All posts by amandacp

Can the US Replicate the Success of the Delta Works?

How the US can learn from the Netherlands’ Delta Works system

On June 27th we visited Deltapark Neeltje Jans to see one of the largest storm surge barriers in the world, which is just one part of the Netherlands’ extensive Delta Works system that keeps the country—more than half of which lies below sea level—from being swallowed by the sea. The facility, part of which is housed in the storm surge barrier itself, serves not only as a museum to explain the operation of the Delta Works but also as a memorial to the victims of the devastating Flood of 1953. In a visceral theatrical production, visitors are able to experience the night a heavy storm caused extensive flooding in the Netherlands that killed nearly 2,000 people and displaced thousands more, and ultimately prompted the Dutch people to find a way to prevent such a tragedy from ever occurring again—an effort that would eventually result in the construction of the Delta Works.

Part of the Delta Works at Deltapark Neeltje Jans, a storm surge barrier that prevents devastating flooding in many regions of the Netherlands.

The structure was impressive (though as a Public Policy major I was more awed by its success from a managerial rather than an engineering perspective), standing at about 3 kilometers long and made up of a series of retractable gates that can stop the flow of water in the event of an anticipated storm surge. What was even more striking to me was the decision to incorporate the storm surge barrier with a road on top of it, so that the structure served as both a means of transportation as well as protection against flooding.

Once the project was finally completed in 1997, the estimated cost of the Delta Works was approximately 5 billion Euros, which is almost $6 billion USD. Though this cost may seem superfluous and therefore irreplicable in the United States, one should consider that the damage from that single night in 1953 amounted to more than half a million USD, not to mention the loss of human life, farmland, and infrastructure. Following that tragedy, the Dutch were able to amass political support for preventative measures against storm surges that Americans have seemingly been unable to, even in the wake of devastating storms such as Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, which together caused nearly 2,000 deaths and cost over $170 billion USD.

A closer look at the storm surge barrier. The gates are currently open, allowing water to flow freely through the barrier. In the event of a storm, these gates would close, preventing the excess water from crossing the barrier.

Unlike the Netherlands, the vast majority of the US lies well above sea level. However, some of its most important cities—including New York City and New Orleans—are relatively low-lying and, therefore, susceptible to flooding during strong storms. Though the US has invested in some storm surge infrastructure, such as the Inner Harbor Navigation Canal Lake Borgne Surge Barrier near New Orleans, it doesn’t compare to the Netherlands’ extensive Delta Works system.

In the event of a natural disaster, the benefits of investing in lifesaving, anti-flooding infrastructure in America’s most vulnerable cities clearly outweigh the costs. However, as with most policy issues in the US, politicians balk at the seemingly outrageous cost of creating this infrastructure, which would likely reach into the billions of dollars. However, as even US President Donald Trump has pointed out, investing in infrastructure creates many jobs and stimulates local economies. Rallying enough political support to fund such vast infrastructural endeavors may not be as difficult as it seems, particularly as coastal cities begin to contend with the inevitable sea level rise and intensification of storms that will accompany climate change.

-Amanda Peele

HTM: Public Transport in the Hague

How the public transit company plans to appeal to more passengers

We spent the morning visiting HTM, the company that organizes the majority of public transit infrastructure in and around the Hague through tram, lightrail, and bus systems. Appropriately, they are headquartered in Den Haag Centraal (the main train station in the Hague) and those of us who didn’t arrive by bike traveled there using their public tram system from the train station by our hotel, Den Haag HS. A representative of the company, Hans van der Stok, led us through a presentation that introduced us to the company and outlined their current infrastructure as well as their plans to make public transit more accessible, sustainable, and appealing.

Den Haag Centraal, the Hague’s main train station, also the location of the entrance to HTM’s headquarters.

HTM currently operates 72 trains, 129 trams, and 115 buses to meet the needs of over 275,000 passengers each day to connect them from the Haaglanden region, including the Hague and Delft, to the port city of Rotterdam. Additionally, the company supports the development of private transport in the Randstad region, which includes Amsterdam as well as the Hague and Rotterdam. Each year, passengers accumulate over 480 kilometers of travel using HTM public transit, a number that is expected to rise in the coming years, especially as the company attempts to improve the perception of public transit in the Netherlands.

Our presenter speaks with professor Cor Rademaker before the presentation begins.

HTM estimates that passenger appreciation of the public transit system is around 7.5 out of 10, but there remains a certain stigma around the use of public transit in the Netherlands that the company is trying to overcome in order to encourage more people to use it. In order to do this, HTM is attempting to enhance the quality of their buildings and stations to improve the perception of the public transport system and the people that use it. Therefore, HTM has begun focusing on the iconic value of their transportation infrastructure, or the aesthetic and symbolic value the public assigns to them. The more iconic value their infrastructure has, the more likely people will be to use it.

