How do the Dutch integrate transit & bikes? How easy is it to park your bike & board a train? What design elements influence the transition? Can bikes be brought on board? How do the Dutch measure transit performance? How have they made transit reliable and responsive?
In Dutch cities, bike infrastructure is incorporated into transit planning. Cycling is seen as a connector between public transportation networks and therefore must be integrated into transit infrastructure. The foremost example is the bike parking at train stations. In every city we visited, we have seen huge bike parking facilities with thousands of bicycles. Making bike parking accessible is an integral component of their transportation design, encouraging people to bike to the station and take the train instead of driving. Not only are there thousands of free spaces, but there are systems in place to help cyclists find available spots. In Utrecht, for example, they tracked how many spots were open per row and displayed that number on a screen at the beginning of each row. We've also seen stations with elevators large enough for multiple bikes, or bike-friendly ramp escalators.
Multi-level Bike Parking
Another aspect of transit and bike integration is for when riders need to take their bikes with them. This is usually doable as there is a designated area for bikes on many of the trains and trams. The exception, however, is if the trains or trams are in peak hours. During these high ridership hours, bikes aren't allowed, even in the compartments that are meant for bikes. The experience of taking your bike on the train/tram really varies with how full it is. If there are many people, it can be stressful trying to find a space for your bike and getting it on and off in time. However, people are accommodating and once your bike is settled, it's quite easy.
A Bike Spot on a Tram
It is clear a lot of thought and planning went into transportation planning in Dutch cities. They consider all relevant factors when trying to improve a certain aspect of transportation, making it more efficient and accessible. In order to understand the effects of these extensive efforts, they need methods of measuring transit performance. Some parameters they use are tracking the share of trips taken by each mode of transportation. The overall goal is to decrease the percentage of trips taken by car, so if this number is decreasing, it could mean that the city has taken successful measures in public transportation and cycling infrastructure. Some successful examples we have learned about on this trip include redesigning corridors to be safer for cyclists and connecting transit networks and cycling networks, not to mention timely and well-connected train and tram lines. Additionally, planners actively solicit public feedback and try to work with the surrounding community to address their concerns and meet their needs. In doing this, planners are addressing all aspects of sustainability and are succeeding in making their cities more livable.
The Dutch quite often integrate bikes on transit. Most trains have designated cars for people traveling with bicycles, however it is more common to park bikes before boarding trains. There are several “Bike-and-Ride” locations at train stations to incentivize people commuting longer distances to bike part of the route and take the train instead of driving by car. To support this, there are rideshare programs located in bike parking facilities for people who travel further distances after taking the train. Cycle paths typically lead directly underneath train stations by means of tunnels that go into bike parking areas. One example is shown below:
Figure 1: Leidschenveen Railway Station Bike Parking
Trains stations integrate bikes through parking design. You can see in the figure below that pedestrians enter the train station from this street on the left with stairs and an escalator, and bikes enter the parking deck directly at grade with the street.
Figure 2: Entrance and Exit to Bike Parking Underneath the Utrecht Centraal Railway Station
Utrecht Centraal Railway Station currently offers a capacity of 12,500 bike parking spots and is increasing that number to 22,000 spaces which will be the world’s largest. The bike parking has two levels to increase capacity in the parking deck, seen in Figure 3. At the far back of the figure, you can see the two entrances into the bike parking floors.
Figure 3: Two Story Bike Parking at Utrecht Centraal Railway Station
Not only is a sign posted at the entrance of each parking aisle, but there are sensor lights above each parking spot to help locate available parking spaces. You can see in the figure below the sign posting in Utrecht.
Figure 4: Signage in Bike Parking Facilities to Help Users Locate Available Spots
Trains have a higher height of entry than trams to encourage bike parking at train stations. Trains are for traveling cross country between cities, and trams are for inner city travel. Bikes can be taken on board trams with lower ridership because there is more space to fit bikes with the current demand. The Metro in Amsterdam has platform heights equivalent to the height of the trains which makes for a smoother transition for cyclists to bring their bikes on board.
