Tag Archives: transportation

TXL: The Urban Tech Republic

TXL airport becomes showcase for future Smart Cities

After visiting the Heinrich Böll Foundation, we visited Berlin TXL: The Urban Tech Republic.

The Urban Tech Republic uses lots of bright colors and fun graphics to communicate that the finalized product is a fun, creative use of space that will benefit the community.

Our host first provided context for understanding Berlin. She described the two major phases of development in Berlin, after 1945 and after 1989. After these periods, the industrial employment base collapsed by two-thirds between 1989 and 2001. To combat this change, the city invested in the knowledge industry.

Students arrive at the Tegel Project office space. The organization shares the building with several other businesses.

Today, there are four major institutions in the city and a high concentration of talent, both of which curate an innovative ecosystem. Berlin now functions as a cultural center, known for its diversity, creativity, tolerance, cluster of start-ups, and more. As the presenter described, these qualities are summed up by the “three Ts:” technology, talent, and tolerance. There is also a digital ecosystem, which is concentrated in the capital. There are lots of co-working spaces and incubators in the area.

Students take notes and ask questions during the presentation. The Urban Tech Republic provides a perfect example of how to reshape old infrastructure for the needs of the future.

Berlin is doing well, seeing GDP growth and general economic health. As the population grows, the need for space for living and working within the city does too. Between 2003 and 2014, the number of inhabitants increased by 7 percent, and the working population increased by 17 percent. This influx of residents and workers will only enhance the positive feedback loop of innovation.

Students check out the plans and projections for the finalized project.

Then we began discussion about Berlin’s three airports: Tempelhof, Tegel, and Schönefeld. Tempelhof was closed in 2008 and was converted to a green recreational space. Tegel, which sits on approximately 500 hectares of land, will be closed in 2019 and opened up. The campus will have a green landscape, an industrial park, a commercial area, and a main campus. The space is meant to be a showcase of what a Smart City can and should be.

In the development of this project, the team faces several challenges: resource scarcity, climate change, demographic change, urbanization, and digitization. Even so, it is the Urban Tech Republic’s goal to “do well by doing good.” The organization engages in lots of activities to better the city: developing/testing mobility concepts, inventing materials, field-testing new energy sources, upgrading recycling, improving water tech, and creating ICT solutions.

Students take advantage of the opportunity to speak with a member of the Urban Republic staff.

Nearby residents are supportive of the project because they will not have to endure the noise pollution that airplanes create. However, some citizens think Berlin still needs two airports to manage the tremendous amount of traffic, but the Urban Tech Republic argues that the Tegel airport is already so old that it would be too intense to renovate to the international standards anyways.

-Olivia Corriere

Smart Adlershof

How One Town Reinvented Itself For a Greener Future

Today marked our final travel day of the program! The station, Hamburg Hauptbahnhof, looked quite different today than it did on the day of our arrival; instead of hordes of people armed with brooms to clean up the city following the G20 protests, there were just a handful of quiet travelers with their luggage. Our destination, Berlin Hauptbahnhof, was stunning. A large, glass ceiling and many different levels of tracks gave it the feel of one of the most modern hub of Europe. After dropping our bags off at the hotel, we were off to Adlershof.

The outside of Berlin’s Central Station. With 5 different levels and an exterior of nearly entirely glass, the Hauptbahnhof is the largest and most modern connecting station in Europe.

Adlershof’s history is long and varied, but it has an interesting connection to North Carolina in the form of aviation history. The Wright brothers were the first to fly, doing so in Kitty Hawk, NC. The first German motor-driven flight occurred less than a decade later in Johannisthal airfield, which is modern day Adlershof. The area grew as a hot spot for innovation in flight, and while touring the park we got to see some of the infrastructure that was used to test engines and planes in the 20th century.

This is a former vertical wind tunnel used to test the aerodynamics of various planes. Adlershof has a long history of innovation in the aviation sector, and it was the site of the first successful German motorized flight.

