Wednesday, July 27, 2011


Houten is a suburb of the City of Utrecht located in the Netherlands. They specifically designed the suburb to be extremely bicycle friendly and family friendly. To accomplish this, they created their community within a ‘ring road’, where you can access any development with a car. However, the catch is that you need to travel via the ring road if you want to get anyplace outside of your neighborhood using your car. This strategic placement of roads has significantly affected the way the residents in this suburb get around.

You can see the ring road in the picture above as the white line making a figure eight around the city. The main bicycle streets are shown in red/pink/orange. This encompassing network has allowed many of the residents to ride their bicycle around as their main means of transportation for their short trips.

As Houten is about 13 km (8 miles) from the City of Utrecht, the trip between Houten and Utrecht is 8 minutes by train (City Council of Houten), 22 minutes by car (, and approximately 29 minutes by bike ( Houten is also centrally located within the country, being 50 km (31 miles) from Amsterdam, 65 km (40 miles) from Rotterdam, and 75 km (47 miles) from Den Haag by car (
The city center of Houten has services such as a town-hall, police station, library, shops, and supermarkets (Trafficstructure_Houghton.pdf). Also, many services such as doctors and banks are located within the town. Another distinguishing feature of Houten is the layout of schools within the community. The maximum distance students travel to elementary school is 300 m (1,000 feet). There is one secondary school in the middle of Houten and a new school is being built along the ring (Tiemans).
Outside of Houten, Utrecht is a major destination for jobs and cultural activities. Being centrally located within the Netherlands, Houten especially attracts those families that consist of two working adults that also happen to work in two different cities (Furth).
Work and Errands
The design of the community suggests that it is possible to live, work, and play all within a short bike ride away. Surveys have shown that roughly one third of Houten’s residents who work or study live within 10 km (6 miles) of their commute destination. Another third commute 10 to 19 km (6-12 miles) and the remaining 36% commute more than 20 km (12 miles). Houten residents that commute to their place of work or study by car is 56%, by bike is 42%, and by public transit is 22% (Foletta). These numbers add up to more than 100%, as some residents combine multiple modes of transportation for their trips. For example, 62% of train users arrive to the station by bike, utilizing the 3,100 bicycle parking spaces that are a main feature of Houten’s central station.
For shopping, 18% of residents live within 500 meters (1,600 feet) of their grocery store, 33% between 500 m and 1 km (1,600 feet – 3,300 feet), 21% between 1 and 2 km (3,300 feet – 1.2 miles), and 18% between 2 and 4 kilometers (1.2 – 2.5 miles). Trips to the grocery store by residents consist of 45% by car and 41% by bike (Folletta). Bikes are used almost 70% of the time for service destinations in Houten, such as banks and doctor visits. Additionally, over 70% of the time residents use their bike for visiting friends and family (Folletta).
A key distinguishing feature of the community are the bicycle highways. Since the City of Houten was built with these bike highways going into downtown and to every local neighborhood, it would be expected that the use of the bike network is greater than in other suburbs in the Netherlands.
With many trips being made by bike, combined with the design of the city’s roads, there is a much higher level of bike safety in Houten due to its unique design. There are only 1.45 injuries per thousand people per year versus 2.87 injuries per thousand people per year in Utrecht. There has only been one transportation fatality within the ring road in 30 years. The Netherland’s national fatality rate for 2010 was 3.88 per 100,000 people (Dutch Daily News).
The previously referenced survey discusses the demand on the transportation network by gathering data for distances traveled, number of trips taken per week, ownership of vehicles, and money spent on different modes of transit. Overall, each resident of Houten travels 250 kilometers (155 miles) per week.