Dutch Transit Performance Measures
Dutch measure transit performance in numerous ways including waiting time at traffic signals, amount of traffic, safety records, dwell time for public transit systems, and reliability. Hague traffic operation engineers aim for waiting times below 100 seconds, with the best wait times under 70 seconds at traffic signals for bikes and vehicles. Amount of traffic includes parking capacity for bikes and vehicles. When bike parking reaches capacity consistently, the transit authority must find alternative locations for bike parking to continue encouraging cycling as a transit mode. Dwell time includes time to enter the transit system and scan in, such as the Metro in Amsterdam, as well as wait for a train. Reliability is paired with consistency that people can rely on the bus, train, tram or cycle path to take a certain amount of time for their commute without unexpected delays or interruptions. One difficult aspect of signal timings is when priority is given to trams on shared streets in urban areas, such as the Hague, because it delays cycle times. Shared streets can include where pedestrians and cyclists share the roadway with the tram line. Another example is when bikes are prioritized over vehicles, such as in Delft, so every time a bike button is pressed at an intersection, the cyclists can pass through first. Signal timings are important measures for reliability.
In a major city like Amsterdam, where people are rushing around to various destinations, it is crucial for the Dutch to integrate their public transportation system with their bicycle network. Public transportation, like trains, trams, and buses, allow people to travel long distances that would be difficult on a bicycle. At the same time, a safe and easy bicycle network complements these PT systems by providing more efficient travel for the “last mile” of their trips. Even though Amsterdam is the largest city in the Netherlands with the most tourism, it is not the only one to integrate transit and bicycles. All cities that our class visited had several similar designs to accommodate its residents.
Transit & Bicycle Integration Designs
Many elements have been incorporated by the Dutch to integrate their transit system and bicycle network. For instance, trains have bicycle cars to allow users to bring their bikes on board. When part of our group biked to Houten in the morning of our class site visit, we were easily able to take our bikes back on the trains in the evening. Some bicycles are even designed to fold up, as seen in the image below. This takes up half the space of a normal bicycle, which is easier for the user to manage and less irritating to other passengers on board.
Fold Up Bicycle
Similarly, bikes can be brought on trams and buses as well. As seen in the image below, trams have hooks to stabilize bicycles. And buses will have front racks to accommodate bicycles.
Transit & Bicycle Transition Design
Transit & Bicycle Transition Design
Several transition designs have also been developed for the Dutch people who want to ride to a station, but who do not want to deal with the complications of bringing their bike on board public transit. Easy access to bicycle parking and storage is the most common transition design. While Americans are in need of more car parking near transit lines, the Dutch appreciate more bicycle space near public transportation. In every city that our group visited, large spaces for bicycle parking were conveniently located right next to the major trains stations. This allows efficient and inexpensive transitions between both systems, which save valuable time and money for Dutch bikers who can easily park their bikes, and then transition to transit (or vice versa) within minutes. And these spaces will always be able to accommodate more people that a similar structure built for car parking due to the size difference. Additionally, bike share programs are becoming popular at train stations for large cities. In Utrecht, it only costs four euros to rent a bike for the day.
The Dutch measure transit performance based on efficiency, frequency, and reliability. Many people have different needs for travel. Some need to bring their bicycles with them to their destination, while others need parking space near to stations to leave their bicycles. The transition and integration of transit and bicycles satisfy several different needs tomake transportation efficient for the users. Public transportation is also frequent and reliable. This was evident several times when our group split apart intentionally or not. We were always able to find each other or our destination when needed due to the reliability of the transit system and within a short timeframe due to the frequency of the transit line connection. Therefore, the performance of the Dutch transit system is highly responsive to the needs of the public.
Transportation is about getting people from point to point in an efficient and comfortable manner. While there are several different travel modes that can achieve those objectives, the integration of modes into a cohesive and connected system maximally enhances the traveling experience for the user. The Dutch, in addition to their impressive transit network and bike infrastructure, take pride in making it seamless to transition from bike to transit and vice versa. Through the prevalent availability of bike parking at transit stations, the ability to carry on bikes to subways, trams and ferries, and bike minded transit station designs, Dutch citizens are provided with several amenities that facilitate the bike and transit culture.
