Storm Surge Barriers and Biking Infrastructure Experienced First-Hand
Today, our teacher and Hague enthusiast, Cor Rademaker, indulged us with over 70 km of biking (yes, we mapped it) between the city and Dutch countryside, exposing Holland’s hidden gems and sustainable qualities. We traveled to Schipluiden and Maasland to experience the expansive biking infrastructure before stopping at the Hoek Van Holland to learn about storm surge protection.
Our tour began heading out of town towards the smallest village in The Netherlands, ‘T Woudt. On our way, we paused to discuss the social housing within The Hague and how it is situated near the tramline, making it workable for those without cars. Because public transit is so common here, there seems to be much less of a stigma associated with social housing than in the US. Cor informed us that 70 percent of new housing built in the Hague is dedicated to social housing. Once we got out of the city, we entered cow country. We learned that cows are an important part of the Dutch agricultural economy since most crops struggle to grow in the brackish water that lines the fields. Across the bike path from the cows there were greenhouses that seemed to be go on forever. These greenhouses were used to grow grapes for wine production. After a quick stop at Holland’s smallest village, we stopped at a rural café to regain the feeling in our legs before heading back out to check out Schipluiden and Maasland, two small towns. Our main stop for today was to visit the Maeslant Barrier Rotterdam, a storm surge barrier. After biking six and half kilometers against the wind, we made it to the top of a hill overlooking the barrier. The barrier is a structure so big that it takes four years and over 300,000 liters to paint. Completed in 1997 and costing over 660,000 Euro, the Maeslant Barrier was designed to protect the city of Zuid-Holland by taking the full brunt of flooding from the sea. In order to do this the structure must be able to sense its surroundings and act quickly. Because it takes around 30 minutes for the arms to close, the system relies heavily on sensor technology and is completely computerized (even if we went extinct the gates would still close). Among other things, the sensors detect changes in sea level rise, wind speed, and wind direction. Once the water gets to three meters above sea level, the computer sends out a message to the city alerting the ships that the gate will soon be closing. To make sure that the system is still functioning, the barrier is tested once a year and is expected to be needed once every ten years, although it may be more frequent in the future due to climate change. The structure is completely self-sufficient and self-protecting. The structure is powered by its own power plant. In fact, there is a power plant built for each arm. In the case that one was to fail, there is a wire that runs under the river to provide power to the other. If both were to fail, there is a diesel engine that can be used to power both arms, but this takes more time to close the arms. The structure protects itself from damage by not closing completely. When the gates are fully closed, there is an 80 cm gap between the arms to allow for the inevitable movement during heavy storms. Water moves much more rapidly through the arms once closed because there is a much smaller space for water to move. This could serve as a source of energy in the future, but the tour guide said that they were not there yet with the necessary technology. Although grueling, the day was very informative. Besides learning about storm management in The Netherlands, it was interesting to see just how quick and easy it was to get out of the city via bike. There are so many bike paths, even in places you wouldn’t expect (like the countryside) that truly make not having a car easy. The city is planned around biking infrastructure, making it not only safer for bikers but also more sustainable.