Traffic flows when people interact in a human way
I posted a one minute video of an Amsterdam intersection which got a lot of attention on Twitter two months ago. That minute shows many different types of bicycles and people passing by in all sorts of vehicles. This made the images extraordinary and mesmerizing to some people from other countries. Their comments are telling. To most of the Dutch the intersection of Weteringschans and Museumbrug in the historic city centre looks busy but nothing out of the ordinary. Some were quite entertained by the comments.
This Amsterdam city centre intersection is quite common to a Dutch eye, but it is not so very ordinary to a foreign eye.
I filmed to show that Dutch intersections work a bit differently compared to most other countries. The one minute was just an appetiser. In this post I will show you the complete video of 5 minutes that also shows the intersection from different angles. The one minute video is indeed part of this video. In fact the shot is even longer and you can see it from the 2:54 minute mark to the 4:14 mark. Embedded in the rest of the video I think you’ll better understand what most of the Dutch observers see: just people going about their business passing a point that is designed to make the traffic flow, all types of traffic. And it just works.
Let’s have a closer look at some of those comments and the story they tell.
Clearly it is not how ordinary intersections look to many people.
Some people noticed things I even hadn’t. That’s how relaxed cycling is for Dutch children, they fall asleep on the bicycle!
Of course I had noticed this vehicle. You don’t see them every day, that’s a fact, but to a Dutch eye that looks more like a clever idea than very special.
Some people get why this works and how this works.
With slower speeds cities become safer. Humans need time to respond to events. Once they get that time interactions can take place in a much more organic way. People don’t bump into each other when they walk, not even in crowds, because they know how to avoid that. They still have that ability when they are on a bicycle at slow speeds. It’s lost when you go at speeds over 30km/h in a machine.
Some people had concerns, but that is not really necessary. Slow speeds are key here too! Time to react to any given situation.
The Dutch had no clue, initially, what the fuzz was about. “Nothing” happens. Indeed, and that is the beauty of it. Good to see that some then understood that it is all a matter of perspective.
Other Dutch people only saw problems. It’s not the ordinary bicycles that cause congestion on the cycle paths. And “regulate it” as a knee jerk reaction. That would definitely not work. It has been proven on other intersections in Amsterdam that the nature of the traffic in Amsterdam, with so many people cycling and just a few cars, makes everything flow better without traffic lights. I think the original comments in Dutch are quite understandable in the machine translation.
People also understand why it flows so well. People on bikes need very small gaps in traffic. You are almost as agile as you are on foot in passing each other. But it requires skills, that is right.
Skills that maybe not everyone has. If you haven’t cycled all your life you are not so quick in your responses as even the Dutch kids on bicycles demonstrate in the video.
Of course with every Dutch street scene you show to an international audience that one word will come up. Here someone was joking about the German transport minister who recently advocated helmet wearing and dressing up like a Christmas tree. But they get a serious reply.
The ignorance of some helmet believers is appalling. How can you think that a thin layer of plastic on your head will make you any safer in a collision with a car or bus? To most Dutch it a no-brainer that that is simply not true.
With so much experience in cycling as the average Dutch person has, you are not going to trick them into believing that bike helmets on everyday bicycles can be any good. To the Dutch its common sense that a bicycle helmet is a stupid idea. It’s much better to avoid crashes with protected cycling infrastructure.
Now that sums it up nicely. Many things in Dutch society work well based on mutual trust, traffic included. This is one of the foundations of a healthy society that is sadly under pressure from people spreading hatred, but hopefully trust will be stronger.
Five minutes on an Amsterdam intersection.