Figure 1: The view of the Utrecht train tracks from the top of city hall
Dutch trains are reliable and VERY frequent at most stations. In our experience riding on the Dutch transit system, the on-time arrival rate is exceptionally high. That is a big indicator of ridership and satisfaction and is something that Atlanta struggles with sometimes. Having primarily dedicated right-of-way for their transit is likely beneficial for the Dutch as it allows their trains to be on time. With that said, it is surprising to me that the trams are so punctual when pedestrians and bicyclists are frequently crossing the tracks. I am surprised that there haven’t been significant injuries.
Figure 2: Laura is not impressed with this grade-separated train station
The Dutch transit system accommodates and enhances the already well-established bike culture in the Netherlands. In all transit stations we have been to, we have seen large bike parking decks. The people we spoke with are prideful to provide that amenity to their transit riders. We took a tour of the Utrecht transit station bike parking deck that is still under construction, but when completed will have 12,500 bike parking spaces with real-time occupancy numbers. This type of “smart” parking is significant in helping the bike community and makes it more likely that others will shift into that community. The deck also features a bike track that allows riders to stay on their bike until the last moment before they park.
If a rider wants to take their own bike onto the train, they can purchase a bike train ticket. The ticket at the Utrecht station was about 7 Euros. Signage is provided on the actual trains to show where bikes are allowed to be placed and the seats in that car are able to be pushed up so that bikes can be stored while remaining out of the walking path. Although the concept works, the presence of the bikes makes it difficult for people to move around. Some of the Dutch train stations, like Centraal Station in Amsterdam, offer a ramped moving sidewalk that makes it easier for bikers to transport their bikes with them on their way out. In addition to the trains, even the ferries allow bikes, adding to the integrated system.
Figure 3: A small portion of the Utrecht bike parking deck
Overall, the Dutch utilize all their assets to maintain a cohesive system of transit and bike networks. The results are shown in their travel modes split and contribute to their goal of keeping cars out of their cities as much as possible. They recognize the importance of small aspects of transportation that go beyond just infrastructure and prioritize ease of use for all their users. To me, that is what cities should be, people-oriented.
Planning & Culture. Nearly all of the extremely good transit-to-bike (and vice versa) integration as well as the exceptional alternatives to car transportation can be attributed to Dutch planning and culture—where the first is even resultant of the latter. The culture of the Dutch tends to push towards a collective good, sustainability, and a high quality of life—regardless of the spacial limitations of such a small country. Therefore, it is only right for their planning dogma to reflect this culture with the proactive, preventative measures that protect the most vulnerable user in the system while also creating a system that values the time of most vulnerable user as well. With these things taken into account, the transit system and its integration into the transportation system not only creates seamlessness but also encourages its success.
Bikes & Transit
In the Netherlands, their transit system is comprised of trams, buses, and the heavy-rail system. With each mode, the Dutch have understood that the need to integrate the bike infrastructure was crucial for the success of the transit system as well as the solving of the last mile problem. Thus, in each mode, there is a way to connect the bike and the mode most of the time.
Figure 1. Bike to Transit Parking in Zoetermeer
For the buses, there are usually a few bike parking stations connected to the bus stop in order for users—especially frequent users who would come back to that stop to get home—can be more willing to use the buses as well as increase the level of service for more individuals. This is also carried over into the light-rail/tram options where there are also bike stops connected to those stops. However, for a few of the tram/metro transit options--particularly in Amsterdam--there are a few that allowed for bikes to be taken onboard but not during the peak, rush hours. The infrastructure with the heavy-rail—which has more users and higher level of service—is much more robust and attracts more bike users. These stations give a lot of support for bikes to park with the implementation of bicycle garages and parking lots that hold thousands of bikes at one time. Nevertheless, the ability to take your bike on the train is much more hindered by the fact that one must buy a ticket for one’s bike (which is even more expensive than the train ride itself), one must carry one’s bike while on the train, and one must stand with the mass crowd of people in a compact space. Therefore, although it is possible to have your bike on the train, it is very inconvenient for the user, which decreases the likelihood of multiple people doing this.
Figure 2. Bike Parking Facilities in Utrecht
Performance & Reliability.
Yet--with all these things taken into consideration--it is necessary for the Dutch to be able to measure the performance of each system. Throughout the time here, the group had many discussions with native professors and professionals and discovered the multitude of ways that metrics are taken. Some of the things that they take into consideration are the wait times of the passengers, the punctuality of the trains, the amount of ridership, and the projected populations of specific areas. In each presentation, the punctuality and the amount of ridership seemed to be the leading metrics used in order to convey the responsiveness and success of the system.
