The rate of traffic injuries is much higher in old inner cities than elsewhere in the country, concludes Prof. Bert van Wee who was part of an RTL Nieuws investigation.
Cars and scooters race along canals and through narrow alleys, but our old inner cities are not built for this. Handcarts and horse and carts were the norm when these neighbourhoods were built, so it is hardly surprising that accidents occur with motorised vehicles in these historic streets.
How dangerous are we talking about? Journalists from the television news broadcaster RTL Nieuws looked into this with Professor of Transport Policy Bert van Wee at the Faculty of Technology, Policy and Management.
The investigators looked at 10,000 neighbourhoods in the Netherlands. They analysed data on accidents that involved injuries and motorised vehicles. They used Rijkswaterstaat (the executive arm of the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment) and TomTom data on accidents and traffic.
Their conclusions were that more than half of the 50 neighbourhoods with the highest risk were in old inner cities. Every driven kilometre in these historic streets are 10 times more dangerous than average. The most dangerous town in terms of motorised driven kilometre is Leiden.
Delft is scary too
Delft has quite a few neighbourhoods where it is relatively dangerous. The neighbourhood with the highest number of accidents is Roland Holstbuurt. It counted 40 accidents between 2017 and 2019. In the Centrum-Zuidwest neighbourhood there were 35 accidents. In total, in three years there were 1,048 registered accidents in Delft. The study showed that most of these accidents, 718 in total, only involved light dents in vehicles.
“Everything criss-crosses each other in old inner cities,” says Van Wee. “There is seldom enough space to properly separate all the road users – pedestrians, cyclists, scooters and cars – that move at different speeds.”
The Professor of Traffic believes that the reason that the town of Leiden leads the pack is because the town has a large historic city centre. “After Amsterdam, Leiden has the biggest historic heart in the Netherlands.”
To make cities safer, the traffic needs to be restricted. “As early as 1972, Groningen closed its access roads through the city centre. If you want to go from one end of town to the other, you have to go around the town on the periphery road. That was very new at the time.”
Over the last few years, Amsterdam and Utrecht are leading the way in making their old inner cities traffic calm. Rotterdam is doing significantly worse.
One helpful measure is to impose speed limits. “However, just having boards with 15 or 30 kilometres per hour is not enough. You need to design the streets in such a way as to make it hard for people to not stick to the speed limit. You could use traffic bumps or pinchpoints so that drivers cannot drive in a straight line.”
Measures must be taken now. An estimated 21,400 people were seriously injured in traffic accidents in 2019. This is more than double the Government’s target.