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Insights from Dutch TOD practice

I started working on the iTOD project at the University of Amsterdam in July 2012. Our goal was to find out what cities around the world had done to overcome barriers to implementation of transit-oriented development. The Netherlands has had some national planning policy focusing on development around railway stations, but has yet to develop a consistent TOD approach at the regional level. Our study aimed to find out whether there were consistent actors, policies, or governance structures that had enabled other city-regions to successfully implement TOD, and whether those would work in The Netherlands.

This is the first study (of which we are aware) to conduct a systematic comparison of TOD cases. Most case studies in TOD have been single-case studies, and those that have compared cases did so in a simple way, e.g. using illustrative tables. For example, a number of studies have mentioned factors like the importance of key visionaries in promoting TOD in their city-region. However, these single-case studies have not been able to demonstrate if one factor was more important than the others in achieving successful implementation. Multiple-case studies in TOD (e.g. study of several cases with the same methodological approach by the same researchers) are also rare. Our findings are more generalizable than previous single-case studies because of the systematic approach that we took: meta-analysis, which included the use of meta-matrices and rough set analysis.

At the end of our first year, in July 2013, I presented our first set of findings at the Association of European Schools of Planning (AESOP)/Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning (ACSP) conference in Dublin. This article, which has been accepted for publication in Urban Policy and Research, outlines our approach to drawing critical success factors from a set of 11 case studies: Tokyo, Perth, Melbourne, Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, Naples, Copenhagen, Amsterdam-Utrecht, Arnhem-Nijmegen, and Rotterdam-The Hague. These critical success factors are the key elements of the cases that were instrumental in implementation of TOD, or acted as barriers to implementation. We were also able to isolate the factors that were most influential, and the combinations of factors that were used to achieve specific TOD goals, e.g. a high modal share for public transit, cycling, and walking. These details are outlined in our second article (currently under review). One surprising aspect of our study is which factors were less important than others in successful implementation (e.g. key visionaries and the use of site-specific tools in implementation).

In the past few months, we have been organizing workshops with Dutch planners who work in land use and transportation planning. Dutch planners seem to have reached a consensus that TOD is desirable in both the North and South Wings of the Randstad (that is, in Amsterdam-Utrecht and Rotterdam-Den Haag). However, they are still unsure of how TOD actually happens: who is the lead organization, how does the planning process happen, and what are the legal regulations or policies that would enable TOD to be implemented? A main barrier seems to be the lack of formal relationships between the various actors (e.g. municipalities, transportation departments, and the national government) and a lack of understanding on what the roles are: what can a municipality do to support TOD, and what can the national government do? How can they work together to achieve the goal of more sustainable regions, where one of the means to this goal might be TOD? There has been some progress in developing better informal relationships between the actors, particularly in the South Wing (e.g. StedenbaanPlus, the Randstad Rail project).

As we start to wrap up the project by July 2014, I would say that the understanding of TOD is still very limited to station areas and railway infrastructure. Planners in The Netherlands are not thinking about main streets as transportation corridors involving cycling, walking, and public transit infrastructure (by which I mean sidewalks, cycling paths, trams, and buses). This is very different from the approach in the US and Canada, which has shifted to the smaller neighbourhood scale because this is where the impact can be seen on modal choice. Dutch planners also do not seem to understand the desire to live near public transit infrastructure because the country is so dependent on cycling; the attitude seems to be, “Why should I live near a train station when I can just bike there in 10 minutes?”

And finally, a major barrier to TOD implementation in the Netherlands is the lack of public participation in planning processes. Compared to the US and Canada, where public participation techniques are taught at planning school, Dutch planners themselves noted that they are not trained in these techniques beyond simple consultation on a final plan (as Dutch planning law requires). In a number of the successful TOD cases, planners conducted long-term, widespread public consultation on the future of the region, including sustainability, transportation, housing, and the built form. This level of consultation (which was not based on specific projects, but a general dialogue) eventually led to a much broader understanding of planning issues, which created more public acceptance of higher densities and public transportation infrastructure. Planning in the Netherlands is still very top-down, which is very different from the US and Canada. On the other hand, public acceptance of higher densities and mixed-use planning seems to be high; the Dutch population, even in smaller cities, is quite used to this reality given the history of reclaimed land in this country. Considering the history and cultural context in the Netherlands, which includes dialogue and consensus-building on complex issues such as water management, there seems to be a lot of potential to integrate more public participation in planning processes which may help develop a consistent vision or strategic planning goal for integrated land use-transportation planning in Dutch city-regions.


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