Category: Transportation

A short list of features of the Netherlands that I still try to wrap my head around

The Netherlands is the country I’ve visited the most, going there eight times between 2011 and 2022. I’ve obsessively visited 31 cities, the Hoge Veluwe national park, and plenty of other places outside cities.

Here are three land use and infrastructure characteristics that continue to fascinate me.

Transportation systems, obviously

Learning about how the Dutch created the safest network of streets for cycling is what started my near-obsession 15 years ago.

Then I went there in 2011 and I got to experience it for myself (photos from that trip).

I think the quality, capacity, likability, and integration of their transportation systems can be summarized best, for Americans who haven’t been there, by learning the results of a Waze survey: People who primarily drive in the Netherlands are more satisfied with the driving in their country than people in other countries are with driving in theirs.

In other words…if you like driving, then you should also care about what the Netherlands because they happened to also create the most driver-friendly transportation system.

Creating land & living with flooded land

As a novice, it’s probably easier to notice and understand how the Dutch create, move, and live with flooded land from above. There have been moments while I was cycling in the country where I’ve ridden past “polders” and former lakes and seas only to realize it later that I had biked through a massively transformed area that appeared entirely natural.

When I lived in Rotterdam for three months in 2016 I tried to visit as many places across the country as I could. I especially wanted to visit Flevopolder, the larger part of the Flevoland province, built from of the sea in 1986 where 317,000 people live.

I visited both major cities on the Flevopolder in the same day, Almere and Lelystad, the capital. I cycled from Almere (photos) to the seafront of Markermeer, and…get this…had to ride uphill because the land is below sea level.

Reaching the edge of Flevopolder, where it borders the sea called Markermeer
Cycling uphill to meet the sea north of the city of Almere, in the Flevoland province of the Netherlands.

Most Dutchies live below sea level, and the country has massive land and metal engineering works to keep the water in check.

The Dutch, especially in and around Rotterdam, come up with new ways to deal with water and export this knowledge abroad.

While the existing and planned measures should be sufficient until at least 2070, too much uncertainty over the progress of climate change remains afterwards to assess whether the city will truly stay liveable.

Some assessments suggest that if the sea rises by 5m – an estimate in sight within a century, considering the unpredictability of the rate that Greenland and Antarctica’s glacier will melt – Rotterdam will have no other choice but to relocate.

“Rotterdam: A bastion against rising sea, for now”
By Zuza Nazaruk

The country may rely on electricity to survive more than most: it’s needed to keep the pumps working, to keep the water in the sea instead of in and over the land.

How productive their agriculture industry is

By land area, the Netherlands is a very small country; it would be the tenth smallest state in the United States. By population, it would be the fifth largest state (17.6 million, greater than Pennsylvania’s 13 million).

Given that, how is it that the Netherlands is the world’s second largest exporter of agricultural products by value, after the United States?

Simple answer: High-quality, high-value, high-demand foodstuffs; space-efficient farming practices, including a significant amount of food grown vertically and in greenhouses. And, I don’t remember if this was in the article, very good transport connections to trading partners through seaports, canals, railways, and motorways.

I was surprised to see that both brands of canned cold brew coffee sold at the convenience store in my apartment building are produced in the Netherlands.

Deferring a trip to another time is a part of “trip chaining”

A “trip” is the transportation planner’s name for the action of leaving home (H) to go somewhere else, and also going from that somewhere else (SE) to another somewhere else, and from the last somewhere else back to home.

Another way to write that would be to compare a “chained” trip (H-SE-SE-H) to two separate trips (H-SE-H + H-SE-H; also called “unchained” trips).

Trip chaining is a common pattern practiced by many people who usually use bicycles or transit for their trips so as to reduce effort and monetary cost, respectively. (I think there is also something to be said that trip chaining is also a natural way to “use time wisely”, but there are ways to use time wisely on long trips via transit.)

Effort in the context of the trips I tend to make can have many meanings: it can be the physical work put into riding a bicycle, but it’s also the time and energy to get ready to leave the house for several hours, the friction of moving my bike out of a building’s bike room and wondering if someone else will park there bike in “my” space when I’m gone, as well as the stress that comes with bicycling in Chicago.


Today I did a big trip chain…

  1. I walked to the Harrison Red Line station to ride the ‘L’ to Fullerton, after which I walked over to Wrightwood 659 to see two art exhibits.
  2. Then I walked back to Fullerton to take the Brown Line ‘L’ to Lincoln Square to pick up a new homemade CO2 sensor.
  3. After that meeting I took the ‘L’ to Clark/Division so I could shop at Aldi (a block walk in each direction).
  4. Finally I took the ‘L’ a fourth time back to Harrison.

