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Watch These Traffic Lights Slowly Take Over a City

Amsterdam never stood a chance.

There are a handful of creative ways to capture a city’s growing dependence on cars over time. Cities has written before about the proliferation, viewed through aerial photographs, of surface parking lots across a cityscape. Equally telling are illustrations of highway construction and ever-expanding street grids across half a century or more.

But there’s something particularly evocative about this time series from Amsterdam, which illustrates on a Google Map the methodical expansion of stoplights across the Dutch capital’s city map, dating back to 1932. The website has mapped eight decades of automated traffic control stretching out from the city’s center. Click through the decades, and the effect is a bit like disease spreading (or rabbits mating?).

Here’s Amsterdam in the years between 1932 and 1941 (yellow dots represent new stoplights):

This is 1942-1951 (green stoplights are existing ones, yellow new):

Jumping ahead to 1962-71 (that lone red stoplight was removed but later reinstated):

Then 1982-91:

And since 2012:

Over all of this time, streetlights have come to represent a kind of shorthand for the advances of modern technology in communities (woe to the country kid who hails from a “one-stoplight town”). And yet no one ever boasts about growing up in a 300-stoplight city…

HT Google Maps Mania.

About the Author

  • Emily Badger is a former staff writer at CityLab. Her work has previously appeared in Pacific StandardGOODThe Christian Science Monitor, and The New York Times. She lives in the Washington, D.C. area.