On average, this is divided up per person per week as follows: 141.5 km (88 miles) by car, 27.8 km (17 miles) by bike, 8.6 km (5 miles) on foot, and 72.1 km (45 miles) by transit.
Car trips usually make up the longer trips, while daily trips in town are mainly made by bike. The transit in Houten consists of buses running along the ring road, and train stops at two stations: Castellum Station in the newer southern end of town and Central Station in the center of town. The train into Utrecht only takes 8 minutes from Central Station, so a person working in Utrecht 5 days a week would easily accumulate the average weekly amount of mileage by train, and would likely account for another member of the family that does not utilize transit.
Average distances per trip covered by each mode are 36 km (22 miles) by car, 5.7 km (3.5 miles) by bike, and 1.8 km (1 mile) on foot. These numbers reflect that residents adjust their mode of transit based on the length of trip they are taking. For very short distances, it is easiest to walk, as getting out a bike and then parking it a few blocks later would take a similar amount of time. For medium distance trips, it is easiest to bike because the bike network in Houten always provides a mostly direct path to go anywhere in the city. For long trips outside of town, it is easiest to take a car or train, as it would take too long to get there by bike. The average trip distance survey did not include public transit.
There are 1.39 cars per household in Houten. Of the households surveyed, 6% have no cars, 58% have one car, 30% have two cars, 6% have three cars, 8% have motorcycles, and 7% have mopeds or scooters. The relatively high number of cars could be due to the fact that Houten residents have a high relative income and many couples move to Houten to be in the middle of their two places of employment. Only 2% of the population does not own a bicycle.

On average, each household spends €55.2 per week on gas and €16.7 per week on public transit. Compared to the neighboring suburb of Veldhuizen, 17% fewer Houten residents traveled to work by car and 16% more Houten residents commute to work by bike.

The carbon footprint of Houten residents is undoubtedly lower than average because they walk and bike extensively for short and medium trips, while they use their car mainly for longer distances on the highways – allowing their emissions to be lower than stop-and-go city driving.

Differences in Mode Choice
The following images provide 4 separate comparisons between mode choices, in order to get from Point A to Point B, in and around Houten. These comparisons consist of the distance and time required, as well as the costs or money ‘gained’, for each scenario.

To determine the costs or money ‘gained’, we assumed a fuel economy of 43 mpg for the vehicles while fuel itself cost $9.52 per gallon (AA Ireland). Furthermore, the City of Houten has determined that every kilometer traveled by car costs the city 0.10, while every kilometer traveled by bike gains 0.12 (presentation by Hans Voerknecht). Using this information, we are able to provide you with the financial comparisons for each case.

Comparison #1: Travel from the inner portion of Houten, where denser housing is found, to your favorite local shop in the town center. First use a car to get there, then, try it out by bike.

By Car
Time/Distance: 13 minutes – 6.4 km / 4.0 miles (assuming no congestion)
Cost: 1.25 / $1.80 (€0.64 for wear and tear and €0.61 for fuel.)

By Bike
Time/Distance: 3 minutes – 650 m / 2,100 ft
Money ‘Gained’: 0.08 / $0.12

Comparison #2: Travel from your neighborhood within Houten to a friend’s neighborhood halfway across town. First use a car to get there, then, try it out by bike.

By Car
Time/Distance: 11 minutes – 4.1 km / 2.5 miles (assuming no congestion)
Cost: 0.96 / $1.38 (€0.41 for wear and tear and €0.55 for fuel.)

By Bike
Time/Distance: 9 minutes – 2.5 km / 1.6 miles
Money ‘Gained’: 0.30 / $0.43

Comparison #3: Travel from your neighborhood within Houten to a destination outside of the ring road. First use a car to get there, then, try it out by bike.
By Car
Time/Distance: 10 minutes – 4.7 km / 2.9 miles (assuming no congestion)
Cost: 0.91 / $1.31 (€0.47 for wear and tear and €0.44 for fuel.)

By Bike
Time/Distance: 10 minutes – 2.9 km / 1.8 miles
Money ‘Gained’: 0.35 / $0.50

Comparison #4: Travel from your neighborhood within Houten to the neighboring city Utrecht. First use a car to get there, then, try it out by biking to the train station and then hop onto the train.
By Car
Time/Distance: 22 minutes – 13.4 km / 8.3 miles (assuming no congestion)
Cost: 2.62 / $3.77 (€1.34 for wear and tear and €1.28 for fuel.)

