Final Reflections

And so ends an awesome two weeks in The Netherlands, learning and traveling with some great people. This was my first trip outside of the country and I couldn’t have taken it with a better crew, or a more friendly place to travel. I will surely be coming back to The Netherlands in future, hopefully when I have sufficient time and funds to visit some other parts of Europe.

Bicycling is so much different here than it is Portland, or anywhere else in the U.S. It’s not a fringe group, or a trend; nearly everyone is a cyclist at some point in their day, week, or year here. The planners and engineers have truly worked hard here to make The Netherlands safe, comfortable, convenient, and fun for cycling to daily needs. They have deliberately created superior infrastructure that drastically improves the quality of life for the people of The Netherlands. I’ve seen more than I can possibly take in or process in two weeks, and hopefully my pictures and notes will help me to continue to keep Dutch design principles in my mind as I finish graduate school and head into the professional world to engineer infrastructure that improves communities and lives.

Below is a quick conceptual design project Andy Kading, Marisa DeMull, and I completed for the end of the course. It is a hopeful re-design of the Belmont-Morrision couplet in Portland, OR, that fully incorporates protected bicycle lanes.

Here is the link to the materials associated with the final design project. Google Earth is necessary to view the .kmz files.

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Value Capture: Practice in the Netherlands vs. USA

Value Capture

Bicycle facility design is unquestionably superior in The Netherlands when compared to the U.S. and almost anywhere else in the world. But designs are easily transferrable; plans, dimensions, and photos can be brought back to the states for inspiration in improving facilities. This has already been done and continues to be done in specific areas of the U.S. (mostly in urban areas). Bicycle facility design is not some arcane science only the Dutch are capable of.

So if design isn’t the issue, is political will the problem? In many areas, that is no longer the case. Many urban areas now see the irreplaceable value of great bicycle infrastructure. The problem is not lack of the will to build, it’s lack of funding and the will to change how we fund infrastructure.

Unfortunately, policy is not so easily transferable as design. The Netherlands (and Europe in general, to varying degrees) have long used value capture to finance infrastructure. The main idea behind value capture is that the value created by the infrastructure (manifested in real estate value and goods pricing) is used to finance the infrastructure. This is an abstract concept that cannot be glossed over. A house with a road built to it is worth more than a home where the buyer would have to build a road to access it. Roads are generally built (or at least maintained in the case where developers constructed the roads) by public entities, like towns, cities, and states. So shouldn’t the public entity be able to receive some (or all) of this value created in order to pay for the road? Currently our system has the municipality gaining that value through property taxes, which are anything but transparent.

In the U.S., property taxes are based on some established portion (called the Mill Rate) of the overall “assessed value” of a parcel. The Mill Rate is adjusted based on the funds needed to meet the anticipated annual municipal budget, and so functions as a flat percentage tax on the assessed value of all taxable real estate within a municipality. The assessed value is appraised by a municipal assessment office, which uses data about the housing and commercial real estate markets to assess the market value of a piece of land and its improvements (e.g. buildings). Now obviously, some portion of the assessed value of home (or commercial building, etc.) is going to represent the value of its associated public infrastructure. A house with sewer/water service will be worth more than a house without, all else (location, housing type, land size, etc.) being equal. That portion to which the value of sewer/water service can be attributed is never made transparent. Understandably, this is complex to calculate, but hardly impossible to estimate. Hedonic regression is a common tool in the literature for analyzing value added by infrastructure assets.

So one could try to say that the U.S. captures the value of infrastructure in the assessments of real estate property; but the amounts are not explicit, and the payment occurs piece meal (over many years), which could very easily lead to some fudging of the economic values of infrastructure. Many would say that the values “come out in the wash”, but why then are municipal budgets failing around the country while infrastructure is under-provided and under-maintained? Portland is currently trying to implement a street “user fee” in order to meet the shortfalls anticipated in meeting infrastructure provision and maintenance needs. This seems an (unfortunately necessary) afterthought. The value of infrastructure should be incorporated explicitly into real estate pricing, so that those who need more infrastructure (those who live on the edge of town in cul-de-sacs but still want roads, city sewer/water, electricity, etc.) can pay more for their market choices, while owners of real estate in areas where infrastructure is cheaper to provide (where economies of scale and agglomeration are present, namely dense, mixed use areas) can  pay less for their market choices.