Trip #2 was a deferred trip. The sensor was ready for me to pick up two weeks ago but it was unnecessary to make a trip just to go get it. I had no other errands to run in the Lincoln Square area, and no compelling reason to invent other trips between home and Lincoln Square (although I guess I could always stop at Aldi to restock certain groceries I prefer to buy there).

Trip #2 was a necessary but time insensitive trip.

A week ago, however, I scheduled to visit the galleries at Wrightwood 659. Because I would already be halfway to Lincoln Square I then scheduled the pick up.

Trip #3 was a spontaneous trip. Since I had such a long distance to go from Lincoln Square back to the Harrison station I figured that I might try to do some other things along the way…would I need to pick up beer at Off Color Brewing’s Mousetrap, should I stop at a Whole Foods (there are two along the Red Line, although there used to be a third one, next to the Fullerton station), or something else?

Welp, there’s an Aldi store one block away from the Clark/Division Red Line station. Perfect! My chained trip became even more efficient!

Chicago Crash Browser updates with stats, filters, and news article links

Today I’m adding a bunch of new features to the Chicago Crash Browser, which lives on Chicago Cityscape.

But first…special access is no longer required. Anyone can create a free Cityscape account and access the map. However, only those with special access or a Cityscape Real Estate Pro account will be able to download the data.


Five new features include:

  • Statistics that update weekly to summarize what happened in the past week: the number of crashes, the number of people killed in crashes, and the number of people with the two worst tiers of injuries. The statistics are viewable to everyone, including those without access to the crash browser.
screenshot of the new weekly statistics
The statistics will update every Sunday. The numbers may change throughout the week as Chicago police officers upload crash reports.
  • For data users, the crash record ID is viewable. The crash record ID links details about the same crash across the Chicago data portal’s three tables: Crashes, Vehicles, and People. My Chicago Crash Browser is currently only using the Crashes table. Click on the “More details” arrow in the first table column.
screenshot of the data table showing the crash record ID revealed.
The crash record ID is hidden by default but can be exposed. Use this ID to locate details in the data portal’s Vehicles and People tables.
  • Filter crashes by location. There are currently two location filters: (1) on a “Pedestrian Street” (a zoning designation to, over time, reduce the prevalence of car-oriented land uses and improve building design to make them more appealing to walk next to); (2) within one block of a CTA or Metra station, important places where people commonly walk to. Select a filter’s radio button and then click “Apply filters”.
  • Filter crashes by availability of a news article or a note. I intend to attach news articles to every crash where a pedestrian or bicyclist was killed (the majority of these will be to Streetsblog Chicago articles, where I am still “editor at large”. Notes will include explanations about data changes [1] (the “map editor” mentioned in some of the notes is me) and victims’ names.
screenshot of the two types of filters

After choosing a filter’s radio button click “Apply filters” and the map and data table will update.
  • Filter by hit and run status. If the officer filling out the crash report marked it as a hit and run crash, you can filter by choosing “Yes” in the options list. “No” is another option, as is “not recorded”, which means the officer didn’t select yes or no.
  • Search by address. Use the search bar inside the map view to center the map and show crashes that occurred within one block (660 feet) of that point. The default is one block and users can increase that amount using the dropdown menu in the filter.
screenshot of the map after the search by address function has been used
Use the search bar within the map view to show crashes near a specific address in Chicago.

Footnotes

[1] The most common data change as of this writing is when a crash’s “most severe injury” is upgraded from non-fatal to fatal, but the crash report in the city’s data portal does not receive that update. This data pipeline/publishing issue is described in the browser’s “Crash data notes” section.

The “map editor” (me) will change a crash’s “most severe injury” to fatal to ensure it appears when someone filters for fatal crashes. This change to the data will be noted.

I tried to see the Vatican City train station

Vatican City has a train station but you cannot see it. You can, however, see the large gates within the papal state’s wall that enclose the train station and separate it from the main railway network in Italy. 

Beyond the gates is the Vatican City railway station
Beyond the gates is the Vatican City railway station

The Citta Vaticano railway station is on a branch on the Roma-Capranica-Viterbo mainline and nominally connected to the Roma San Pietro train station which serves Trenitalia regional trains, including the numbered Lazio region commuter lines

Railway branch to Vatican City

There is one way to visit the train station and that’s to take a Vatican City-sponsored day trip from the station to the Pontifical Villages about 15 miles southeast of Rome. In 2022, the trips are offered on Saturdays through October 29 and cost about €43. 

A proposal intended for visitors interested in taking part in a tour of the Vatican City and the Gardens of the Pontifical Villas of Castel Gandolfo.

Every Saturday, a modern and comfortable electric train connects the historic Vatican City railway station with the Pontifical Villas for a Full Day visit that, starting with the wonders of the Vatican Museums and continuing through the Vatican Gardens, will lead the visitor to discover the Gardens of the Pontifical Villas.