Figure 3. Tram in Amsterdam
Finally, the Dutch have used these metrics to truly make their transit system reliable. One of the things that they have done in Amsterdam specifically is to create an underground metro line that alleviates the stress on above-ground trams. This has resulted in the decreased need in extremely frequent tram service. Another thing that is done throughout the Netherlands is that the trams have the right of way to all traffic situations which increases the level of service and decreases the need to stop. Additionally, the location of the card tap check-in is located away from the metro and heavy-rail trains to decrease the wait times onto trains.
Planners from all parts of the Netherlands know that transit and bike networks must be integrated if either system is to be truly successful. While most people in the United States see the integration of transit and bikes as a way to solve the “first/last mile problem,” bikes connect Dutch transit users to destinations that may be many miles away.
When using heavy-rail in the Netherlands one can buy a special pass to bring their bikes aboard both heavy and light-rail trains. These bikes have to be held in easily identifiable train cars that have less seats and more room for bikes. To avoid overcrowding, this can only be done during non-peak (rush hour) times. Bringing a bike onboard is more difficult than parking and riding, but if necessary, it can be a breeze. Figure 1 below shows a small bike rack onboard a light rail train in Amsterdam.
Figure 1: Bike parking onboard light rail in Amsterdam
Parking bikes and then riding transit of any kind is very easy. Planners know to place plenty of bike parking within a short walk from transit boarding platforms (mostly less than 1 minute). At main heavy-rail stations, this parking tends to be free for up to a day, guarded, and within a specially-built bike parking facility. Two-level parking fits more bikes while sensors in the racks display the number of empty spots and gives a rough estimate of where the open spots are so that parking and riding is even easier. For less infrastructure-intensive transit modes such as light rail and buses bike racks are provided if a guarded parking garage cannot be. If the bike parking facility needs to be underground, escalators that can be traversed by bikes are used to make the transition between modes even easier. Figure 2 below shows a bike parking garage in Utrecht.
Figure 2: Bike parking garage in Utrecht
The Dutch have a variety of performance metrics that they use in measuring how well their transit systems serve the public. It is also relevant to note that the metrics are used and publicized by various organizations with a stake in the operation of the system. For example the municipal government may publish and keep track of their ridership. The public, however, typically uses their own experiences within a system to judge its performance.
Typical performance measures that the Dutch municipalities, transit authorities, and transit companies employ are:
Transit in the Netherlands typically runs on its own separated and protected path. Heavy rail runs on heavy rail tracks. Light rail runs on light rail tracks with crossings kept to a minimum. Buses either travel on the light rail tracks or in a bus lane. All of these separations ensure that no outside factors will disrupt the transit service meaning that the public can assume that timetables will be followed. Figure 3 shows light rail in Amsterdam with its own separated tracks.
Figure 3: Light rail with designated space in Amsterdam
Another great aspect of Dutch transit development is the responsiveness of planners to the needs of the community. Although it’s not always perfect, planners in the Netherlands consider the needs of the whole community before making a decision on development.
The government is also structured so that a small group cannot stop development if the rest of the community is calling for new transit. Municipalities in the Netherlands are governed by many council people who represent the municipality as a whole, and not a region within. In the United States municipalities are governed by fewer council people who are elected by a small group of people within a region who expect the council person to represent them. Because of this, responding to the needs of the community is more difficult and less effective in the United States than it is in the Netherlands.
The Dutch transit system consists of many elements, including national rail trains, light rail trains (trams), heavy rail trains (metro), and buses. To pay for all of the transit in the Netherlands, the same cards are used for payment (like metro cards for the entire country). The national rail trains connect cities and towns together. Some of the trams also connect small towns to larger cities if the distance is shorter; however, trams tend to be for connections within a city. The metro serves more popular lines within cities and buses fill in the gaps for shorter distances. Bikes are integrated into the overall system at main stations and to serve as the last mile or few miles for people who need to reach the national rail train stations. Some of the more bike-happy Dutch people are even willing to replace a train ride with a bike ride. Here's a picture of a new underground tram station in the Hague.