Houten

Houten, a suburban town outside of Utrecht, used value capture ingeniously to pay for infrastructure provision and add to its tax base. Before Houten was constructed in the 1970s, real estate investors had slowly bought all of the land that was planned to be used for Houten. When the town was ready to start building, the investors sold the land to the municipality to install roads, utilities, and partition the lots according the master development plan. After the necessary infrastructure was installed, the municipality sold the prepared lots back to the real estate investors at a higher price; namely a price which incorporated the value of the infrastructure installed. The real estate investors then sold the lots to buyers at some higher price to make their cut of profit. The residents continue to be taxed for the maintenance of the infrastructure, but the capital costs are all paid in this transaction.This may seem simple, but this almost never happens in the U.S.

In the U.S., most new developments are not master planned by a municipality (this is changing slowly, as comprehensive planning takes a bigger role in metropolitan areas) to fit in with their long range transportation and land use plans. Subdivisions are developed separately, with the developer building the necessary infrastructure, with the intention that municipality will maintain it after the new roads/buildings are incorporated into the municipality. This is part of Chuck Marohn ingeniously calls the Suburban Ponzi Scheme, where new growth provides municipalities with the illusion of prosperity, until those maintenance payments come due.

Houten is sub-urban, in that it is less dense than the central city of Utrecht, but it is far from an American suburb. It has superior transportation facilities for every mode. 40% of all trips within Houten are made by bicycle. Both comprehensive planning and and a well executed transportation financing scheme are responsible for this community. Urban planners and transportation finance policy makers in the U.S. have a lot to learn from Houten.

Bicycle Facility Documentation — Delfgauseweg

Gina Bellato (Northeastern University) and I were asked to examine  a specific piece of bicycle infrastructure within Delft, Delfgauseweg. Delfgauw is a neighborhood on the eastern side of Delft (as previously mentioned), and “weg” means “way” or “road” in Dutch; so this is essentially a road between central Delft and Delftgauw.

The facility was a fine example of where two-way cycletracks can be a better alternative than a one-way cycletracks. There are some economies of scale to two-way cycletracks, as a single two-way cycletrack can take up less space than two one-way cycletracks, but more conflicts are created at intersections since vehicles must cross bicycles coming from both directions. This might require further signalization for bicycles to separate the bicycle and vehicle movements in time, which would increase complexity (likely detracting from safety) and detract from the economies of scale of the two-way cycletrack. However, the other consideration is where destinations and intersections are. If they are concentrated on one side of the road, the two-way cycletrack may work perfectly. The bicycles will not have to turn across the vehicles if the destinations are on the same side of the cycletrack, which is the situation on this site. More information pertaining to our documentation project is available here.

Bicycle Facility Documentation — Vrijenbanselaan

Post written by Bryan Blanc and Craig Baerwald

As part of our Sustainable Transport in the Netherlands course, Craig and I documented one segment of transportation facility and its bicycle infrastructure. The segment we examined was  Vrijenbanselaan, a road that crosses a main bridge north of Delft’s City Center. See map below for contextual view of the segment within greater Delft.

Context Map

Context Map

Because the facility cross section changes over the length of the segment, we made five cross sections. Below is a diagram depicting where the cross sections were approximately taken.

Section Map

Section Map

We made graphics for the following cross sections using Streetmix.

Section A includes cycletracks on both sides, the western side having a two-way cycletrack and the eastern side having a one-way cycletrack. These are dropped soon as the road approaches the bridge toward central Delft.

A

We broke up the north side intersection into two cross sections (B and C) because of its complexity. The north side (B) of the intersection is a total of 111′ of ROW (including sidewalks). It accommodates pedestrians, bikes, motor vehicles, and light rail transit in designated facilities.

B

The south side (C) of the intersection is 104′ wide, as one of the travel lanes is merged with the tram lane, and the corresponding median drops out.

C

Section D is north side ramp leading up to the bridge, and is a total of 53′ in width. The sidewalks are dropped, with a sidewalk on a local street on the east side absorbing pedestrian traffic traveling over the bridge.

D

Section E illustrates the cross section of the  Reineveld Bridge, and is a total of 61′ in width. There is only a sidewalk on the east side of the bridge, which is connected with the local street sidewalk mentioned above.

E

Section F illustrates the approach to the southern intersection, and is 92′ in width. Sidewalks on both sides are restored.

F

This transportation facility represents a compromise between many different modes of transportation in their competition for street space. Light rail transit is given dedicated lanes at certain points (where there are medians), while motor vehicles can use the space as a passing lane when no transit vehicles are occupying the lane. Bikes are only accommodated with bicycle lanes throughout the facility, which is uncommon on many facilities we’ve ridden in the Netherlands; especially on a multi-lane road including a bridge.

