Indeed, the Netherlands, like cities and countries around the world and certainly our own, initially pursued auto-centric design in its recovery and rebuilding from World War II. Below is a 1960s street scene from Assen, a small city of 67,000 in the northeastern Netherlands. It may as well be New Albany.
It was around the time of this photo that the Dutch began comprehending the problems they had inadvertently created for themselves, the same problems encountered in New Albany and the Louisville metro every day. What started as localized response in several towns and cities - they moved household furniture into the streets to reclaim them for people in some places - in the 70s became a national movement perhaps best exemplified by the name of a prominent activist group: Stop the Child Murder.
By the time I first visited some 20 years later in the mid-90s, the Netherlands to which we now point had largely already been coaxed from what some there, too, had believed to be streets too far gone. Below is a shot of the same street in 2007, where approximately 9,000 bicycles per day pass through.
I was reminded of this very recent history as a practical rather than miraculous matter while strolling with a childhood friend (and hundreds of others) across the Big Four Bridge last Thursday. It's arguably the most significant piece of public infrastructure in our metro area in decades, again proving that if you simply provide people a reasonable pedestrian and cycling alternative, they will use it here just like in the Netherlands and pretty much everywhere else. Safer, more sustainable, and more vibrant streets and street life - and stronger, more resilient communities - are possible and even probable if we would just approach transportation pragmatically. Acknowledge mistakes and move on.
Though there are design gems aplenty owing to a few decades of experience, the Netherlands is best used not as an example of a very specific planning strategy but as a more general mindset. The infrastructure in the latter photo is more functional, less expensive, and easier to build and maintain than that of the earlier one and, as always, thinking is free. We have more than enough talent and money. We just have to decide that people deserve a chance to adapt and thrive.
More comparison photos and information about "Assen Verandert - Oude en Nieuwe Stadsgezichten" (translates as "Assen Changes - Old and New City Sights"), the book from which they were taken, can be found here.