Bike and Train
Time/Distance: 5 + 8 = 13 minutes / 1.3 km + 7.4 km = 8.7 km / 0.8 + 4.6 = 5.4 miles
Money ‘Gained’: 0.16 / $0.23 (minus €2 train ticket)


Hilbers, Brachtje. "The Influence of the Spatial Planning on bicycle Use and Health." (2008): 114.
Foletta, Nicole. “Summary of Results of Houten Travel Behavior Survey.” (2010): 6.
Tiemens Herbert. “Municipality Houten.” (2011): 36

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Traffic Signs in the Netherlands


Bikes Galore

Delft Train Station

Other side of Delft Train Station

Houten Train Station

Ypenburgh Train Station

Ypenburgh Train Station

Ypenburgh Train Station





TU Delft

Pijnaker Train Station

Chapters 6 and 7; Cities, Streets, and Districts

In the chapter “The Uses of City Neighborhoods”, Jane Jacobs believed that Americans are not good at localized self-government. If healthy neighborhoods in a city are to be created and protected, self-government through specific types of neighborhood organizations are needed.

Jacobs thought that there are three specific types of neighborhoods that are important for self-government;
  1. the city as a whole
  2. street neighborhoods
  3. districts of large sub-city size of around 10,000 people

The city as neighborhood is responsible for allocating Federal and other tax monies to the the city; its districts, and its neighborhoods. It is also the center of the arts and other intellectual organizations. Special interest groups and pressure groups tend to work within the city. Cities are also important for bringing together its neighborhoods into a cohesive entity (p.154).

Street neighborhoods consist of a small area that can vary depending on the layout of the streets. For instance, in a city laid out in long blocks, a street neighborhood may consist of just one street on one block, from intersection to the next intersection. Other street neighborhoods may consist of a few blocks and its intersecting streets. An important roll of the street neighborhood is to call on help from others when a problem arises in the streets and they are not able to solve the problem though their own self-governance.

A district is potentially the most powerful neighborhood organization because it has the potential to fight city hall (pp.158-159) It is the neighborhood organization that should be responsible for protecting the street neighborhoods. Districts need to be able to bring the resources of the city to the local street level. “The chief function of a successful district is to mediate between the indispensible, but inherently politically powerless, street neighborhoods, and the inherently powerful city as a whole (p. 158)”. Jacobs argued that although we have districts by name, Americans fail at effectively using these organizations to self-govern.

Besides the importance of the physical organization of neighborhoods and districts, relationships between different groups of people and organizations is a crucial element of districts. Jacobs calls them hop-and-skip relationships, which are “working relationships among people, usually leaders, who enlarge their local public life beyond the neighborhoods of streets and specific organizations or institutions and form relationships with people whose roots and backgrounds are in entirely different constituencies (p.175)”. “It takes surprisingly few hop-skip people, relative to a whole population, to weld a district into a real Thing (p.175)”.

The importance of having strong neighborhood organizations is because “There are only two ultimate public powers in shaping and running American cities: votes and control of money (p.171)”. “..seduction and subversion of the elected is easiest when the electorate is fragmented into ineffectual units of power (p.171)”.

From my own experience in the observing the public involvement process and neighborhood meetings, Portland does a good job. The City of Portland actually facilitates some of these roles that maybe Jacobs thinks should be left to the self-governance of neighborhoods.

The city helps facilitate and fund the creation of “hop-skip” meetings, called stakeholder meetings, which consist of local organizations, business leaders, and neighborhood citizens who meet to discuss city or neighborhood planning projects through the public involvement process. The city also funds and encourages block parties and other neighborhood gatherings. Portland has a system of strong neighborhood groups but I have not heard of powerful district organizations (Hollywood District, NW Portland?).