In the early 1990s, Adlershof once again redefined itself and moved to become a center for research and industry. The long tradition of adaptability was quite evident as we toured the area. Walking around, we noticed not only how impressive the buildings were from an aesthetic standpoint, but also how environmentally friendly and smart they were. It was apparent that this was a source of pride for those involved in Adlershof, especially for an area that brings so many people in to produce new and innovative ways of reducing our impact on the climate and finding more sustainable solutions.

The group gets an inside look at what it is like to work in Adlershof. Despite the location being a little far from city center, the infrastructure and resources available are huge attractors to companies, especially start ups.

At the minimum, many of the buildings had passive solar designs. By using windows and window coverings that can either trap heat or deflect it based on the season, the heating and cooling needs are greatly reduced. The “Amoeba” buildings, nicknamed for their wavy shape, used colorful coverings like these that look good while saving energy.

The so-called “Amoeba” buildings in Adlershof. The name is a reference to the wavy, rounded edges around both buildings. They both utilize passive solar and smart insulation to warm them in the winter, cutting down on heating costs.

Other buildings were creative with their use of traditionally forgotten space. Looking out at the rooftops, we saw that nearly all of them were “green roofs”. These have a multitude of important benefits. Firstly, they can help prevent flooding from sudden downpours of rain. The soil and plants soak in much of the precipitation and then slowly release it over the following hours. This helps reduce the peak amount of water in the drainage system, which is a huge help for stopping flooding. In addition, green roofs can diminish the “urban heat island” effect. This is caused when an area has a lot of asphalt and other materials that reflect heat rather than absorbing it, and is the reason why some cities can be 1-3° Celsius warmer than the surrounding areas. The plants absorb some of the heat that would be reflected by traditional roofs. In addition, they can filter the air of pollutants and carbon dioxide.

The “green roofs” in Adlershof. These help to lower the peak amount of water in the drainage system during downpours and can also help cool down the area and reduce the urban heat island effect!

Finally, we were struck by just how many solar photovoltaic cells we saw. Many were set up on top of the buildings and thus were usually out of sight, but there were some that were creatively installed around the façades. For instance, workers eating in the café were shaded by a semi-transparent array of PV cells adorned on the front outer wall. Another building had a concave array, which we learned was a great breakthrough when the technology was created.

Housing for students attending Humboldt University. Compared to our living spaces in Chapel Hill, we were shocked at how affordable these units were. We also learned about how the floorplan was specifically designed to try to increase social bonding between students.

Adlershof was an interesting look at how smart communities can successfully integrate multiple different institutions: industry, government, and higher education. In some ways, it was the perfect representation of both main topics of interest for our program: renewable energy technologies and smart city planning.

-Keegan Barnes

Automotive campus is a playground for transportation innovation

Green mobility innovations will make for an exciting future for cities

Our first class day while in Eindhoven began with the group biking to the Automotive Campus in Helmond. The Automotive Campus hosts a variety of startups that focus on innovations that will improve the efficiency of automobiles as well as help move toward the transition to electric vehicles. After our lecture we visited a workshop on the campus that is an extension of Fontys University of Applied Sciences. We made a trip to the university yesterday and today had the opportunity to see more of the kind of technical work that universities in the Netherlands do in order to foster relationships with universities and help prepare students to enter the workforce and think like “gamechangers.”

In the hall of the automotive campus is a map of automotive organizations in the Netherlands.

Our class time was in two parts: one lecture focused on innovations that are being worked on that will enable full automation of transportation and the other one focused on the transition to electric vehicles and how this would operate in an urban system. As part of the development of smart cities, we mostly talked about electric vehicles in the context of public transportation in urban areas. Green Mobility would include private cars and car sharing in addition to electric trains. Electric vehicles and automation together will decrease energy demand while also eliminating fossil fuel emissions with platooning, or the communication between automobiles and traffic lights.

Electric vehicle single-passenger charging outside of the automotive campus building.

