Today was the first official class of the summer term for PSU’s Nederland Negen, and it focused largely on some of the planning strategies employed by the region as Delft and its neighbors grow and expand. Our primary lector and tour guide was Jan Temorshuizen, a planner for the metropolitan planning organization for the Hague and its neighbors, which include Delft. Though growth has been somewhat slowed by the recent recession, there’s a demand for new housing in the area (though, interestingly, it’s due not to population growth but shrinking household size), and the charge of Jan’s organization is to ensure the growth happens in a manner that is consistent with the Dutch ideals.
The Dutch believe in a clear separation between urban and rural areas, and they plan for growth by identifying urban growth areas in a manner fairly similar to Portland. To maximize the use and efficacy of public transport, the identified areas are generally along existing rail lines since this is an obvious way to increase ridership without new infrastructure. It’s also noteworthy that about 10% of the space in Holland needs to be devoted to canals for drainage, so these might as well be located in places where they provide aesthetic value and otherwise improve the appeal of the area.
To see these policies in action, we took a bike ride a few miles from central Delft, to the town of Leidschenveen. As I’ve come to expect from the Netherlands, the ride to Leidschenveen was easy and pleasant, with great bike routes the whole way there.
This train station is the main gateway to the town, connecting it to The Hague and the rest of the region with two different types of rail. Though the train types have their floors at different heights, they still serve the same station at different ends of the platform, as seen below.
Outside the station, it can get a little tricky at times to find a spot to park a bicycle. This is a good problem to have.
The cranes that are a common sight in this area are a sure sign that it is home to much of the new growth in this part of the Netherlands. The cars seen on the left in the photo below actually constitute a decent percentage of those parked here; they were very few in number compared to the bikes. Perhaps that is partially the result of the beautiful bi-directional cycle track that leads here.
Sometimes the tram shares right of way with buses, and other times it has its own right of way. In the case of the latter, the Dutch often see little necessity in paving or laying gravel to keep grass from growing over the track. I like the way that this keeps the median of the roadway reasonably green. The ample rail service and bike access is a big reason why the adjoining roadway is so empty.
Perhaps the most interesting traffic calming measure is seen running through Ypenburgh. In an American suburb, this would be an obvious location for an arterial, but here, these residences along one of the main canals are much more desirable. Bikes can use this road at will, but for cars, traffic is limited to one direction. What’s more is that the allowed direction changes every two blocks. This strategy is fool-proof for ensuring that traffic along this road is restricted to local access only.
Though the Dutch seem disinclined to use the term ‘suburb’ to describe towns like Ypenburh and Leidschenveen, that’s certainly what we’d call cities like these stateside. The many pedestrian and bike accommodations alongside the canals make for some charming homes.
I think the priorities of a transportation plan can really be exposed by how much space along a right-of-way is devoted to each mode. This road from Leidschenveen to Nootdorp is indicative of the bikes-before-cars mentality that is prevalent here.
Even the local mall retained that old-world charm. Though this development is quite new, the layout and many other characteristics are very similar to centuries-old strips in Delft and Amsterdam. Jane Jacobs might quibble with the long block length seen here, but the bustling sidewalks more than make up for it.
Heading back into Delft, we observe one of the more creative uses for bike facilities that I’ve seen. The photo below shows a road that actually allows auto traffic in one direction, but it is obviously painted with bikes in mind. Here, bikes are used as a traffic calming measure of sorts, diverting most vehicle traffic to alternate routes and severely slowing the ones that do choose this one.
So far, it’s been easy to see why the Netherlands is considered a pioneer in the way urban planning and transportation is handled here. There are many innovations on display that could have a similar effect on Portland’s livability and sustainability if brought back home. But are Portlanders or residents of other great American cities ready to undergo the paradigm shift necessary to evolve past the auto0centric mindset that dominates?