Susan Gaeddert is Community Programs Director at 1000 Friends of Wisconsin, where she runs Active Wisconsin, facilitates the Community Transportation Academy, and coordinates the Wisconsin Climate Table.
This is Part 2 of the Summer Reading 2023 series.
Do you have a summer reading list? Summer is supposed to be a time to relax, slow down a little, spend more time outdoors, maybe take a vacation, and indulge in a good book or three. The last few months I’ve been fortunate to have the time to read a few new books that have informed or deepened my understanding of land use and transportation planning. These aren’t your typical “beach read,” but I found them to be engaging, entertaining, and informative.
One of the participants in the La Crosse cohort of the Community Transportation Academy very generously gave me a copy of this book on the last day of class, and I finally got around to reading it this summer. As you might guess, the authors are Dutch, and they are writing about transportation systems in the Netherlands. I’ve never been to the Netherlands, only read about their famous bike infrastructure and seen photos of the bike parking in Amsterdam (including a new bike parking structure built underwater, but I digress…). Everything I had read or heard about Dutch transportation was highly idealized, and I was surprised to learn that the authors share the same concerns and anxieties about traffic violence as I do.
Verkade and te Brömmelstroet lament car-centric infrastructure, the prioritization of vehicle speed over human safety, and the narrow scope of engineering standards for building roads. In fact, the Dutch imported traffic engineering from the U.S. in the middle of the 20th century, seeking to emulate American highway infrastructure. They were well on their way before a massive campaign in the 1970s calling for a halt to the killing of children on Dutch roads led to safety reforms and a massive investment in bicycle infrastructure.
Verkade brilliantly leads the reader through the history and complexities of Dutch transportation planning and traffic safety, weaving in personal stories and revelations as her own understanding unfolds. For me, the most impactful portions were where she re-examines and reframes the language we use; “[t]he language of traffic…distorts reality,” she says, “as if you are looking through a car windscreen, or into a wobbly mirror. A distorting mirror alters the way you behave…That’s how reality changes, and after a while we no longer notice the difference.” Ultimately, the book urges readers to put people, not cars, at the center of urban design, something I think we can all get behind. (A word of caution: this book includes some graphic descriptions of traffic violence. I had to put it down a few times to catch a breath.)
Have you read any good books lately? Drop me a note and let me know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org