The social implications of automation include more efficient use of space in cities. This is really important when thinking about the challenges that many European cities face when trying to expand outward. Automated vehicles and car sharing services within cities come with great potential for the development of public space due to less of a need for parking space within cities. Although less parking would mean a decrease of revenue for cities there could be more housing developments within the city. The introduction of more green spaces would improve water retention within cities as well as protect the air quality in cities.

Students watching engineering students in the Fonty’s university workshop.

Shared workspaces are an important aspect in supporting an innovation ecosystem with the development of new and improved technologies and data collection. Chapel Hill and many other cities in the United States would greatly benefit from more investments in public transportation. Public transportation intersects many different aspects of sustainability as it can decrease the carbon footprint while decreasing the collective cost of transportation resources within a city. Transportation also promotes social equity by making more of the city accessible to more people.

Timeline graphics in the hall of the Automotive campus show automobile development and innovation. They also include pivotal legislation restricting air pollution and the transition to more sustainable solutions.

As we have seen modeled in our visits to universities is that there is great potential for knowledge sharing when using triple helix solution models; using partnerships between the government, industry and universities to solve problems and improve cities. What we have found during our time in the Netherlands is how the transition toward renewable energy solutions and smart city planning is much more urgent when considering the serious consequences of climate change. Hopefully government and industry in the United States will soon realize the benefits of these innovations in strengthening the economy using the triple helix model to move the US to the forefront of innovative technology.

-Marques Wilson

Water Works

How The Dutch Utilize Their Overabundance of Dihydrogen Monoxide

Today we visited the historic Kinderdijk project in South Holland, NL. Kinderdijk is a system of windmills which have (and continue to) pump water up and out of a floodplain in order to make the ground their arable and habitable. Begun in the first half of the 18th century, the windmills (molen in Dutch), 20 in total, were constructed in a pattern of rows flanking a submerged parcel of land along the banks of the Maas river. The molen are ordered such that there is a sort of staggering in height as the water progresses through their ranks. The first set, a set of three mills, takes the water from where is naturally lays and pushes it through a turbine, stepping it up a degree in height. From there, the water enters two taller channels where 17 mills (16 of which still remain) bring the water from these channels one step further, pushing it into the neighboring Maas river.

An impressive view of several Kinderdijk molen (Dutch for “mills”)
A look inside one of the Kinderdijk windmills. The mills housed not only the machinery for the turbines, but also the millers themselves, who lived and worked in small rooms like this one.
The Erasmus Bridge which crosses the Maas River in downtown Rotterdam.
A view of the “Net Kous” (Net Stocking), a metal, tube-like structure which surrounds the Randstad Rail line in front of a business complex.

After visiting Kinderdijk we took a waterbus to Dordrecht. Before speaking on the latter, I would like to spend a moment discussing the integration of multimodal transportation across the Netherlands, as I have seen it. To get to Dordrecht, we had to switch vessels, take land and sea-faring means of transit, and interacted with a variety of differing companies along the way. All of this was done seamlessly by way of the OV ChipKart and its component scanning devices, which allow riders to slip between bus and bike, train and tram, and even waterbus, without ever having to deal with tickets or cash. By simply holding the card (after having made sure it is charged with enough money to cover the cost of transit) up to a scanner, the rider is allowed to enter and ride, checking out when they exit. The simplicity and well-oiled nature of this system is evident every time we travel in NL, but especially today, when aquatic vehicles too were involved, did it really strike me how messy such a process would have been if we had been traveling in, say, the US.

Looking out the back of the waterbus we took from the mediary dock (featured in the previous picture) to Dordrecht. This was the largest and fastest boat we rode on while staying in The Hague.
The gang hanging out on the back of the Drechtsteden, a small, ferry-like vessel which took us from Kinderdijk to a mediary dock, on which we caught a waterbus to Dordrecht.
Waiting on the platform of the Metro station directly below the Grote Markt, in downtown The Hague.
Moving sidewalks in the Rotterdam Central station, heading towards the river Maas.