Tram Station Under a Pedestrian and Bicycle Only Zone in the Hague
Bike parking is a huge element of the national rail train stations since many people use both modes together to reach their destinations. In Delft, we got to experience this, but in Utrecht, the Hague, and Amsterdam, we saw just how large the parking facilities can get. Below are some pictures of just parts of the bike parking we saw. In the Hague, we even had the opportunity to see a bike parking deck that is still under construction. That parking is planned to have over 8,000 bike parking spaces, which is adding to the parking that already exists there. Parking your bike can be pretty difficult sometimes because it is challenging to figure out where empty spots are and then remember where your bike is parked when you return. In the Hague, the new parking is expected to help finding empty spots easier, and in Utrecht the parking had QR codes to help remember your bike's location. All bike parking is free in these locations for at least 24 hours and up to about two weeks.
Bike Parking at Utrecht Centraal Station
Bike Parking Construction Site in the Hague
Bike Parking at Amsterdam Centraal Station
While parking your bike and riding is really what the system is set up for, there are ways to bring your bike on the public transit system sometimes. For long-distance trips, you can buy a ticket for your bike and put it on the national rail trains as long as it is not during rush hour. The Dutch indicate which train cars bikes are allowed in by putting bicycle icons on the doors of the car. On some of the trams, bikes are also allowed. This is indicated at the stops. For the most part, though, it seems that you are encouraged to bike instead of take the tram if you have your bike with you and park at train stations rather than ride with your bike.
Today we had a presentation from Marc Drost, who works for the Amsterdam transit authority. In his presentation, we learned that in Amsterdam, transit performance is measured by headway, capacity, dwell time, mode share, and others. Dwell time is the time that transit is stopped to collect fares, which Marc told us is a very big problem in Amsterdam on the trams. I've found that transit in the Netherlands is very punctual and seems to meet the needs of its users. To make sure transit is on time, the Dutch give trams designated right of way and tend to give them priority at intersections, especially in the Hague. Because the Dutch intertwine their city planning and transportation planning so much, they are able to determine which areas will need more transit and bike and pedestrian infrastructure as the need arises. This varies from our tendency to design transportation reactively in the United States. Overall, I am extremely impressed with the public transit in the Netherlands and how well it connects with bike paths, pedestrian areas, and itself (ex. national rail station to tram transfers). Unfortunately, I cannot see how the United States could use a similar transit model because our land use is much less dense than in the Netherlands and our city planning and transportation planning are not as aligned as in the Netherlands.
For Dutch planners, failing to integrate bikes into other modes of transportation is kind of like going to work without your pants on. It’s bread and butter; the sum of forces equations of planning; the pick and roll of transportation engineering. I can think of a few examples. One is their bike parking at train stations. Gotta catch the train? Cycle to the station and throw your two wheels in a bike parking deck with more spots for cycles than all of Atlanta. It’s safe to say they’re extremely prevalent over here (as in, we saw one on pretty much every single tour), and they’re all quite seamlessly built into the stations. In Delft, you simply ride into the parking deck, lock your bike up, and walk directly into the station to scan your train card and take an escalator to the platform. For people who would rather take their metal steed with them, bringing it on the train is also an option. There are designated bike cars for people to do this, and it was very helpful to the few of us who biked from Delft to Houten. If I had to ride my bike all the way back, Dr. Watkins might be burying me right now.
Figure 1: Part of the 70 km bike ride gang.
On heavy rail, bringing your bike on board is pretty simple. There are special elevators you can use to get yourself to the platform, and then you just board the correct train car with it. A special, slightly more expensive ticket will allow you to do this. Or, you can be a tourist and fail to know any better and just use your normal ticket. Oops. But anyways, that whole process is pretty simple. I will say, though, that bringing bikes on light rail isn’t nearly as feasible as it is on heavy rail. As convenient and plentiful as light rail is, there’s simply not enough room in the cars for anyone to comfortably fit their bikes on board. There’s usually only 1 spot or so per car. Some light rail stations have bike parking, but more do not. Typically, though, light rail is located within walking distance from urban centers.
Figure 2: Light rail in Amsterdam.
Figure 3: A "carless" street in The Hague (possibly my new favorite city). Note the light rail, all of the pedestrians, and the cycle tracks as well!
