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A Taste of Amsterdam: I Took the Streetcar!

European cities are always good examples for urban planners. It was always my dream to see how those cities are developed. I was lucky to have a chance to travel to three European cities, (Amsterdam, Brussel, Paris) and experience the distinct culture of each place. One aspect I was impressed by was their public transportation system. Veronica O.Davis, wrote about her previous trip in Amsterdam (A TALE OF THREE CITIES – AMSTERDAM: I DIDN’T DO THE THING YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO DO), and this was a trip planned from her previous experiences.  

 

Speaking of Amsterdam, this was my favorite city to visit on this trip. There were such beautiful and colorful architectures, and the organizational street layout was impressive. The city is under sea level and is composed of several canal networks. The name “Amsterdam” came from canal Amstel and the Dam Square (home of the Royal Palace).  The layout of the inner-city canal ring was their city’s signature pattern. Originally, those canals functioned as the fortification.

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Amsterdam Old Map

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Present Amsterdam Map

The public transportation system mentioned in this article is not solely limited within inner city transportation but also inter-city transportation.

 

Inter-city transportation

We took Thalys train from Centraal station in Amsterdam to the Paris Nord station. Then from Paris Nord to Brussel Midi station. The Centraal Station in Amsterdam was large, spacious, and easy to access. Thinking about how we usually catch the metro to go to work, that is how easy to catch a train in Amsterdam. What’s more convenient is that they can use the same transit card on almost all public transportation systems. There are many lines in the station that ran every 20-30 minutes. Impressively, the train will leave at the exact scheduled time.

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Amsterdam Centraal station

Inner city transportation

As we all know, the bicycle is the primary mode of transportation for people live in Amsterdam, and I have never seen so many bikes in the city like that.

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Interesting details:

  1. They have a trash can that builds specifically for bicyclists.

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  1. This pole design really solves a lot of problems in dense trains or for those who lean on the pole.

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Streetcar

It was hard to ignore the streetcar system in Amsterdam, which could be found in almost every street. We bought an “IAmsterdam” card, despite the fact that almost all the public transportations are free (from the bus/streetcar to subway) during a certain time. It was very easy to get around thanks to their developed transit network.

  • Frequency:

Every time I waited for a bus, my waiting time was no more than 12 minutes

 

  • Punctuality:

 

There was a screen by every bus/streetcar stop and shows the time when and which bus/streetcar will arrive.

 

  • Easy Read Signage:

 

As a non-Dutch speaker, walking around and looking for places is not hard for me at all. I was able to always spot the sign and tell me the direction.

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There also some part that I am not used to in this city, such as people biking so fast that I almost bump into several bikers.

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After all, Amsterdam is an amazing city with a great transit system, I will talk more about the city in my next blog.

 

Mei Fang, who is an urban planner with a strong passion for urban and landscape design, she also enjoys looking for the variety culture inside of the city.

Check for sleeping iguanas under your wheel

Offbeat signs in Cayman Islands

I am such a transportation nerd that most of my photos from international travel are transportation-related. Between the Nspiregreen and Greater Greater Washington blogs, I have shared my travels to Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris, Costa Rica, and Panama. In this blog post, I’ll share some of the signs I saw during my honeymoon in the Cayman Islands.

In the United States our signs are generally governed by the Manual for Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD). In its almost 83rd year on November 7th (Happy Early Birthday, MUTCD!!!), it was created to standardize signs, pavement markings, and other roadway features. Therefore, our roadways are predictable as people move between cities and states. Internationally, roadway signs are not governed by MUTCD and can seem offbeat to Americans. I’ve found through my international travels that in some cases, the signs in other countries can make more sense, despite their weirdness.

One of the funnier signs I saw in the Cayman Islands was “Caution Iguanas on the Road”. While in the U.S. iguanas are rare, they are very common in Cayman Islands. There are even signs to check under your car in case there may be sleeping iguanas. My neighborhood could use some of those signs for the feral cats that like to sleep under cars.

I saw four variations of pedestrian signs. One had a person walking. A second had two people walking with a note to walk left since people drive on the left side of the road. A third, had “Elderly People”. The hunched back and cane made me chuckle. There was a fourth sign that had two people running for their lives. Unfortunately, we could not stop the car safely to take a photo, which is probably why the people on the sign were running for their lives.

In the US we have a “Yield” sign which signifies that a person driving should slow or stop to let a person driving on the main road proceed. However, in Cayman Islands the signs say “Give Way”, which I think is easier to understand.

For some additional funny signs from my travels, check out my post on GGW on Offbeat signs in Panama, which include a robot pedestrian and a bodybuilder jogger. My personal favorite of all the signs I’ve seen is the “Ballerina Sign” I took like working on a Community Planning Assistance Team in Belize City, Belize. I was disappointed I didn’t see any ballerinas twirling across the street.