Visit to Utrecht

Bike to Train

We started the second week of the course by visiting a city in the heart of The Netherlands, Utrecht, which also happens to have a close relationship with the City of Portland; with plans to become Sister Cities. After stepping off the train, we met with two city transportation officials and Mark Wagenbuur, who I have referred to here before. The first thing we saw was a seemingly empty square in front of the train station; little did we know that the one of the world’s largest bicycle parking facilities sat just under it. I can honestly say I’ve never seen so many bikes in such a small area in my life.

Bicycle parking in Utrecht

Bicycle parking in Utrecht

Utrecht City Hall

We walked through town into the medieval city center, where we saw the iconic church tower, which might exceed the majesty of Delft’s. We then visited the City Hall to receive a Dutch lunch (sandwiches and buttermilk) and watch a presentation on some progressive transportation projects in the area.

Church tower in Utrecht

Church tower in Utrecht

More Bicycle Parking

After the presentation in City Hall, we were split off into groups to explore and document sustainable transportation initiatives in Utrecht. My group was assigned to study the smaller bicycle parking garages scattered throughout the city center. These bicycle parking garages were aimed at removing bicycle parking from the city streets (and replacing it within the garages) so as to make room and beautify the city center. From our look at a few of them, they seem very well used. This is not a problem we have a lot of places in America, but in Portland there are some areas where there is not enough bicycle parking to support demand. Many private entities (employers, universities, etc.) offer on-site bicycle parking, but there are very few publicly run bicycle parking garages. This may be something to consider in Portland as it strives to meet the goal of vastly increasing bicycle use.

IMG_2549

 

 

Independence Day and Amsterdam

Independence Day in The Netherlands

Trip to Rijswijk

The Ride

American Independence Day is obviously not a holiday in The Netherlands — so this was another day of field work (though we did end with a BBQ). The whole group (30+ people) biked from Delft to Rijswijk, a small city just north of Delft, between Delft and The Hague (Den Haag). We rode most of the way along a canal and saw some interesting infrastructure along the way.

Rijswijk Area Location

Rijswijk Area Location

First, the facility we rode on was a two-way cycletrack sandwiched between a large canal and a local access road. The local access road (Delftweg) used to be a through road for motor vehicles, but now through traffic is diverted at a number of points along the road to make other through routes more desirable for drivers.

Delftweg Cycletrack

Besides motor vehicle volumes being lowered by the diversion measures, traffic is also calmed by the narrowness of the road (2 vehicles can barely fit side by side) and design features like the “Bayonette”, which acts much like a chicane, but also includes an elevation change component.

IMG_2372

Further along the route to Riswijk, we saw what a protected intersection treatment looks like at the junction of two high traffic roadways. The protected intersection carries the physical separation of protected bike lanes/paths (AKA cycletracks) through the intersection to the greatest extent possible. Right and left turns can be made by bicycles in a more physically separated environment, and through movements are still simple. Signalization also catered to cyclists by giving them an advanced green, which gives cyclists a head start and puts them in position to be visible to turning automobiles.

Students examining the protected intersection

Students examining the protected intersection

Rijswijk City Hall

IMG_2384

Crossing outside Rijswijk train station

We were then given a look at a few areas in Rijswijk that presented unique transportation issues by a city traffic engineer. One of them was outside the Rijswijk train station, which presented issues in linking up with local transit, bicycle, pedestrian, and automobile modes. A multi-lane, nearly impossible to cross arterial was separated by mode to make crossings for pedestrians and cyclists easier — as they only have to cross one lane at a time, and the crossing is signalized.

An American BBQ

After a long day, we were treated to an American style BBQ outside the civil engineering building in TU Delft — thanks to Peter Furth and Northeastern University. In thanks we all sang a few patriotic tunes.

Saturday in Amsterdam

While not officially part of the course program, we spent the day in Amsterdam learning about some of the city’s transportation history and getting a feel for its streets and culture.

Integrated Transportation

I was surprised how easy it was to hop on the train that morning from Delft (the train station a 15 minute walk from the Hostel) and take frequent, , comfortable, high quality rail transit to Amsterdam in under an hour. After arriving in Amsterdam and marveling at the spectacular train station, we went to rent our bicycles for the day in A’dam.

Rental bike for Amsterdam

Rental bike for Amsterdam

Cycling Tour with Pete Jordan

We (about seven of us) were fortunate enough to be given a group tour of Amsterdam’s bicycle transportation history by none other than Peter Jordan, who is the author of the book I posted on a couple of weeks ago. Peter’s tour was very informative, and it was awesome to get the intimate experience of him guiding us around to both historical sites and sites that held meaning for him since he had moved to Amsterdam in 2002 from Portland.

Peter showing us around Amsterdam

Peter showing us around Amsterdam

 

A special favorite was the ride under the Rijksmuseum, a site which came up frequently in his book.

