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The Dutch connection: Transit-oriented development in the Netherlands

By Inge Hartkoorn, former RTPI Research Assistant

(Re-)developing station areas can bring great benefits to the immediate environment: it can greatly improve transport interchanges, create new high-quality, mixed-use neighbourhoods and revamp areas which may be underused and unattractive. Transforming such plans into practice can be a difficult task however, given the many parties involved - from Network Rail to train operating companies, local councils to other public bodies.

This post provides an overview of a planning support tool that has been introduced in the Netherlands to help aid planners and decision-makers in planning for and developing station areas and corridor developments. The tool provides a comprehensive, virtual (yet reality-based) means of facilitating long-term collaborative decision-making, and highlights the interaction between mobility and spatial development, allowing planners, decision and policymakers to identify the opportunities for development around existing rail infrastructures and improving high frequency transport services. 

Transit-oriented development

Transit-oriented development (TOD) is an American-born concept that integrates public transport investments and land-use practices in order to create more attractive, walkable, diverse places around station areas. TOD neighbourhoods are typically centred on a transit station or stop, surrounded by relatively high-density developments, becoming progressively lower as development spreads outward from the centre. Generally speaking, TODs are located within a half mile (800m) radius from a transit stop, which is equivalent to an average ten minute walking distance. These developments are usually based on either light rail or commuter rail services, and unlike other types of land-use planning that involve transit, TOD fully integrates mobility and spatial planning.

Although TOD is not (yet) widely recognised in Europe, many of the new towns created after the Second World War have the characteristics of TOD communities. Countries such as the Netherlands and Denmark have adopted planning systems based on similar principles, by encouraging mixed-use developments and high quality pedestrian and cycling facilities for example. With its key premise to provide mixed-use developments that are well-connected to stations and that encourage transit riding, TOD provides a promising urban model for densely populated areas such as the Netherlands.

Introducing SprintCity

The rail infrastructure in the Netherlands is currently under-utilised. This is primarily due to complex spatial planning and transport integration, and the fact that there isn’t a single responsible authority body for TOD in the Netherlands. In order to help break down these barriers, the Deltametropolis Association, Movares and the Delft University of Technology CPS have developed SprintCity - a planning support tool in the form of a game, which simulates urban growth and train frequencies along rail corridors over the next 20 year period. The SprintCity tool allows decision-makers to get a better insight into the relationship between spatial development and infrastructure, competition between municipalities, and the specific qualities and opportunities of each station along the corridor. Above all, the tool provides a safe platform to experiment with different development strategies and forms of collaboration between different stakeholders. 

Playing the game

In essence, SprintCity functions as a role playing game, where human-made decisions (usually by real stakeholders) are incorporated into a simulation supported by a computer model based on realistic data input. The game simulates station area development, job growth, ridership and the change in train frequency for several stations along a rail corridor until the year 2030 and in order to function according to natural boundaries, available train capacity, phased development areas and limited market demand for housing, offices and amenities are pre-set within the system.

SprintCity is usually played by six teams consisting of two people[1], each whom has a different role in the process. All the players are actual stakeholders (e.g. urban planners, transport ministers, housing corporations, rail infrastructure managers etc.) who represent three types of players: 

  • The Province: This player controls the overall corridor development, and seeks to find an optimal location for regional functions, such as hospitals or educational facilities.
  • Transport: This player controls the scheduling of the rail services along the corridor, and is looking to increase ridership while running a profitable service.
  • The Municipality: This player controls the land-use plans of each station area, and is aiming to develop these areas according to previously set goals and a specific master plan.

The overall game consists of five different phases, where the initial phases are typically marked by disagreements and a more competitive attitude to urban development decision-making. As the phases move on in time, there tends to be more communication and collaboration between the stakeholders.

SprintCity offers new ways of cooperation between the many actors in the development process, including both private and public organisations.

Because the simulation is based on real data and requires the participation of all stakeholders, the simulation sessions encourage in-depth discussions and a better understanding of the transport and land-use interaction, which is essential for promoting and establishing TOD. By doing so, SprintCity offers new ways of cooperation between the many actors in the development process, including both private and public organisations. 

Implementation and opportunities

Since 2009, more than 350 people have used SprintCity and its output has been applied on four rail corridors in the Netherlands. The development of SprintCity is funded by the users of the tool (in most cases, the provincial government) and at present, the game sessions have been played by planners in Antwerp, Leuven, Stockholm, Shenzhen and Bangalore. Belgium is currently investigating its implementation there and the SprintCity team is now working on making an English version. The game can principally be applied to any transport corridor (including Bus Rapid Transit), as well as to existing corridors (with existing and new stations) and new or comparative corridor alternatives.

Although SprintCity is ‘merely’ a planning support tool, it provides a setting based on reality, where key stakeholders and decision-makers can make well-rounded, informed decisions based on collaboration and long-term planning visions. More specifically, SprintCity highlights the interaction between mobility and spatial development, identifying the opportunities for development around existing rail infrastructures and improving high frequency transport services. It is a means to help improve the coordination and collaboration amongst various stakeholders, and allows rail networks to play a more central role in the planning of (new) developments.

With this in mind, SprintCity offers developing metropolitan areas a tool that can facilitate rapid urban expansion and densification around existing train stations, enhance accessibility, minimise problems related to congestion and suburban sprawl, improve social equality (by improving accessibility to employment and services), increase the use of public transportation, maximise efficiency and organise short-term objectives within a long-term scope of master planning.

For more information and the latest updates on SprintCity, click here.

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