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Mobility in and around the city still does nothing more than increase. If we do nothing, the roads will become clogged up and the centre will become inaccessible. Taking action is essential. Henk Meurs, professor by special appointment of Spatial Development and Mobility at the Nijmegen School of Management explains that “More asphalt isn’t the solution. There is no room in the city for that. We need to use existing facilities better, discourage car use and commit ourselves to attractive alternatives.” His suggestion to take advice in Utrecht brought us into contact with traffic expert Ronald Tamse.
Tamse kicks off by naming the five most important locations that he and his colleagues from the department of Environment and Mobility are studying. “To start with, Utrecht is at the intersection of four-, five- and six-lane motorways. Add to that the Jaarbeurs conference centre and of course the Central Station, plus the Uithof area that is the location of not only the university and university of applied sciences but also hospitals and large companies and has being gaining in popularity in the last few years. Finally, the Leidsche Rijn, the largest new ‘Vinex’ residential suburb in the Netherlands, comparable in size to the city of Leeuwarden (pop. 108,250), makes a substantial addition to Utrecht’s street plan.
An attractive business climate Tamse zooms in on the Uithof: “In 2012 Danone opened a research and development centre there so that they could collaborate with the university and the university medical centre. That has had a major impact on the city on several fronts. The multinational creates job opportunities and inspires other companies to also locate themselves in Utrecht. In the last few years we have seen the Uithof grow into a location of international significance, a development that our department also has to take into consideration. After all, an attractive business climate requires good primary and alternative transport connections and associated facilities.”
One of the projects that Tamse is the proudest of is the approach taken to the Mariaplaats square on one of the busiest pedestrian routes to and from the Central Station. “A year ago there were 63 paid parking spaces on the Mariaplaats, even though pedestrians had priority there. This is the reason that we have reduced that number to just eight: two for charging electric cars, one for a shared car, four for handicapped parking and one that is a combined space for picking up and dropping off and taxis, depending on if it is daytime or night-time. There is parking elsewhere in the city, although you do have to pay top price for that.”
The metamorphosis of the Mariaplaats was completed with broad pavements with low curbs. “This makes it easy for people to cross the road wherever they want so they can see what the shop on the other side of the road has to offer.”
New dimension The way public spaces are designed has a major influence on how they are used. In addition Tamse and his colleagues employ a whole range of mechanisms to guide Utrecht’s residents. “We stimulate the use of electric bicycles, scooters and cars with a financial contribution and by installing increasing numbers of charging points. To encourage more people to cycle, we are constructing rapid cycle routes and we are providing sufficient bicycle parking. On a completely different level, we make information about local traffic and transport flows available as open data. Companies as well as interested individuals can use these data, for example to build a travel information app. I believe it brings a fantastic new dimension to participation between government and citizens.”
Behavioural psychology “If you look only at the technical side of traffic design, there is not much more to improve,” Tamse continues. “Raised crossings, lowered curbs, roundabouts; we know the effects. This is why we are turning ever more towards the question: why do people do what they do? Why do people complain if they have to wait five minutes for the train to Houten and what can we do about it? You already know the answer. Look around you at the station: you can do your shopping there, buy a present, have your dry cleaning done, all to make your wait more pleasant.”
Mobility management also comes under the heading of behavioural psychology. Tamse explains that “At ‘change events’ such as moving house or starting a new job, we try to give our residents a push in the right direction. For example, we serve up our preferred route to the new intake of students who have not yet found their own favourite route to the city or campus, using brochures, social media and on road signs on the route. We are also experimenting with a welcome package for new city residents, including things like a money-off coupon for the local gym – ‘Leave your car at home!’ – and a map of the neighbourhood showing the locations where they can find shared cars.”
Although people complain a lot about traffic and transport in the Netherlands, Tamse says there aren’t any real problems. “Refugees have problems. We have to deal with issues of a different order; a delay or a detour is a luxury problem. And so for me it’s a challenge.” / JvdB