The Dutch Vision for Sustainable Transportation

As part of San Francisco's Global Climate Action Summit, Dutch representatives discuss policies for low-to-no emissions mobility

Photo: Mindcaster
Photo: Mindcaster

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If you want sustainable transportation to attract riders, you need to make it inviting. “You can’t just dare people to bike,” said Bas Govers, Program Director with Excellent Cities. “I think we should have a more holistic approach,” he said. “What is the urban environment communicating to its users?”

Govers made his comments as part of a panel discussion hosted by the Netherlands on sustainable mobility in urban areas which is part of the Global Climate Action Summit this week in San Francisco. His implication is that street designs in San Francisco and the rest of the Bay Area, by assigning most road space to automobiles, encourages people to drive. Reversing that is going to take more than just bike lanes: it will mean a radical redesign of our streets.

The Dutch, of course, are arguably (is it even arguably?) the world leaders in getting people out of cars and using sustainable transportation; seventy percent of trips in the Netherlands are done by bicycle or public transit. But this is achievable in the Bay Area and the U.S. generally, said Giovanni Circella, a researcher at UC Davis who was also on the panel. “Davis is the only city in America that has this in common with the Netherlands: we have more bicycles than people,” he pointed out. But that didn’t just happen–it required the city to adopt and maintain a paving program that puts walking and bicycling “at the core of our policies.”

Circella’s research focuses on maintaining that commitment, but also on anticipating how policies will have to change to accommodate new mobility choices. “Electric scooters are becoming a big phenomenon, and there is a big opportunity, if we can align incentives for people to live without a car.”

Living without a car, however, doesn’t mean never using a car, pointed out the panelists. It just means a future where people, when they do need to drive, use ride-hail cars (and, in the future, autonomous cars), sometimes connecting to public transportation. This, explained Circella, is a way to make public transportation more accessible in sprawling areas of the U.S. and to solve the ‘last mile problem’ connecting people’s homes and offices with transit hubs. But, he warned, “We need to be careful not to cannibalize public transportation.”

He cited research that indicates that, thus far, ride-hailing isn’t supporting public transportation, but is instead pulling people from it. “So we need policies that align with sustainability.”

One of those policies would be to raise car and gas taxes to reflect the real costs and damaging effects of automobiles, while reducing or eliminating taxes and fees for people who bike or use scooters and public transportation. “Mobility is at the core of what humans do,” said Baerte de Brey, Chief International Officer of ElaadNL, a provider of electric charging infrastructure. “We want to go anywhere and everywhere, and governments tax it. If we reduce taxes on clean mobility, or have no tax at all, in the end everybody will be sustainable.”

De Brey sees a future where there might be ten electric cars available at electric charging hubs in a neighborhood, so people don’t even need to own cars or have garages–instead they can reserve an electric car when they need one. Electric cars would be integrated with the grid, with their batteries being a source of supplemental energy for homes and factories when solar or wind power is less plentiful. “We call that bi-directional charging, or vehicle to grid,” he said. “This will integrate mobility into your energy system.” His company has also developed standard chargers that can be used by Tesla, BMW, and other makers of electric cars.

Of course, given induced demand, these innovations are still unlikely to solve congestion. In fact, it might not even fully solve problems from emissions, depending on how the electricity is generated and other factors. “Air pollution causes about seven million premature deaths a year globally,” said Guus Velders, professor of air quality and climate interactions at Utrecht University, who was also on the panel. He explained that it’s not even fully understood how much of that is directly from tailpipe emissions. “Road wear [and] tire wear also cause particulates,” he said, which can damage lungs.

IMG_20180912_115603
Giovanni Circella, Bas Govers, Baerte de Brey, Guus Velders, and Shannon Arvizu, the moderator of the panel discussion on Sustainable Mobility in Urban Areas. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

So no matter how efficient cars get, the answer, said the panelists, is still to aggressively pursue policies that just make it easier not to drive. Govers envisions streets that make people happy to bike to work, because traffic is calmed, or they have incredibly safe bike infrastructure, and are also inviting for walking. “In San Francisco, twenty percent of car trips are under three miles, so the potential is there for cycling,” he said. He envisions attractive, inviting hubs that have bike-share, e-scooters, and transit available, and perhaps even car-share. “We have to take the consumer perspective” towards transportation, he said. “The consumer wants to be safe, he wants transportation to be reliable, but he also wants to be surprised… he wants to say ‘I like it.’ I like electric driving. I like cycling. It’s bringing me something and I’m enjoying it. Let commuting be something you’re going to like.”