Inside one of HTM’s public trams, accessible with a chipcard.

HTM also related their plans to meet the Dutch policy of climate neutrality in the next few decades: much of their train and tram system is already electric, but by 2025 they also plan to retire their existing buses with combustion engines and replace them with an entirely electric fleet. They also stressed the importance of sustainability in their “5xE” model emphasizing the importance of public transport in improving five pillars of city life: equity, effective mobility, efficient city, economy, and the environment.

The view from the HTM headquarters overlooking the Hague.

HTM also discussed their role in managing the mass influx of data they receive in order to improve the planning of their transit systems to match service level to demand, as well as using their data responsibly to avoid invading their customers’ privacy. Today the company is able to derive data from the PT-chipcard their passengers use to board their transit systems, and they are able to determine the number of trips per passenger, their boarding time, their origin and destination, and more. However, HTM stressed that they do not sell this data and abide by very strict laws that permit them access to only a certain number of their passengers’ data and prevent them from divulging the name or address of the passenger who owns an individual chip card.

An example of one of HTM’s chipcards needed to access their public transit. This can be used to board trains, trams, and buses in and around the Hague.

-Amanda Peele

The Hague: the Seat of the Dutch Parliament

An Introduction to the Hague and the Dutch Government

We began our first day in the Hague on our bicycles (which, little did we know at the time, would become our primary mode of travel while in the Netherlands) and set out from our hotel in a long line following our professor Cor Rademaker. We made a few stops on the way to our destination in order to become better acquainted with the new city, including a look at a small part of the Hague’s extensive canal system which is currently under renovation and one of the city’s underground tram stations.

Students gather on their bicycles at their hotel, preparing to begin their first day in the Netherlands.

We eventually arrived at the Binnenhof (a Dutch word which translates to “Inner Court”), a collection of buildings that house much of the Dutch government, including the office of the Prime Minister as well as the meeting place of both houses of the Dutch parliament, the States General of the Netherlands. Among these structures is the façade of the Ridderzaal, an old hunting castle built by Count William II during the 13th century. William II was a Count of Holland and crowned as a roman king, and was even considered a candidate for the next emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, though he was ultimately assassinated before he could assume the role. A fountain in the center of the Binnenhof features a golden statue of William II.

A fountain featuring a golden statue of William II in the Binnenhof across from the hunting castle he had built during the 13th century. A student stands in awe of his greatness.

Today the Ridderzaal is still used for mostly ceremonial purposes. The former reception hall of the Count, the Hall of Knights, is now used for the Dutch monarch’s annual “speech from the throne” which outlines the government’s agenda for the following year. The speech is given on the third Tuesday of September each year on Prinsjesdag (which means “Prince’s Day”) during a joint session of the States General, which includes both houses of parliament, the Senate and the House of Representatives. The ceiling of the hall is adorned with somewhat intimidating wooden heads, “eavesdroppers” who listen vigilantly to whatever is being said by an assembly member to the presiding authority in order to dissuade them from lying.

The Hall of Knights in the Ridderzaal, where the King gives his annual “speech from the throne.” All the red, gold, and lions adorning the room appear to pronounce his status as a Gryffindor, but that might just be me.
The “eavesdroppers” in the Hall of Knights, whose presence holds assembly members accountable and dissuades them from lying.

After visiting the Hall of Knights we were led on a guided tour into the meeting chamber of the Tweede Kamer der Staten-Generaal (the Lower House of the States General). Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to take pictures while inside as the security around the building is very intensive, but we were allowed to get a relatively close look at the environment within which the Dutch government conducts its business. Like the United States, the Netherlands has a bicameral legislature; however, because the latter is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system, the roles of Head of State and Head of Government are divided between a monarch and a Prime Minister, whereas in the US both roles are assumed by a President.

Outside of the assembly chamber of the Tweede Kamer der Staten-Generaal (the Lower House of the States General). As this is the seat of the Dutch government, security is tight.

As we departed from the Binnenhof to get lunch we passed by the Hofvijver, a large pond adjacent to the Binnenhof as well as the Mauritshuis, a state museum housing the works of many prominent artists including Vermeer and Rembrandt. On the pond I saw the first of many displays of the art style of Piet Mondriaan, a Dutch painter known for combining the colors red, yellow, and blue in an array of four-sided shapes. Mondriaan’s art can be seen all over the city; I also noticed it in the cafeteria of a gift shop near the Binnenhof, on a storefront in a shopping center we passed through, and even on the façade of a building.

A tribute to the art style of Piet Mondriaan on the Hofvijver, a large pond next to the Binnenhof.

-Amanda Peele