Are parked cars really dominating Amsterdam’s public space

In an intriguing opinion article in Thursday’s NRC Handelsblad, an author named Fred Feddes suggests banning parked cars from Amsterdam’s city centre. He argues that the current 15,000 parking spaces in the inner city take up 18ha, amounting to as much as 40% of the 45ha public space.

Sure, parked cars use lots of space, but 40%? Apparently, I wasn’t the only one to find that figure incredible. Council member Zeeger Ernsting tweeted:

As much as I endorse the viewpoint, the figure of 40% parking can’t possibly be right.. But indeed, cars [are] still far too dominant

I couldn’t immediately trace Feddes’ source and I’m sure there will be more debate on the issue. For now, here’s a quick and dirty calculation:

  • According to this (pdf) document of the Centrum district, «traffic areas» and green areas amount to 86ha. That’s more than Feddes’ 45ha, although I think the green areas may include some non-public space.
  • The district’s open data site has data on parking spaces (dating from 2010). All types combined, there were some 16,000 of them, slightly more than Feddes’ estimate.
  • Assuming that one parking space takes up 12 to 14m2, this would amount to 19 to 22ha; again slightly more than Feddes’ 18ha.

Perhaps Ernsting could ask the local government to shed some more light on this issue. Meanwhile, my provisional conclusion is that Feddes’ estimate doesn’t seem as incredible as I initially thought. And even if parked cars use only about 25% of public space, that’s still an enormous amount of space if you think about it.

Update 3 January 2015 - in a new article on the issue, Feddes provides more detail on the data he uses. The 45ha public space refers to «traffic terrain» (verkeersterrein) in 2009. CBS data for 2008 also put that number at 45ha. A more recent table (xlsx) indicates that this has since grown to 58ha. Interestingly, these more recent data also differentiate between types of traffic space. Apparently, railways take up 19ha (and according to this pdf, tram and metro tracks haven’t even been included in that category since 1993), leaving only 40ha for road traffic. On the basis of that number, the share of space dominated by (parked) cars would be even larger. Amazing.