Wandering the Streets

After the tour with Peter, we grabbed some Dutch pancakes with Prof. Bertini, and preceded to wander around on our bicycles. We passed through the city center as well as some of the more residential areas of town, and I was very impressed by the city. It was beautiful and full of all kinds of life.

Amstel River

Amstel River

Semi-Final Game vs. Costa Rica

We also stuck around in Amsterdam to watch the pulse-pounding Netherlands vs. Costa Rica match. It was tough to find a seat, but we did end up finding one in a nice bar by the Dam Square. Once again, it was great to see how excited the Dutch got for their country’s team.

IMG_2457

Tour of Delft and Neighborhoods

 We were first given a guided tour with Peter Furth and Robert Bertini, and then were asked to team up with the Northeastern University students to explore three neighborhoods built within different time periods. I will briefly reflect on each neighborhood and highlight design features I found interesting.

Voorhof (1960’s)

Voorhoof plan view

Voorhof

Voorhof was built in the 1960s during a time when “tower in the park” style developments were popular in suburb construction, first popularized by construction taking place  post-WWII on the outskirts of New York City (headed up by Robert Moses). High rise apartment buildings were constructed with wide public green spaces and large areas devoted to storing and moving automobiles. Since its construction, many of these spaces have been infilled, converted to local streets, or turned into more green space. In some cases, market trends have propelled the replacement of the high rise apartments with shorter buildings (3 to 5 stories) in a less dense configuration, so that people can have more small private open spaces instead of large public lawns.

One of the defining features of the area is the especially large rights-of-way (ROW), which are generally at least 120 feet on the main thoroughfares. These used to be fast-moving, high-volume, multilane roadways, but have since been converted to 1+1 or 2+2 roadways with separated bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure along the alignment. One of the standout areas is the roundabout indicated in the above map, which accommodates motor vehicles, rail transit, bus transit, bicycles, and pedestrians extremely well. This large roundabout would not be able to be installed in many places, as the sufficient ROW is hard to come by, but in this case the development style had created large spaces between buildings in which the roundabout could be installed. Below is a first-person video of me riding once around the roundabout, with views of conflicting traffic yielding; as bikes have priority throughout the entire roundabout. It’s a bit shaky since it was taken on my phone, but it’s fairly easy to convey how easily the intersection works.

Tanthof-Oost (1980’s) 

Tanthof-Oost

Tanthof-Oost

Tanthof was built in the 1980s after the Netherlands had shifted priorities away from providing access for automobile traffic; and it is clearly evident in the design of this neighborhood. Our group explored the east section primarily (east is oost in Dutch). Distribution roads form the borders of the neighborhood, while Dutch style woonerfs, pedestrian plazas, and pedestrian/bicycle paths form the interior access network. The master planning of neighborhood was clearly evident, from the central square with some basic shopping needs to the purposeful but beautiful nature areas. Canals criss-cross the neighborhood, which is made up of mostly rowhouse style residences. Most of the residents still own automobiles, but the neighborhood is well connected to the city’s bike network and there is a negligible amount of car traffic. I assume that like many bikeable Dutch neighborhoods, the automobile is only used for infrequent long distance trips.

Woonerf in Tanthof-Oost. Notice Holland banners for World Cup.

Woonerf in Tanthof-Oost. Notice Holland banners for World Cup.

Delfgauw (2000’s)

Delftgauw

Delfgauw

Delfgauw is a rather large neighborhood that is only partially within Delft’s municipal boundaries, the rest of the neighborhood lying in the neighboring town to the west, Pijnacker. It has the widest variation in housing types of the three neighborhoods visited, which is widely considered now to be part of the best practices of designing master planned neighborhoods. There are seperated single family houses, rowhouses, split level houses, and apartment complexes scattered in clusters throughout the area. There are both general and specialty shops located in the central “Emerald” area (see below).

Emerald -- Shopping and Apartments

Emerald — Shopping and Apartments

There are many interesting street and intersection treatments within this neighborhood, as there are a variety of housing and intersection densities spread throughout the area. Woonerfs are again present, as well as more typical local and distributor roads. One road I found especially interesting was a road at the eastern edge of the neighborhood, which used to be an old country road. It still sort of is, on one side you have housing and the other rolling grasslands with cows grazing. The country road hasn’t changed much, other than to better accommodate bicyclists. This was done by work on both the road itself and the surrounding network to make it less desirable  as a through road. The road itself received advisory bicycle lanes and improved crossing treatments, both of which are illustrated in the sample photo below.

Crossing in Delftgauw

Crossing in Delfgauw