Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Dutch government takes a stand -- against cars, for bikes

A woman rides her bicycle past a painted wall in Amsterdam in February 2006. The Dutch government has taken a trend to promote eco-friendly cities a step further than its European neighbors by announcing firm measures to discourage cars and driving.
Bicycles are fixed to the railing of a bridge in Amsterdam in May 2007. The Dutch government has taken a trend to promote eco-friendly cities a step further than its European neighbors by announcing firm measures to discourage cars and driving.

THE HAGUE (AFP) — The Dutch government has taken a trend to promote eco-friendly cities a step further than its European neighbors by announcing firm measures to discourage cars and driving.

The plan was outlined in the 2008 budget presented this week, and the capital Amsterdam -- a leader in the drive -- and other Dutch cities will use a "no car" day on Sunday, an annual event, to press home the message.

In the traditional speech from the throne read out by Queen Beatrix, the centre-left cabinet said it would raise taxes on diesel fuel and vehicles using it. Laws are also being drawn up to make taxes dependent on how much pollution a vehicle emits: the more polluting, the higher the fee.

Unhappy, the Dutch car industry association RAi is trying to rally car owners to protest plans, which are sure to have majority support in the country's coalition system. RAi says the government measures will cost drivers 500 million euros (700 million dollars) more per year.

But a number of cities, like Amsterdam, want even stricter action against cars. Among these are Eindhoven, The Hague and Leiden which have ignored drivers' complaints and joined Sunday's "no car" day.

On Sunday, streets inside the ring road that circles Amsterdam will be closed for incoming cars and open only to cyclists and pedestrians between 9 am and 5 pm (0700 GMT to 1500 GMT).

The capital hopes to show out-of-towners that they can leave their cars outside the city and travel in via public transport or taxis, which will still be running Sunday.

Amsterdam, where half the residents do not even have a car, is also hatching other plans to clean up the air and unblock congested roads, including a tax on sports utility vehicles (SUVs), Jeeps and other big cars that run on diesel fuel.

Parking meters will be connected to vehicle tax records and drivers will have to punch in their license plate numbers. The price of a space will be calculated on how much pollution the car creates.

"The technology is available," Tjeerd Herrema, an Amsterdam city council member in charge of transport, told the Het Parool daily. He wants to introduce the system in the course of next year.

To back the measures, Amsterdam will build large car parks inside the city for residents and just outside the ring road for visitors, linked to the city's "park-and-ride" public transport system. Plans call for doubling spaces in the outside lots to 2,300. At the moment, visitors pay 5.50 euros per day to park and get two free public transport tickets, which the municipality wants to increase to five per car.

Inside Amsterdam it now costs 3.90 euros an hour to park in the city centre from 7 am to midnight everyday, except Sunday morning during church service hours, but prices are set to go up.

The city also wants to improve public transport and increase the number of green spaces in the centre, and Herrema is pushing for trams and buses -- which now stop around 1 am -- to run all night.

The move to go "greener" has seen several European cities like Paris and Lyons in France, Barcelona, Geneva, Oslo, Stockholm and Vienna stock the streets with city-owned bicycles for cheap rental -- a step behind bike-friendly Netherlands which pioneered the idea of bicycle sharing in the late 1960s.

But Amsterdam has not forgotten its numerous cyclists, who are almost as much of a tourist attraction as the 17th-century canal houses. The city is setting aside 70 million euros for the capital's bicycle riders over the next four years to pay for improving bike lanes, creating more bicycle parking spaces and cracking down on bicycle theft.

Probably something similar needs to be done to check the bicycle situation in the Ahmedabad city. May be if we can make the old city around teen darwaza, manek chowk etc. autorickshaw, car and motorbike free, it would be such a releif for pedestrains and cyclists to walk and ride on those tiny crowded streets.

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