How Amsterdam is pushing pedestrians out of the city

The pedestrian is not getting anywhere in Amsterdam. The new policy framework, Space for the Pedestrian, which should create more pedestrian space, applies only to new situations. Pedestrians will end up with less space, structurally.

Citywide, the rules for HoReCa terraces, store displays, shared scooters and bikes, and other objects on the sidewalk will not be changed. This is a policy change from the original proposal released for public comment in 2020, which said it would reduce the size of existing terraces, among other things, by adjusting the rules. To maintain a level playing field, new terraces, retail displays, and façade gardens within existing street layouts will also not be tested against the new framework. So, the new framework is meaningless.

The district-level rules for terraces, store displays, residents’ flower pots, etc., usually assume 1.50 meters of free walking space. In situations where there is currently even more free walking space than 1.50 meters, it can be ‘filled’ up to 1.50 meters with these types of objects in the coming years. Pedestrians thus effectively end up with the residual centimeters in public space.

City districts can create integral reallocation plans for specific streets with major bottlenecks together with residents and business owners. In it, objects, street furniture, modes, or functions can be rearranged (without redesign) to create a more free-flowing space. How will you do that without clear frameworks? A project manager will be appointed to guide the creation of integral reallocation plans.

The new method is only applicable in streets where there are major pedestrian bottlenecks and where there is potential for improvement. This is very non-committal and completely arbitrary (and therefore now delegated to the city districts). The city of Amsterdam states, “Refurbishment projects will be limited in the coming years.” Moreover, there will be no additional funds for implementing the policy framework and the intended project leader.

However, the capacity to propose new terrace plans or other types of programs for the integral redistribution of urban space will be limited. The municipality says, “We cannot simultaneously make new terrace plans and plans for integral redistribution of space for the entire city.” With the new framework, it would be virtually impossible to offer shared scooters outside some parking spaces in the inner city of Amsterdam. For now, the city of Amsterdam is making the trade-off here to prioritize the transition to shared mobility rather than creating more space for pedestrians. In short, pedestrians are not given priority.

Several urban mobility memos, plans, and implementation agendas refer to the policy framework as one of the rock-solid principles; for example, the Amsterdam Car-Low Agenda, the new HoReCa Terrace Policy, the plans for a new Public Space and Mobility Review Team, and the Inclusive Mobility Implementation Program. Indeed the weakening of the pedestrian policy framework will have an impact on these notes, plans, and implementation agendas. These plans also refer to the preferred network framework that never resulted in realizing a main or plus pedestrian network. That plan died a soft death in the bureaucratic drawers.

Organizations that advocate for the interests of pedestrians are also disappointed and are asking the Amsterdam city council to sign the Charter For Walking to join the ranks of cities that aspire to good pedestrian policies for a livable city. They also invite the municipality to embrace the Amsterdam Pedestrian Manifesto as a starting point for the concrete elaboration of a working pedestrian policy. The city council, last week, chose not to do this.

Overall, the pedestrian is not improving in Amsterdam’s urban mobility policy. It’s getting worse. The coalition is doing what it promised in its coalition agreement: absolutely nothing.

Walther Ploos van Amstel.

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