Another important aspect of creating strong neighborhood organizations, that Jacobs discussed, is the ability of a neighborhood to retain its people. A neighborhood must be diverse enough that, even if a family changes either in family size, change in career, or income level, there is enough sufficient diversity in housing and businesses that they can remain in the neighborhood (p.182).

There are four generators of diversity, covered in chapter 7, that Jacobs gave to encourage diversity in districts and in streets;

  1. The district must serve more than one primary function. These functions must be able to use sidewalk facilities for different reasons and functions and for during different times of day.
  2. Blocks must be short in order to have convenient pathways to all places.
  3. The district must have a variety of buildings of diverse ages and in diverse conditions in order to support diverse businesses and economic diversity needed to support the district. “This mingling must be fairly close-engrained”.
  4. There must be a dense concentration of people
The first three leads to the 4th condition. (pp. 196-197)

Portland neighborhoods have many of these aspects. Blocks are mostly short, especially on the east side of the river, inner northwest, and downtown. Many of these neighborhoods have a diversity of building ages but this does not always mean that the rents of the older building are cheaper and allow more diverse businesses. The Urban Growth Boundary does help Portland increase its population density
Many of Portland’s neighborhood streets and districts serve more than one primary function.  For example, the Pearl District has many small and diverse businesses. It has art galleries, restaurants, and stores. The Pearl and the surrounding NW area has industrial warehouses and businesses such as advertising agencies.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Children and Sidewalks

Chapter 4 of Jane Jacobs book, “The Death and Life of Great American Cities”, titled “The Uses of Sidewalks: Assimilating Children,” Jacobs argued that we have to give up the notion that playgrounds and parks are automatically good places for children. She believed that playgrounds can be dangerous places because “children have moved out from under eyes of a high numerical ratio of adults, into a place where the ratio of adults is low or often nil (p. 101).”
Jacobs thought that urban planners did not understand that to adequately educate children how to be good citizens, children should be playing on sidewalks that have lots of adults. These adults on busy neighborhood sidewalks, both locals and strangers alike, play a role in teaching children how to act and be part of society. This particular role cannot be taught by parents or adults paid to watch children. “People must take a modicum of responsibility for each other even if they have no ties to each another. This is a lesson nobody learns by being told. It is learned from the experience of having other people without ties of kinship or close friendship or formal responsibilities to you take a modicum of responsibility for you (p.108).” “It is a lesson that parents, by themselves, is powerless to teach (p.109). I agree with Jacobs, but we are lacking two things; one, sidewalks with lots of people, and two, it is not okay to tell someone else’s child what to do or not to do in today’s childrearing culture. 
Instead of taking advantage of the supervision that adults on busy sidewalks can provide for childrearing, our society has sheltered children from the streets and created an artificial world of over-planned, over- supervised activities. “It is not in the nature of things to go somewhere formally to them by plan, officially. Part of the charm is the accompanying sense of freedom to roam up and down the sidewalks, a different matter from being boxed into a preserve (p. 113).”
Most Americans do not live in Jane Jacobs world. A world in which population density is high and storefronts and neighbors are mixed together and close to the sidewalk. Also most of our sidewalks are too narrow to hold a mixture of uses at once.
What about it the Netherlands? Have they created this kind of mingling of uses and encouraged children to be part of it? Spatial planning is an important process used in the Netherlands when designing new streets. In Houten it was important for them to design spaces where people can meet and talk to each other. I did not notice very many children playing on these streets. What they have done in Houten for children is to make it easy for children to get to schools at a young age and teach them to ride their bike.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

New York Times Article Review

Bike Street, Cars are Guests

A New York Times Article: Across Europe, Irking Drivers is Urban Policy, by Elizabeth Rosenthal
NY Times: In Europe they "make car use expensive and just plain miserable", by Jonathan  Maus