Have you seen any funny signs in your travels?

Veronica O. Davis, PE is a transportation guru who uses her knowledge to spark progressive social change. As Co-owner and Principal of Nspiregreen, she is also responsible for the management of the major urban planning functions such as transportation planning, policy development, master planning, sustainability analysis, and long range planning. In July 2012, Veronica was recognized as a Champion of Change by the White House for her professional accomplishments and community advocacy, which includes co-founding Black Women Bike.

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Could a Vanpool Work for You?

Are you finding your commutes to work  getting more and more stressful?  Are the commutes taking longer and longer, especially during times of construction? It pays, literally, to consider commuter options beyond the Single-Occupied-Vehicle or SOV. An option that should get serious consideration is the setting up of a new vanpool for you and your fellow employees/close neighbors. They are becoming more and more feasible to set-up and vanpool services may be more available than you realize.

First of all, what is a vanpool? It is a group of individuals, usually seven to fifteen, who have joined together to ride to and from work in the same vehicle. Normally it is a non-profit entity in which one of the members volunteers to drive and the others share in the cost of operating the van, including any cost of owning or leasing the van. The whole group enjoys the economy of sharing their commuting expenses and the convenience of sharing the ride to work. Another alternative is a for-profit vanpool where a fare is charged by the owner or operator, who retains the profits from the excess of revenues over expenses.

The history behind vanpools goes back much further than I thought. Though some of you may not be so surprised, if you remember the so-called company towns in the 50s, 60s and 70s, the fact that some large companies put together company vanpools to provide transportation to their workers every day. Today, you may hear these called employer shuttles. Btw: in a company town, practically all stores and housing are owned by the one company that is also the main employer.

In 1973, the 3M company saw an opportunity in providing a high-capacity commuter vehicle for suburban employees. In other words, higher than a capacity of one. As part of a pilot project, 3M purchased 6 vans and designed vanpools with eight riders with fares covering all expenses for the vanpool. The program was successful and 3M purchased more vans after only three months.

You can click here to read more about the history.

Today, successful vanpool programs are running throughout the country. For instance, the City of Seattle has been very successful in promoting vanpooling. King County’s Metro program has nearly 1500 vans running in the city and throughout King County, according to 2016 data from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). This makes it the largest public vanpool operation in the nation. Metro reported that the number has grown since then.   So far in 2018, there are more than 1600 vans with over 10,000 commuters participating in the program. Read more about it here.

Other successes include:

  1. Los Angeles with 1,378 vanpools,
  2. Houston with 686 vanpools, and
  3. Arlington Heights IL with 664 vanpools.

Closer to home, Woodbridge, VA had 404 vanpools in operation in 2016. According to the Vanpool Alliance, which oversees  the operations of vanpools in northern Virginia, the  number of vanpools has increased to 590 vanpools and is still growing.

Why should you consider a vanpool for your commute?  The Vanpool Alliance, again here in northern Virginia, breaks it down into five strategic reasons for considering setting up or riding in a vanpool:

Reduced Traffic Congestion  – If there are more vanpools out on the roadway, there are fewer SOVs on the road.

Reduced Cost – You may not realize it, but research has shown that with gas, parking, maintenance, tolls and insurance, driving a SOV to work is the most expensive way to get to work.

 Air Quality – Most personal vehicles emit large amounts of pollutants like nitrogen oxide and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. If there are fewer vehicles on the road due to more vanpools, then there are fewer pollutants in the air.

Better Quality of Life – As I said before, driving in congested traffic can be very stressful and downright miserable, especially for those driving very long commutes. Vanpooling offers people a much more pleasant way to travel and many of the vans these days are modern and wi-fi accessible.

Benefits for Businesses – Companies whose employees vanpool to work frequently report reductions in turnover, improved employee recruitment, better on-time arrivals, decreased demand for parking and lower payroll taxes.

With all that, what will it cost? Well, that can vary depending on the distance the vanpool has to travel and the type of van. The average is right around $170/month in the Washington, DC market, where I live. However, there could be financial incentives to help stave off those costs. These incentives may be a direct subsidy to reduce the cost of fare, payments on your transit subsidy card, and gas card incentives for the operators of the van. Check through the commuter assistance programs within your local or state government, and speak with your employer to see what may be available to you. Happy riding!

 

James Davenport is a TDM Employer Outreach Specialist, on contract with the Virginia Department of Transportation. Before that, James worked for Prince William County/Department of Transportation as a Regional Planner. In that capacity, he represented the county in regional forums and worked with planners and staff from other localities and transit agencies to help the region plan for its transportation future. For many years, James worked with the National Association of Counties as a project manager providing education and outreach to county officials, staff and key stakeholder groups on planning issues such as transportation, water quality, collaborative land use and economic development.





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