Monday, 10 July 2017

Trip to Netherlands: Rotterdam


Rotterdam is where we had been based for the whole of our Netherlands trip.

Rotterdam is interesting, in that like Southampton it is a port city, which was heavily bombed during the war and which has a large volume of commercial traffic. Also, unlike the other cities we had seen, Rotterdam was not early into the Dutch bicycle revolution so does not yet have the perfect infrastructure that we saw in Delft and Utrecht.

In Rotterdam there were still plenty of 4-6 lane highways.  But they mostly had accompanying 2 lane cycle lanes, usually on both sides.  Unlike Southampton, after the war they did not try to rebuild the centre of the city on the old grid, but started again, creating enormously wide boulevards that have space for traffic, bikes, public transport and people on foot.

Rotterdam City

The O bike experience

Our meeting at the Council was to be after lunch, so for the morning some of us decided to experience the local O Bikes. These are the modern generation of share bikes that are GPX enabled and oddonot need to be docked. You can pick one up wherever you find it an leave it in any legal bike parking spot. See the O Bike web site and the Rotterdam O Bike information.

O Bikes in Rotterdam

Parking O Bikes in Rotterdam
I’m not going to spend long on this - John Savage, councillor for Portswood, was also on the trip and here is his excellent blog on this topic.

Rotterdam has clearly not yet got the extreme cycle parking problems of Rotterdam, and although cycle infrastructure was good by UK standards, it was not perfect or fully connected.

Interesting Observations in Rotterdam 
Some things we saw on our ride:

  • Cargo bike deliveries  
DHL Delivery
  • Lots of expensive top-end cars charging - we wondered if being electric gets a privileged parking place, which might be a force for change?
  • The City Centre has enormously wide roads but there were plenty of places where 6 lane highways had been taken down to a tram route and a cycle road and one lane traffic in each direction. The traffic was dense but did not seem gridlocked.
  • There was a tunnel under the river. This had presumably been built for pedestrians some decades ago, but it would have been a long walk, and it has now been taken over almost entirely by cyclists, including the escalators.  Who says you can’t take a bike on an escalator?
Bikes on Escalator
Bike Tunnel

  • The Signage: I expect this was the same in the other Dutch cities, but this was the first time I had needed to navigate rather than be led by a local. At many important intersections there was a map of the network (see below).  This intersection (and map) would be numbered, and all the other numbered intersections were shown on the map.  Navigation then becomes remembering a set of numbers to cycle through and then following signs on the lamposts - e.g. the sign in the picture below shows us the route from 58 to 14 or to 17. (Note the finger signs the major cycle route signs
Map showing numbered intersections

Directions to adjacent numbered intersections (in green)
  • Mopeds and scooters on the cycle paths. This was true in all cities, but most noticeable in Rotterdam, and may be a symptom of the larger proportion of the population who have not grown up with the cycle culture.  We asked about this and were told it was a considerable problem: they go much faster than the bulk of the cycle traffic, they make a lot of noise and they smell. It is quite possible that laws may change in the future to classify even these low CC motorbikes in the same way as higher capacity motorbikes, and get them off the cycle tracks and onto the road with cars - and presumably into helmets

Rotterdam Council

We were hosted at Rotterdam City offices by John Akkerhis and a number of his colleagues from Transport, mobility and cycling.

One of the first things we had noticed was the stunning architecture of the building. An interesting observation was that the workers in the office part of the tower are required to be out by 1900, in order to make the place quiet and relaxed for the residential occupants. This deliberate “mixed zoning” ensures that areas are not crowded for one part of the day, but deserted for another part of the day. 

Rotterdam city has a policy to re-develop the city to make it a liveable, thriving and denser city, and this is accompanied by plans for health, mobility, accessibility etc. They call their plan the “City Lounge” and this presentation sums ups their aspirations

They are certainly not yet all the way there, and they pointed out that there was a push to make so much progress that they were past the point of no return so that future political changes would not be able to undo the progress that had been made.

Random Facts of Interest from Rotterdam Presentation

  • Modal share cycle use in Rotterdam is low for the NL at 23% for < 5km. There has been a growth of 60% in recent years and it is still growing at 10% p.a. - they want to be a bicycle city. They have built 600 km of cycle lanes in city - mostly in the last 10 years. This expenditure has mostly been subsidised by national air quality incentives.
  • They are working on green waves for bikes
    • Signposting which way to go at junctions
    • Faster lights for bikes when its raining
    • Intelligent systems to estimate how many cyclists in the queue at lights and to keep the lights green long enough to ensure they all cross
    • Indicators to tell you whether you are going the right speed to get a green at the next light
  • There is an issue in the south of the city where there has been significant recent growth in the population. Many of these are immigrants without a cycling culture and tending to worship cars as status symbols. Children get overweight, modal cycle use is much lower, women don't know how to ride, people can't maintain bikes. They are spending a lot of money on changing culture here...
  • They have been trying to work out where the cycle parking issues are. They paid €20M to build 5000 parking places at the station. They now need more and are looking for government help
  • At the main city centre parking spots they have pushchairs to borrow (so parents can take babies) and bike repair hubs. 
  • In residential areas where houses don't have parking for bikes the council offers to build bike lockers (huts) on streets in parking places and they subsidise citizens to make on street cycle stands. So, if the residents of a street ask for more bike parking to replace car parking places they do this.
  • They subsidise boats to be ferries across the river and cyclists only pay as pedestrians (around €1 per trip). In addition there are a couple of bridges and the tunnel. They don't expect people to detour too far to cross the river. (In Southampton it costs £7.50 for a day return on the one boat across the river, the alternative being a 5 mile detour).
  • All ships in Rotterdam and up-river plug in to shore electrical supplies to improve air quality. However this is not mandated for ships at Hook of Holland and docks adjacent to the sea (although our Ferry did plug-in on arrival at Hook of Holland.) 

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