In the Elizabeth Rosenthal article “Across Europe, Irking Drivers is Urban Policy” only the negative aspects of limiting car use in European cities is highlighted. Car use has many hidden costs that all of us bear; Government subsidies to the automobile and fuel companies, environmental pollution, public health, and expensive infrastructure projects. Increasing multi-modal travel increases the livability of a city.  There are many positive aspects that Rosenthal could have added to her one sided article.
I question Rosenthal’s journalistic integrity.  Her choice of words and phrases to describe the situation is more suited to an opinion piece; “Creating environments openly hostile to cars”, “Paris have had car lanes eroded by popular bike sharing programs,” and  “On street parking is vanishing,”  hype the negative stereotype that Europeans live in a un-free, limiting, socialist society.
This New York Times article does give good quotes from government officials and scholars that compare the difference between the attitudes of Europeans and Americans.  Europeans tend to perceive the auto as only one part of a practical, efficient transportation system. As quoted in Rosenthal’s article, “Peder Jensen, head of the Energy and Transport Group at the European Environment Agency. ‘Here there has been more movement to make cities more livable for people, to get cities relatively free of cars.’” Autos are correctly perceived as having a high “social safety” cost. Social safety is a term used often in Netherland’s municipal planning departments to describe the a policy’s overall effect on a community’s livability.
Americans tend to view transportation for daily trips as generated only by car. We are so used to a car for errands. We have a hard time thinking about the option of carrying groceries on a bike or by public transportation. But, as we have seen in the Netherlands, picking up groceries or taking children with us on a bike is the most efficient and convenient (and fun) way to get around.
The US also has a hard time bridging the gap between the entire car dependent system and getting to a more multi modal system. For example, in Eugene, Oregon a popular shopping area in the center of the town was rebuilt into a European style pedestrian mall.  Mixed use buildings with luxury condominiums were added to the area as were other apartment buildings in the center of town, nearby. Soon after, most of the businesses failed and homeless teens took over the area. Eugene replaced the pedestrian mall with a new road. People were unwilling to park one block away in a convenient and free parking garage to shop.
As stated in the response; NY Times: In Europe they "make car use expensive and just plain miserable" by Jonathan Maus in the bikePortland website, “It's a fascinating article that shows very clearly that in the U.S. we let politics and fear of unsettling the status quo rule our policies — even in cities like Portland where our leaders are well aware of how they do things in Europe.” I agree with Maus that although Portland is moving towards a more multi- modal transportation system, it is not moving at a fast enough speed.  Many Portland business owners are at odds with those that want to increase facilities for better bike and pedestrian access and decrease on-street parking. 
But the City of Portland’s is working with local business to replace on-street parking spots with bike parking. This genius idea not only increases an existing need for bike parking but also lets local buisnesses test the idea of bikes=more customers. I do believe that soon enough businesses in Portland will realize that improving bike and pedestrian facilities near their locations will increase the amount of shoppers to their stores. Once we get the businesses on board, the speed in which multi-modal choices will appear will increase. But, as “they” say, if it can’t be done in Portland, chances are it won’t work anywhere else in the US.
With article writers such a Rosenthal exaggerating and reinforcing the negative, and somewhat unfounded, aspects of increased transportation choices, many in the US will never open their mind to more convenient, fun, and healthy alternatives to their car dependent lack of choices.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Trip to Westland

July 6, 2011
Our trip today shifted our focus from transportation engineering to other innovative Dutch engineering applications such as water resources, thermodynamics, mechanical, and industrial engineering.
Peit Opstal was our tour guide for the day.

Our first stop was to a planned calamity water storage system. If a storm surge dumps a large amount of water onto the Netherlands that cannot be managed by its extensive canal system, the excess water will be mediated and will be held at this site. It is only for emergencies and is currently a farm field. This area can hold up to 500 million liters of water. At this point, the canal system in the Netherlands is at its highest point. The average high tide reading is at 44 centimeters below sea level.

