On a visit to The Hague, it’s easy to be impressed by the sheer number of cyclists orderly riding along lush, tree-lined boulevards and water canals at any time of the year.
Cycling here is deep-seated in local culture, as it famously is all over the Netherlands.
But even when residents eagerly embrace sustainable transport – swapping cars for walks, bikes and trams – the path to green mobility is still long and filled with challenges.
Some city streets are narrow, leaving pedestrians and cyclists in a competition for space while car use remains high, with inevitable consequences on what residents breathe.
Taking a cue from this year’s European Mobility Week, the Dutch city is unveiling new measures and activities to further advance its eco-mobility strategy.
The event’s theme this year – ‘Safe and Healthy Sustainable Mobility’ – is inspiring The Hague to launch projects promoting road safety, equality, cycling and reducing car usage.
Share a car, improve the air
“Luckily, we all cycle a lot in The Hague which is good for your health, good for the environment and good for the city’s accessibility. But there are also a lot of cars; around 70% of the streets are occupied by cars,” says Robert van Asten, The Hague’s Deputy Mayor for Mobility.
“My mission is to turn this lovely city into a less crowded and true cycling city,” van Asten explains in a Youtube video.
In recent years, The Hague has banned uber-polluting mopeds and instituted low-emission zones for diesel, cargo vehicles; yet reducing CO2 emissions will require additional assertive steps.
To improve air quality levels, two years ago the city introduced car sharing options and with European Mobility Week, The Hague is giving the program an extra push.
Residents can opt among three options here: borrow a vehicle from someone they know among their circle of friends, neighbours or their family; hire a vehicle from a car sharing company, so-called commercial car sharing; or opt for a type of cooperative ownership by leasing an electric car together with other people.
“Commercially shared cars will be given permanent parking spots and charging stations. And the same applies to cooperative car sharing of electric cars for which a subsidy is also available,” van Asten says.
City officials hope that this latest initiative will convince those still harbouring doubts, helping The Hague’s path toward eco-mobility to gain further traction.
But if The Hague wants to win residents’ hearts and convince more of them to switch to clean mobility, it also needs to address issues like lack of space.
When streets are narrow and bike owners don’t have a place to park, they’re forced to leave their bicycles on the sidewalk which limits the space left for pedestrians. This presents an even bigger hurdle for people in wheelchairs.
To address this concern and in tandem with European Mobility Week, the municipality has introduced bicycle platforms where residents can store their bikes, freeing up space on the sidewalk.
A new infrastructure at The Hagues’ Central Station takes this idea to a much larger scale by setting up an oversize bike shed to park up to 8.000 cycles, the second largest facility of this kind in the Netherlands.
The idea is for residents to leave their own or a shared bicycle at the railway station before hopping on a train or reaching other destinations in town.
Car sharing will additionally contribute to the cause: reducing the number of vehicles won’t just mean better air quality but also fewer car parks whose space could be used to build larger sidewalks and make more room for pedestrians.
…and protecting children
Meanwhile, the city’s ‘Schoolstraten’ – school streets – initiative bans vehicles from streets near primary schools during opening and closing hours.
The goal is to protect young students on their way to and from school and encourage parents and children to come on foot or by bike.
Helping those left behind
Although in the Netherlands every person owns on average 1.3 bicycles, that figure doesn’t apply to low-income residents who have no money to make that purchase.
The municipality is taking steps to change that situation and has also unveiled the ‘1000 Fietsenplan’ – ‘1000 bicycles plan’ – social project, as part of European Mobility Week: local entrepreneurs will collect and repair old bicycles that will then be distributed free of charge to those who wouldn’t be able to afford them.