In Amsterdam, ferries run frequently across the river to ship people from central station and back. In true Dutch fashion, anyone on a bike can roll up onto the ferry and be easily transported to the other side of the water. Ferry-bike transit is definitely the smoothest and easiest. Most cities, however, don’t really have as much a need for a good ferry system, so this aspect seems unique to Amsterdam.
Figure 4: A ferry outside of Centraal station in Amsterdam. Check out those bikes on board!
Plan is Life
To call the Dutch efficiency-oriented in their transit planning as a pretty gross understatement. Dutch planners live and breathe efficiency, and that was most evident when the planners in The Hague were detailing their transportation plans, their measures for determining effectiveness, and their progress throughout the past few years. There is all kinds of technology at intersections to help keep track of how many vehicles or bikes pass, and what their wait time is. This helps them run simulations and find solutions for when intersections become too congested. In many cases, they were able to implement small design changes that helped improve efficiency, and they were all based on the data they collected.
Overall, Dutch transit is very efficient by American standards. In fact, it pretty much blows it right out of the canal. Trains always arrive and depart on time; trams are quick in unloading and loading; biking is essentially always a viable option within a certain distance. Why is that so? How have they done such a good job with all of this? The answers are certainly complicated, but one thing is clear as day to me: the Dutch don’t mess around when it comes to planning and transit.
Figure 5: Unrelated to the post, but here's me with some putty I got from an arcade in The Hague. I beat the top score for a basketball game and got 500 tickets. Big highlight of my trip for sure!
It is safe to say that the Dutch center much of their world around transit. They have it all; from streetcars and trams to sprinters and trains. Transit is often the first thing to be built with a Dutch settlement, often preceding the bulk of the surrounding development. Once a station is established, several networks are connected to a main hub, an area synonymous with the city center, then those networks spur out in various directions and loops. Upon emergence from a transit station, you will often find a cluster of taller buildings that house government institutions or large companies. The clustering of basic functions invites human activity, and from there, retail and restaurants pop up, and eventually, high density housing. Although the initial period of establishment around a station may take a couple of years and mental training for those who must alter their daily routes, but most stations are a great success in the Netherlands, meeting and often exceeding ridership projections.
Biking with transit? Yes, please...
It does not take long for one to find the connection between transit and bikes in the Netherlands. Where there is transit, there are bikes. Many stations feature large bike parks, several of which are among the largest facilities in the world. Below are a couple of examples we’ve experienced along our journey thus far:
Figure 1. Bike parking at a the central transit station in Utrecht
Not only do bike parks simply exist, but the transition from biking at street level to parking underground is nearly seamless thanks to the employment of several ramps that allow bikers to maintain speed until they need to disembark.
Figure 2. Bike parking at the central station in Utrecht. Straight ahead is the ramp system to travel from grade level to underground or vice versa
Figure 3. Just outside of the transit station in Utrech. The red paths show the way underground for bikers who wish to park and ride.
The only problem? Finding a space to park your bike! The parking areas we’ve seen are so successful that many of them are overflowing with bikes. Some bike parks are even free if you drop off and pick up your bike within a given amount of time, but many require a couple of euros. They are also covered, meaning you arrive to a bike that is dry, free of bird droppings, and out of the main path of the general public.
Bikes on transit? Not so fast..
Although the primary purpose of providing bike parking at transit stations is to incentivize transportation modes aside from driving, bike parking also discourages riders from bringing bikes onto the train. While bikes only take up a fraction of the space that cars do, 10,000 bikes on the train during rush hour would be a logistical nightmare. Many residents of the Netherlands own multiple bikes, and some stash one at their “home base” and another at their work destination. However, some riders still do take their bike on the train. Two common solutions include providing an open space at the end of a car to stash your bike nearby or utilizing a dedicated bike car. Dedicated bike cars are common during rush hour periods but aren’t found on every train.
By now you may be asking, it can’t be THAT perfect, right? Well… it’s pretty perfect. Why? If it’s not working, the Dutch proactively find a solution. Before a transit line fails, the Dutch evaluate if moving the line to a local system is a better option, which oftentimes it can be. The Dutch also quickly build up the area surrounding a transit station, creating instant ridership for the new hub.