Pope Francis opened the villas and Castel Gandolfo in 2015. Watch an AFP video in English or in French about the news.

Watch this video from The Round the World Guys – skip to 5:58 – for a view of the station and their ride to the villas. (I thought The Tim Traveller also made a video about the Vatican City railway station but I cannot find it on his YouTube channel.)

When I was in Rome this month – part of a longer trip to Rome, Florence, Lyon, Strasbourg, the Netherlands, and Germany – I wanted to see what I could see, so I walked south and west around the wall towards the San Pietro station. A street follows the southern wall; walk along this and you’ll come to an entry to a railroad viaduct. At this point, it’s at ground level, but to the left (south) the ground quickly slopes down several stories. The viaduct holds the branch from the main line and you can walk across it to San Pietro station. 

If that’s too difficult to follow, go to the San Pietro station, go up to binario (platform) 1, and walk towards the large St. Peter’s Basilica you see to the right.

Railway to Vatican City

Chicago Crash Browser is back

ChicagoCrashes dot org was, for many years, the only source for people to get information about traffic crashes in Chicago. I started it in 2011.

Chicago Crash Browser v0.2
A screenshot of Chicago Crash Browser v0.2 showing what the website looked like on December 30, 2011.

It was updated annually with data from two years ago, because of how the Illinois Department of Transportation processed the reports from all over the state. I shut it down because it had outdated code, I was maintaining it in my free time, and I didn’t want to update the code or spend all the time every year integrating the new data.

In 2015, the Chicago Police Department started testing an electronic crash reporting system in some districts that meant police officers could write reports and they would immediately show up in a public database (in the city’s data portal). The CPD expanded this to all districts in September 2017. (A big caveat to using the new dataset is that it has citywide data for only four and a half years.)

Since then, whenever someone asked me for crash data (mostly from John to illustrate Streetsblog Chicago articles), I would head to the data portal and grab data from just the block or intersection where someone had recently been injured or killed. I would load the traffic crash data into QGIS and visualize it. I found this also to be painstaking.

Now, with renewed attention on the common and unfixed causes of KSIs (“industry” term for killed or seriously injured) that we’re seeing repeatedly across Chicago – read about the contributing cause of Gerardo Marciales’s death – I decided to relaunch a version of Chicago Crash Browser.

The new version doesn’t have a name, because it’s part of the “Transportation Snapshot” in Chicago Cityscape, the real estate information platform I operate. It’s also behind a paywall, because that’s how Chicago Cityscape is built.

I wanted to make things a lot easier for myself this round and it comes with a lot of benefits:

  • Explore all crash reports in a given area, whether that’s one you draw yourself or predefined in the Cityscape database.
  • Quickly filter by crash type (bicyclist, pedestrian, etc.) and injury severity.
  • Download the data for further analysis.
A screenshot of a map and data table visualizing and describing traffic crash reports in Columbus Park.
What the crash data looks like within Chicago Cityscape.

How to access the Chicago Crash Browser

The crash data requires a Cityscape membership. I created a new tier of membership that cannot be signed up – I must grant it to you. It will give you access only to Transportation Snapshots.

  • Create a free account on Chicago Cityscape. The site uses only social networks for creating accounts.
  • Mention or DM me on Twitter, @stevevance, saying you’d like access to the crash data. Tell me what your email you used to create an account on Chicago Cityscape.
  • I’ll modify your membership to give you access to the “transportation tier” and tell you to sign out and sign back in to activate it.

Once you’re in, this video shows you how to draw a “Personal Place” and explore the traffic crash data there. Text instructions are below.

  1. From the Chicago Cityscape homepage, click on “Maps” in the menu bar and then click “Draw your own map”.
  2. On the “Personal Place” page that appears with a large map, decide which shape you’d like to draw: a circle with a radius that you specify (good for intersections), a square or rectangle (good for street blocks), or an arbitrary polygon (good for winding streets in parks). Click the shape and draw it according to the onscreen instructions. For intersections I recommend making the circle 150 feet for small intersections and 200 feet for long intersections; this is because intersections have an effect on driving beyond the box.
  3. Once you’ve completed drawing the shape, a popup window appears with the button to “view & save this Personal Place”. Click that button and a new browser tab will open with something called a “Place Snapshot”.
  4. In the Place Snapshot enter a name for your Personal Place and click the “Save” button.
  5. Scroll down and, under the “Additional Snapshots” heading, click the link for “Transportation & Jobs Snapshot”; a new browser tab will open.
  6. In Transportation Snapshot, scroll down and look for “Traffic crashes”. You’ve made it to the new Chicago Crash Browser.