Monday, 29 September 2014
Carfree Reflections on Rotterdam
Just back from giving a presentation on behavioural economics at the conference of the European Social Marketing Association in Rotterdam. The conference (of which, more here) was all about behaviour change, and when it comes to getting people to build more physical activity into their daily lives, there are few better observatories than the Netherlands.
Rotterdam is a city of 600,000 people, and home to the world's second-biggest port (it used to be the biggest, until Shanghai pipped it to the post). Rotterdam has a metro, trams, a good bus network, and several main line rail stations, including the extraordinary Centraal station (pictured above and below). A 3 day €14 ticket gets you unlimited access to the metro, buses and trams.
Of course, there are cars in Rotterdam, but they are not allowed to be dominant. Rotterdam is a city which has been configured for people on bikes and people on foot. It's a city with lots of green and lots of water, where people are purposeful. But it’s also a noticeably calm city - presumably a result of effective public transport, those endorphins from active travel, and not being forced to breathe an invisible miasma of traffic fumes.
As well as the Dutch default of segregated cycleways, Rotterdam also has extensive pedestrianisation, including Europe's first pedestrianised shopping street, Ljinbaan.
Active travel in Rotterdam means that trams and buses have priority, and cars are required to give way to bikes and pedestrians. That's down to urban planning, street design and people-friendly liability laws that favour the non-mechanical over the mechanical. What a delight, as a pedestrian, to press the button at a traffic crossing and get an immediate green man signal. Over time, it’s not just the cityscape, but the culture that changes. And one other thing we observed: anecdotal evidence, maybe, but we saw very few overweight people and only a few that could be described as obese. UK health officials, take note!