The Global Climate Action Summit, of which this panel was a part, continues through Friday.

  • How much CO2 do the people exhale?

  • SFnative74

    Yeah, we should ban people. That will solve all our environmental issues!

  • Courtney

    “De Brey sees a future where there might be ten electric cars available at electric charging hubs in a neighborhood, so people don’t even need to own cars or have garages–instead they can reserve an electric car when they need one. ”

    YES! So ready for this!

    I live in Chicago and it’s a great city to be car free depending on where you live in the city. I am a member of the bike share program, Divvy, utilize public transportation for 95% of my trips, and only use Lyft when it’s absolutely necessary. I often use Turo for those times when I need a car for trips I can’t easily make on public transportation. Many folks make the one to one and a half hour drive to Milwaukee. The state recently paused a proposal to add more capacity for Amtrak trains (which are currently full of people making the sustainable choice to travel by train). One step forward, two steps back.

    I wish more American cities (and cities across the world, TBH) had safe roads for cycling and great public transportation. One of the things that keeps me in Chicago is the public transportation. I don’t want to own a car and I deeply care about the Earth which is what prevents me from owning a car. Sure I could buy a Prius but even a Prius pollutes and a hybrid still reinforces car dominance. We need more alternatives so no one feels like they NEED to own a car to get around their city or their region.

  • jcwconsult

    Uber costs more than car ownership, per a recent study, and $$$$ rule.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • snrvlakk

    Meant as a joke, I know, or snark, but it is in fact true. If the population of the planet were just 1 or 2 billion (no need to get to zero), distributed more or less as currently, we could mostly do power generation through hydro & other renewables.

  • Frank Kotter

    When you have a non provable point, you fill the pages with characters. When you have an easily provable point, you provide no evidence.

    Telling.

    Frank L. Kotter, International Citizens for Rationism

  • jcwconsult

    https://melmagazine.com/the-cost-of-owning-a-car-versus-only-taking-uber-c9c3da372fbf

    I am still looking for the WSJ article with the same conclusion.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • Stephen Simac

    raising car and gas taxes to reflect the real costs and damaging effects of automobiles, is almost a political impossibility. Right now CA Republicans are floating a ballot measure to repeal the increase in state gas taxes that Democrats passed last year, hoping to use the repeal to increase their base turnout.

    My proposal in Save Trillions with Universal Health Care is to levy medical expense fees on all products and practices to pay for their medical costs. This would fund more affordable health care (allowing people to buy in to universal Medicaid at subsidized rates) reduce payroll taxes for Medicare/Medicaid, and gradually reduce the injuries and illnesses these products cause by increasing their now externalized costs.

  • jcwconsult

    I cannot find the WSJ piece, but here is another reference to the issue.
    https://newsroom.aaa.com/2018/08/ride-hailing-double-cost-car-ownership/

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • basenjibrian

    Even Davis suffers from the American Disease. We love ribbon cutting and NEW NEW NEW facilities. Maintenance? Not so much. Try to actually ride through the Davis greenbelts and you are in for a fun experience. The tree root damage and bad pavement makes the path system almost unridable.

  • basenjibrian

    What is “Rationism”? Are we issuing coupons now for transportation?

  • Frank Kotter

    It’s an organization founded by Jimmy Carter. We turn the heat down and wear wool. Thanks for your interest.

    Frank L. Kotter, International Citizens for Rationism

  • Frank Kotter

    From the article.

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/8c0ebc41b2364eca947f999560f99020c89fbfb0105ae465f4ff0b71d9a2081b.gif

    That’s why you don’t include the data, I guess, as it negates the basis of your argument.

    Keep on driving Jim and to hell with the rest.

  • jcwconsult

    The article had a lot of data, for those that cared to read it.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • Frank Kotter

    Read it. It contained all the data negating your original point that:

    *Uber costs more than car ownership, per a recent study, and $$$$ rule.*

    But please do include any data I may have overlooked.

    I don’t have a dog in this fight as I would argue that this is two sides of the same coin. Your argumentative style of half-truths and obfuscation is what I really take issue with, however.

  • jcwconsult

    In some places Uber is cheaper overall. In most, as shown in the two articles, it is more expensive. I have sight impaired relatives who love Uber – but it is overall pretty costly for them.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • Frank Kotter

    Just as intentionally misleading the majority of your original comments I respect your ability to admit such in your follow-ups. Have a great weekend.

  • jcwconsult

    Most were more expensive.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

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