Highest Canal

The calamity water storage area

The Dutch are leaders in the business of growing plants in greenhouses. In Westland, Netherlands stands the single largest concentration of greenhouses in the world. There are over 10,000 hectares (25,500 acres) of greenhouses in the Netherlands. The production value for last year was 5.5 billion euros. The industry employs over 70,000 people.
The greenhouse industry in the Netherlands generates 8% of the country’s electricity and 11% of gases are consumed within the greenhouse facilities.  A greenhouse needs the least amount of energy or heat in the middle of the day. The greenhouse industry power generation is sold back to the grid when peak energy prices are higher, during the day. They use their own energy to light and heat the greenhouses during non-daylight hours.
The greenhouses can also use CO2 to improve plant growth.  Shell Oil is producing CO2 in its oil and natural gas production nearby and is piping it to the greenhouses.
Westland Region Greenhouses

Our next stop was in the town of De Lier, where we visited Priva, a company that specializes in sustainable greenhouse systems. Wim Decker gave us tour and lecture about the work that Priva does. Decker has worked for Prima since 1971 and his current work is in specialized greenhouse systems.
Priva Headquarters and Explanation of Ecofriendly Features of their Buildiing by Wim Decker

The role of Priva is to improve the efficiency of greenhouses and greenhouse technology. They develop greenhouse systems that use the generated energy and other byproducts and direct it into useful byproducts. They design closed greenhouse technology that captures the energy created by the sun. They also have systems that capture and recycle the water that transpires from the plants and the excess water that the plants do not take in during watering. They also design systems that capture energy from biomass.
Priva’s horticulture division headquarters building demonstrates the type of sustainable technology concepts that they develop. This building is CO2 neutral. It uses only electricity for lights and electric systems such as computers and pumps. As part of their climate control system they store hot and cold water deep in the ground in cold and hot wells. The hot water is generated through heat exchangers in in the ceiling of the building, collecting the heat produced by solar radiation. They use a heat pump system to store the cold water in the summer and the hot water in the winter. The clay and sand tanks hold 500,000 cubic meters of water.
Details of the Priva Building

Priva has 350 employees. 60% of them bike to work. Between company and government cycling incentives, employees that bike to work can purchase a new bike every 3 years. It seems like a great company to work for if you are interested in mechanical, electrical, chemical, and environmental engineering.

Our next stop was in a small town near Westland for a lunch break. Raw herring with onions is the specialty here.


Next we visited Campanula, a greenhouse facility in Westland. It is a family owned business that started 90 years ago. Robert ten Have, the latest family member to run the company, gave us the tour of the facility. Campanula specializes in potted plants. An average of 25,000 plants is shipped out each day. As with most greenhouse growing operations, they expanded their business by taking over neighboring greenhouses. In the last 25 years they have grown to 40,000 Square meters.  There are usually 2 million plants in production every day. They have 10 full time and 20 part time employees.
Robert ten Have at Campanula

So how do they keep track of so many plants? Lots of automation.  Every plant sits on a specialized tray with a computer chip that records their movement and plant growth. Videos keep track of how many blossoms are on each plant. Watering and fertilizer are also monitored. The computer system and automation allows the buyer to make detailed orders such as picking the number of flowers on each of the plants ordered.

 Campanula Greenhouses

Climate control is very important in greenhouses. To protect the plants from overheating in the summer, calcium is sprayed onto the greenhouse.  The calcium on the greenhouses creates shade and protects the plants from overheating. When the weather cools down the calcium can be cleaned off of the greenhouse glass. In the winter, heat is supplied through hot water pipes that run about a meter above the plants. The ideal amount of light for the plants is 16 hours a day. As the daylight shortens, energy efficient grow lights make up the difference.
Hot water Holding Tank at  Campanula
Power and heated water are generated by a large gasoline engine. The heated water is stored in a large insulated tank and is then run through the pipes in the greenhouse in the evening. The power generated during the daytime hours is more than is needed for the greenhouse facility and is sold to the power company during typical peak hours for other industries, in the middle of the day. This is part of the 8% that the greenhouse industry generates for the country, which was described above.

Our last stop before heading home was the beach town of Monster for a dip in the North Sea.
The North Sea