s looks exactly like Australia NOW…

    Boy do we have a long way to go!

  28. Tim
    12 December 2013

    Interesting to see the strength of the outrage – the tone of the campaign and the overturned cars – that was required to make the changes which were so successful and seem so obvious today.

    I fear that in the UK, we have plenty of the angry drivers complaining about their god-given-right to drive and park where they like, but we don’t have the strength of feeling arguing for clean quiet peaceful streets where children can play. It’s hard to see how we can get the same kind of change. :(

    Thanks once again for the history lesson.

  29. David Hembrow
    12 December 2013

    Excellent work, Mark. These streets look exactly like those in the UK and so many other countries now. Forty years ahead, and counting.

    But note, everyone reading from another country, and this is really important: The fight was not for “cyclists” or for “cycling” but for children and playing.

    • brooklynspoke
      12 December 2013

      Yes! Thank you for that important distinction, David.

  30. Pingback: Kids as planners in de Pijp (1970s) | THE CITY AT EYE LEVEL

  31. Toby Sterling
    12 December 2013

    Hi, thanks so much for putting this video up. I had no idea there was such a history in De Pijp. I live on the Hemonyplein, so me and my kids owe a lot to those kids 40 years ago. Very moving.

  32. walkeaglerock
    12 December 2013

    I think this is my new favorite post on this blog. Those kids are really smart in the video, very fascinating to see their analysis and how they took action.

    And terribly sad to hear about the girl getting killed, hopefully the street is made safer to prevent such tragedies. An old man recently died crossing in a marked crosswalk here in Northeast LA. He was crossing the widest street in the neighborhood, which is about 120′ wide when an inattentive (and likely speeding) driver hit him. Very sad but here it’s just accepted inevitable

  33. Streetfilms (@Streetfilms)
    12 December 2013

    This is completely amazing. Thank you! Thank you! (On a side note: will someone someday long in the future take our films and edit them shorter or combine them or narrate them? I hope so!)

  34. Schrödinger's Cat
    12 December 2013

    Fascinating video clip – it looks like Britain today, they’re fighting the same battles we are!

    It’s also interesting that most young Dutch people seem to think that the country has always been the way it is, and have no idea about the struggles which took place back then.

    Van Woustraat does indeed look horrible. (At least people are saying “fix the street”, rather than the victim-blaming that would happen here in the UK.)

    Perhaps another “Stop De Kindermoord” is needed?

  35. crank
    12 December 2013

    Wow, that video is amazing. Thank you for editing & subtitling. The road-rage scene is very illuminating.

    • Clark in Vancouver
      13 December 2013

      A fun thing to do is imagine that the banners read “No funny hats”. Changes everything.

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