Tag: Rotterdam

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.

I grew up in the suburbs and it shows in early drawings

Vanceville 3 of 13

This panel has the light rail station next to an office complex that had the United Airlines headquarters and the office for “Steve Vance Enterprises – Western Region”.

I lived in suburbs until I was 22. The suburbs of Houston, of San Francisco, and of Chicago.

And from when I was 11 years old to about 15 years old I drew a municipality called “Vanceville” (and “Vancin” at one point) on 13 adjoining panels, each a standard size grade school poster. I started in fifth grade, within a couple of months of moving to Batavia, Illinois.

The first panel was drawn on the backside of a poster that displayed my study for class that counted cars on my street categorized by their manufacturer.

The suburban pattern of development was all I knew – and it really shows. I didn’t make it into the respective city centers that often, and when I did it was mostly by car. I think I drew the ultimate suburb of NIMBYs.

I don’t support this kind of development. Back then I thought I was designing the best city. I had no idea that what I was drawing wasn’t a sustainable way to develop places where people live.

You can see how four panels adjoin.

You can see how four panels adjoin.

I mean, just look at all the massive parking lots I drew. I seriously thought that that was how cities should be designed. I didn’t know that they paved over natural areas and caused dirty water to run off into the river I drew.

There are no multi-unit buildings. In fact, each single-family house is built on a huge lot. I gave each house a big garage, writing explicitly “2 + 1” and “2 + 1/2”.

I drew townhomes, a denser housing style than single-family, because I had a few friends who lived in them. This panel has my house in the lower-left corner.

Sidewalks are rare, but they become more prevalent in later design phases. You can forget bike lanes, but you may be lucky and find a bike path, again, in a later design phase. Those phases are also distinguished by smoother lines, fewer stray markings, and a lighter touch of the pencil.

People have to drive to the parks. Strip malls abound. Many of the shops are named for real businesses in Batavia.

Oh, wait, I drew in light rail tracks and stations. But I didn’t draw them because I knew or thought transit was a good thing. None of the places I lived had it. I drew the light rail because I loved trains.

Vanceville was so oriented to driving that some of the road lanes had “ATM” imprinted where a right-turn arrow would be, to signify that there was an upcoming turn off for a bank drive-through, with two lanes that had only ATMs. Even “Steve Vance Enterprises – Western Region” was connected to a 5-level car park.

There are just so many roads. I drew what appear to be interchanges between two “connector” roads within a residential neighborhood! That same panel seems to have as much asphalt as any other surface, be it developed or grass or water.

I’m not surprised this is the kind of city I drew.

If I still drew, the outcome would be completely different. It would probably look like a mix of Rotterdam, Madrid, and Houten.

What else do you see in the drawings? View the full album.

Vanceville 5 of 13

I drew these at a time when I was also obsessed with spy stories, which explains the CIA building.

What’s up from Europe: how much is car-free when cycling on a Dutch intercity path?

I posted this photo of Daniel riding with me from Rotterdam to Delft and Justin Haugens asked, “Was this a bike path the whole way?” and added, “[This] would be similar to my work commute.” He rides on the Chicago Lakefront Trail from Rogers Park to South Loop, but must ride off-path from Morse to Ardmore and about Monroe to Roosevelt.

Daniel lives in Rotterdam and works in Delft. The Dutch Cyclists’ Union’s (Fietsersbond) Routeplanner says the shortest path is 11.47 kilometers, or 7.12 miles. We took the short route on a Saturday, but chose the scenic route on Sunday (the day I took this photo) so Daniel could show me the airport, underground high-speed rail tracks, and various geographic features along the way.

I responded to Justin:

It was a dedicated bike path for probably 90% of the way. The thing about Dutch intercity cycle routes is that they separate cycle paths from car paths when the two modes can’t safely share. They can’t safely share when there’s a desire for moving cars quickly or moving big autos (like trucks and buses).

So, there were some points on this journey when the cycle-only path merged with a local road or a service drive [the case in that photo, actually, which you can see better here], but even then the cyclist always has priority and rarely are the junctions configured/signed so that the cyclist has to stop (not requiring the cyclist to stop is a way to make cycling a convenient mode).

In the Netherlands connectivity of bicycle-priority ways is as important as the infrastructure used. When I first visited the Netherlands, in 2010, I arrived in Amsterdam from Bremen, Germany, and rented a bike the next day. I was personally shocked that morning when I rode upon streets with conventional bike lanes (these would be the ones in door zones in the United States) on some streets.

Why was I shocked? I came to the city under the impression that all bicycle infrastructure were cycle tracks, meaning a bike path between the roadway and the sidewalk, on a level slightly above the roadway and below the sidewalk. Since then I’ve learned a lot more about why the Dutch cycle so much and how the bicycle is sometimes used more often than public transit and automobiles.

On our journey from Rotterdam to Delft we must have ridden on every kind of bicycle path the Dutch have designed. These photos sample what we encountered.

The route followed an arterial road for the first portion, but we turned off after only about a mile.

An RET metro train follows the cycle path for a portion of the route we took.

This was my favorite part of the journey to Delft: we came across a shepherd, her two sheep dogs, and her flock of sheep grazing on the bank between the cycle path and the creek.

I’m no longer in Europe but I’ve kept the title prefix, “What’s up from Europe”. Read the other posts in this series