Jodenbreestraat in Amsterdam: given back to people

Most people are cycling and walking in Amsterdam’s Jodenbreestraat today. But the street could have been so different if the 4 lane motorway of the 1970s would have been further extended all the way to Central Station as it was originally planned. Fortunately that didn’t happen and in the end this street became a place for people again!

Jodenbreestraat in 2014. A lively street full of people walking, cycling and enjoying a drink in an outside café.

The street in the historic city centre of Amsterdam was originally known as the southern part of Sint Antoniesbreestraat. It was home to the famous Dutch master Rembrandt for 23 years until 1656. His house still exists and it is now the Rembrandt museum. From 1619 many Jewish emigrants from Portugal and Spain settled in the neighbourhood, making it a Jewish quarter. In the second half of the 17th century the street got the name, Jodenbreestraat (“Jewish Broad Street”) to reflect that. The famous Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza was born in an alley just off this street in 1632. As his first name reveals he also belonged to an originally Spanish/Portuguese Jewish family. In 1675 the very large Portuguese Synagogue was finished. At the time also in the same street.

Jodenbreestraat in 1925. A lively street full of shops and people in the heart of Amsterdam’s Jewish quarter.

Many residents of the Jewish quarter of Amsterdam were deported during World War II to the Nazi concentration camps and the neighbourhood was left practically deserted. During the severe hunger winter of 1944-1945 most of the wood from the abandoned houses was stolen and used for heating. The buildings were left in a decrepit state and many were torn down as soon as the war ended.

In 1969 the city had started with reconstruction of the Jewish quarter. The big open space is that once lively Jodenbreestraat. The car got a lot of space in the new plans! In the foreground the tunnel and the Meester Visserplein under construction.

It took years to make plans for rebuilding this area of the city. They involved constructing an underground metro line and a 4 lane road from the south all the way to Amsterdam’s Central Station, right through the historic heart of the city. While the plans were taking shape, Jodenbreestraat was widened for that 4 lane road. By 1971 the whole east side of this street consisted of just one large building, nicknamed “Maupoleum”, that was soon named the ugliest building of Amsterdam or even The Netherlands.

At the south end of the street a new traffic square was built. Meester Visserplein was turned into a five arm roundabout with a motor traffic tunnel underneath, for traffic from the south to the east to get to the IJ-tunnel. When the Meester Visserplein tunnel was opened in 1969 the papers wrote that it was good to see the future of Amsterdam with traffic on separate levels, something that would soon be normal all over the city. But the people of Amsterdam weren’t so happy to see all these roads being built in their neighbourhoods and it quickly led to fierce protests. In 1972 the plans were abandoned with a difference of just one vote in the city council. This was at the same time that the children of De Pijp were fighting for their play streets. The 4 lane road to Central Station was not built, but the metro line was. To protest against all the houses that had to be demolished for the metro there were riots again in 1975. It was well into the 1980s that finally slowly but steadily the area got its lively atmosphere back.

This 1974 picture reveals Jodenbreestraat had been turned into a 4 lane road with just one large modernist building on the east side of the street. Plans to continue this four lane road all the way to central station had been cancelled by just one vote in the city council in 1972. The open tunnel under the five arm traffic circle is clearly visible. Diagonally crossed by the tram tracks. One entrance on the top left hand side of the picture and one at the right bottom.

Already in 1973 people complained that pedestrians and cyclists had not been taken into account in the large traffic square. Pedestrians had to use dark and ugly tunnels to cross the street from the tram stop to their destinations. Because nobody wanted to use the tunnels, people crossed multiple lanes of traffic on foot which led to dangerous situations. The city had relocated the tram stop for this reason and the level pedestrian crossings came back. The disused pedestrian tunnels were finally walled off in 1985.

The tunnel system for pedestrians under Meester Visserplein in 1970 when it was one year old. This was one of the ‘meeting points’ in the tunnels. Apparently the designers at the time had no idea that that was asking for trouble… The three men are walking in the direction of the exit “Jodenbreestraat”.

The big traffic plans of the 1960s were further reversed when in 1994 the Maupoleum was torn down. The access road to the IJ-tunnel was narrowed from 4 lanes to 2 and on the free space 350 new homes were built. The motor traffic tunnel under the traffic circle was closed in 1996 and Jodenbreestraat went from 4 lanes to 2 in the south part and only one lane in the north part of the street. The entire east side of the street was rebuilt so that the street was much narrower again and it now has shops again on ground level. The traffic circle was kept as it was “for the time being”, because local merchants complained that blocking off main streets would be bad for their business.

