Rage in the cage

22nd July 2003, Comments 0 comments

Rage in the cage

Why in such an overpopulated country does the government persist in pursuing policies which force its citizens ever closer together?


A couple of months ago, we received a friendly notice from the Stadsdeel (borough) office, informing us that our suburban neighbourhood was soon to receive something called beugels. No, not poppy-seed with smoked salmon, which would have been nice in our culinarily-desolate hood where the broodjesspeciaalzaak is the only game in town. Beugels, my partner explained, are those movable metal posts which block cars from parking in a perfectly empty space.

Why are we getting beugels? I asked. Apparently, the new office buildings down the road would be open soon, and commuting workers would want to park in our lot. Fair enough, I said, but who is going to get these free spots? It seems the Stadsdeel, in all its wisdom, determined that those who do not own a parking space will get one.

In other words, if you have been so greedy and ostentatious to buy a parking space or a second car, you are out of luck. You still have to pay, while those who cheaped-out and park their car in the free zone, will be granted an exclusive space. Gratis. But just one, mind you. So don’t have too many visitors!

The reason for all this beugeling is that the office buildings do not have enough parking, so workers will naturally look to our pand for a space. According to one of the future tenants, the brand-spanking new building is in fact short about 500 spaces.

This is not an error in construction. The city of Amsterdam, and others, severely restricts parking and the building of new parking spaces. They allow in fact only about one space for sixty metres of office space, or roughly one space for every ten employees. I dread to think how they allocate those spaces.

This is supposedly to encourage public transport. But in the Netherlands, public transport is much too focused on public and hardly has anything to do with transport.

Who hasn’t experienced the joys of the Amsterdam metro, where on certain routes your laptop – and possibly you as well – have a life expectancy shorter than donut in a police station. Or the really fun, long distance commute, otherwise known as Randstad Roulette. Will there be service today? Don’t bet on it, but rather enjoy watching the empty destination board to see if something pops up. And finally the trams. Ah, the trams, where you can be late and harassed by obnoxious teenagers at the same time.

I’ve written before about the socialists’ pathological hate of the car and the personal freedom it gives. But aside from dogma, on issues of social engineering and environmentalism, they are dead wrong.

First of all, research shows that in cities, most of the pollution caused by cars is created when they are not moving, either in traffic jams or idling. How many extra tonnes of carbon dioxide are created by people driving around looking for spaces? How much by the traffic jams created on Dutch highways because the government would prefer you use the NS?

Second, the availability of parking has a direct impact on liveability. There is nothing more frustrating than not being able to find a spot before a meeting, or when you get home; or having to worry if the parking police are going to vandalise your car with a boot because a meter has expired. Leefbaar Nederland has a good point on that: What is the government’s role if not to improve the quality of life for those who live here?

The socialists say otherwise. And they are in denial about two things: first that Amsterdam is a city where people actually live (and sometimes work) and second that this is the 21st century where people drive cars because – thank higher powers and the Marshall plan – they can afford that luxury.

Unfortunately, socialists are the ones dictating the parking policy.

I have lived in far more populous cities, Manhattan among them, and found the liveability factor to be far less of an issue. An amazing phenomenon our socialist friends may want to study (with an EU grant, naturally) is that when you create parking spaces, cars get off the road.

In another example, my hometown of Toronto has the opposite policy as Amsterdam: All new construction must have at least enough parking spaces for anyone who will use the building. This bit of sense contributes – I am sure – to Toronto’s consistently high rating by the UN for liveability. Toronto has traffic – a lot to be sure – but it would be much worse if half the population were perpetually searching for a parking space.

Though the euro-prices may suggest otherwise, this is not New York, or even Toronto. However a little common sense may be in order. A strategy of under-investment in roads, parking and all things car does not deter drivers; it makes them angry and aggressive. The objective of government should not be to pursue idealistic policies at the expense of human reality and liveable cities.

Rather than constantly cutting off options, forcing the residents of this tiny polder closer and closer together, perhaps a little pragmatism could relieve some of the mounting tension.

People do drive after all. And when the reach their destination, they park.

But not in my beugel.

October 2002


Kevin Lowe is a Canadian expatriate living in Amsterdam.

Subject: Car parking in Amsterdam

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