Expansion of a station is also planned for. In our home city of Delft, a tunnel was built for four sets of tracks even though only two were planned for immediate use. Why tear up a road twice when you know your transit usage will inevitably increase in the future? Although the project was more expensive in the interim, it will end up saving millions in the long run.
Design conflicts are not just dealt with, they are met head on with creative solutions. Trains, trams, and streetcars have technical differences. They run on different sized tracks, have different heights at the door openings, and possess a myriad of other small, yet very opposing specifications. One such station outside of Delft had two types of trains running through the same station, one train with a door opening about 1.5’ above the ground and the other with an opening about 5’ above the ground. Instead of building two stations or even two levels of a station, they built a dual height platform with ramps and stairs between the two types of trains. While these are specific examples, design conflicts are prevalent within transit functionality, the Dutch don’t give up until the problem is eliminated. The result is an efficient transit system, one with high ridership, serving dense city centers that are conducive to other alternative modes of transportation such as walking or biking.
Figure 4. A train station outside of Delft with a dual height platform for two different types of trains
One last piece of food for thought
During one of our lectures this week, the speaker said something that will stick with me forever. He said that if we do not start today, we have to start tomorrow or the next day, and history has shown that we MUST eventually start. To me, this translates to the US quite well. Even though it is easy to write our country off as a car nation, cities, especially rapidly expanding ones like Atlanta, MUST act today. Every day we put off innovation is another day we are delaying an improved, efficient, non-congested transportation system. Instead of waiting, the time to act is now.
Now, time to enjoy the last couple days of the trip (If I come back to the US at all, that is)! Check back in later for some final reflections of my journey throughout the Netherlands.
Figure 5. Enjoying my walking tour through the city center of Utrecht
A city in which cars are guests on the road! Welcome to Houten! Most of us think that as trains are on tracks, so are cars on roads, but Houten thinks otherwise. In the 1960s, Houten was identified and picked by the national government for development so that it can accommodate the growing population of the Netherlands. Starting from scratch, plans for Houten were drawn on paper and supported by locals. It was time for the village of Houten to become the city of Houten. A big part of the discussion included how to deal with traffic. Considering the environment and safety, it was concluded that the city’s design would prioritize cyclists and pedestrians by providing them with more direct routes than the limited routes that would be provided for vehicles. These indirect routes would make it difficult for vehicles to enter into the city. This was accomplished by designing two outer ring roads in the figure-of-eight shape for car traffic. In fact, cars are guests on the paths within the city, as is depicted by the many road signs on the road, similar to the one shown in figure 1 below.
Figure 1. A road sign stating that bicycles are priority and cars are guests on the road.
On some sections, cars and pedestrians are further separated with each having their own path in order to reduce commotion and eliminate accidents. Pedestrian sidewalks are parallel to the bike paths, as is shown in Figure 2 below. Figure 2 also shows that the bike paths are colored brick-red.
Figure 2.Brick-red bike paths and separation of cyclists and pedestrians.
To further restrict cars from entering, there are narrow roads in addition to low speed limits. There are also multiple speed bumps and sharp turns to slow down vehicles.
Other interesting cycling infrastructure that we saw include the two-tiered round-about shown in Figure 3 below. The lower level is to be used solely by cyclists while the upper level is for motor vehicles. There is also the greenbelt, shown in Figure 4, which is green space that one can get to either on foot or by cycling.
Figure 3. Two-tiered roundabout
Figure 4. Greenbelt
Something similar in the U.S.?
This is an interesting question. I favor the phrase “never say never” and believe in a world of possibilities. However, some of these endless possibilities would be difficult to implement. They seem too good to be true, but that is because cities in the U.S. have already been planned, for years. In fact, our teacher for the day who was a planner for decades, mentioned that cities are not built in months or in a few years, but building a city endures politics. This is to suggest that even though politics may conflict, even though politicians may be in and out of office, building a city shall continue. I mean after all, Rome was not built in a day. Anyway, Houten also has the advantage that it was planned on a “blank slate,” which is to say that not much was happening there, in terms of city life. Therefore, a city similar to Houten could be planned and developed in the United States where little currently exists. The public would need to be educated out of a car-centric mindset, developers and investors would need to trust that the plan will flourish, and politicians wouId need to be persuaded into supporting this plan. It would take plenty of work but someone once said that “Nothing worth having comes easily.”