The Meester Visserplein reconstruction plan from 2008. The much narrower Jodenbreestraat entrance is top right. The street bottom right would be completely closed to private motor traffic.

But in 2008 plans to block off a further street were approved and in 2010 the reconstruction of the traffic circle was completed. The former tunnel entrances were hidden under a new double T-junction that came in the place of the traffic circle.

Meester Visserplein in 2014. Still big roads, but it is much more people friendly. Jodenbreestraat starts at the top right end of the square and leads to the top of the picture. The tunnel entrances have disappeared under the new roads. Note also that the road to IJ-tunnel (on the right hand side) is a lot narrower than on the 1974 picture. Four large building blocks with apartments came in the place of half that road.

And what became of that car-tunnel? Well, that was given to Amsterdam’s children! It was turned into a huge underground playground called TunFun. Where once traffic roared, children jump on trampolines now!

The TunFun playground in the former motor traffic tunnel under Meester Visserplein in Amsterdam.

Over the years, lot of space in this area has been taken away from motor traffic and it was given back to people. People living in homes at the location of a former road, people walking and many people cycling. Jodenbreestraat, once a lively street in the Jewish quarter, later turned into a horrible four lane road for motor traffic, is now a main cycle route from the south into the historic city centre of Amsterdam; a people’s place again!

Amsterdam’s Jodenbreestraat is a main cycle route into the city centre, and it shows!
Note especially what a main cycle route sounds like.

More information on the cycle policies of Amsterdam on the city’s website.
After I wrote this post I found out that Jonathan Maus of Bike Portland also posted about Jodenbreestraat!
I showed you a video of Meester Visserplein at rush hour before in an earlier blog post.

17 thoughts on “Jodenbreestraat in Amsterdam: given back to people

  1. Even if we go back in time. Cycling was the best way of transport to many. This still remains to be the best thing to happen to towns to ease congestion from motor vehicles. Great work.

  2. “Maupoleum” comes from Maup Caransa, a former developer of the most hideous buildings ever constructed in Amsterdam.

  3. I heard that in Amsterdam if a cyclist gets hit by a car, it’s the driver’s fault. My first thought was, aren’t there any bikers trying to wreck their old bikes by a car to get a new one? I’m sure people would do it in my country if we had similar laws.

    1. Well, getting a new bike by getting hit by a car seems a bit far-fetched. You might end up in a wheel-chair.

    2. In that form the law only exists for those 14 years and younger – in that case the car driver only gets off if there was no reasonably way the driver could have prevented it [b]and[/b] the child caused the incident intentional or ‘with a degree of recklessness bordering on intent’. If the cyclist is over 14 and both parties have made mistakes, damages are divided weighted by the relative blame of both parties, with a number of correction factors, however the result can never be that the car driver bears less than 50% of the damages. Thus, in the case you mention (cyclist trying to get their bicycle wrecked), the compensation would likely be 50%, not 100%, unless the cyclist was 14 years old or younger.

      * damages are actual damages; if an old bicycle gets wrecked, damages will be considered to be (at most) the price of a second-hand bicycle, not a new one
      * damages of an accident could include a visit to hospital, which I would not like even if it were fully paid for
      * the 50% (>14 years) and 100% (<=14 years) rules apply only to the damage to the cyclist and his/her bike. Damages to the car are divided according to relative blame (although probably with some corrections in favor of the cyclist)

    3. Aron, You hear a lot of shit, not able to read?
      Most of the accidents where a car is hit by a bike, no damage at all, insurance……
      If you insurance the bike too, you get only what it is worth to repair it, $20??
      This is the western world, not the US cowboy laws, suing the shit out anyone….

  4. Mid 90’s I moved to A’dam. Just when they started the reconstruction of Museumplein. Occasionally I had to take the tram across Meester Visserplein. I always thought of that being one of the most drab and ugly places in central Amsterdam.

  5. I remember cycling here. I stayed at a place a little southeast of here (a modernist concrete dorm a few stories tall) and I biked through this intersection each day for a week. There was almost too much cycling going on. I liked the nearby market and the Albert Heijn. You should have marked on the video that that wide sidewalk also has a large bike parking area painted for free-standing (self-locking) bicycles.

    1. amazing post. certainly looks busy, but dense bicycle traffic always seems so productive and engaging, teaming with life and vitality, rather than gridlock in a car, isolating, jail-like and frustrating.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.