We finished up the day in Dordrecht. The city did not possess much in the way of Smart development or Renewable Energy adoption, but another theme of urbanization was present. It was obvious that the town was dying, slowly but surely. Infrastructure, very well maintained everywhere else we had visited, was failing. Graffiti was visible everywhere, and though there was not an overwhelming homeless population, on Monday afternoon there was hardly a soul out on the streets. It was not until we reached the train station that real signs of life were present. So it is back in America as well, that areas on the periphery of growing cities languish in their shadows. Dordrecht proves that this is a global phenomenon, and thus a problem that we must face together.

An empty side street in Dordrecht. Lonesome views like this were common there, betraying a town in decline.
The Dordrecht mascott, a sheep, featured here all-dolled-up in a shop window.

-Forest Schweitzer

Amsterdam’s Canals: History and Uses Today

A reflection on our tour of Amsterdam’s canal system

The iconic image of Amsterdam is not without its canals. Amsterdam is a city of canals, often dubbed the “Venice of the North.” They tell the story of its growth as the city relied on this extensive canal system to transport people and goods before modern transportation technologies existed. However, Amsterdam’s canals still serve useful purposes and they still define the city we visited on Thursday during our canal tour.

The view of a canal from one of Amsterdam’s hundreds of bridges. Private boats that are used by residents to get around line the edges.

Most of the canal system that exists today was constructed in the 17th century, during the Dutch Golden Age. Three concentric semi-circles were built around the medieval city center and were labeled as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2011. As the centuries went on hundreds of narrow streets and narrow canals developed to create an expansive canal system. Some portions of the canal were constructed for military purposes while others existed for trade, water management, or residential purposes. Today there are about 1,500 bridges in the Amsterdam area.

The canal cruise company we used. There were a large number of different companies in the city center. Some offered regular tours and others offered fine dining, drinks, and more with the canal tour.

The canals today are primarily a way to transport around the city. A municipal water bus services a few routes throughout the city that locals and visitors use. From my observations during the tour, the canals are used for tourism more so than general transportation. Many canal tour companies lined the water outside of the central train station. Canal tours are an important part of Amsterdam’s tourism economy, carrying more than 3 million passengers each year. Historic buildings and landmarks line the canals making a thriving tourism industry. Most of the boats we passed on the canal were other canal tour services. However, there were a good number of pedestrian boats on the canals, both personal boats and water buses.

An example of a larger houseboat on the canal. The houses behind it are famous for being crooked.

Our tour guide also mentioned the canals are used for public events and special celebrations held for the city. Each year there is a celebration that, as one of the traditions, involves hundreds of locals going for a swim in the canals. In the wintertime, the canals are used for ice skating. Hundreds of years later, the canal system is an integral part of the social and economic life of Amsterdam. Finally, the canals are also home to hundreds of houseboats. These houses are permanently anchored along the canal edges and they are plentiful.

The large canal just in front of the main train station (not pictured) where we began our tour. Two other tourist boats float before us.

The canal tour demonstrated the unique way Amsterdam grew. It was constructed with canals in mind, not cars and roads like most American cities. While dredging up canals is not something American cities should invest in, there are lessons to be learned from Amsterdam’s land use planning. The canals have forced Amsterdam to develop narrow, walkable streets. The city and its population are dense, creating a vibrant city center that attracts people and businesses. The canals are coupled with strong biking and streetcar systems to create a multi-modal transportation system that makes it easy to navigate the city in a clean, efficient way. American planners can learn a lot from Amsterdam’s development for how it has created a world-renowned and sustainable city.

-Duncan Richey

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

Biking to Leiden

Examining sophisticated bicycle infrastructure

Today began with an approximately 8-mile bike ride to Leiden from The Student Hotel in The Hague. Although biking with a group of 26 is never easy, the sophisticated bicycle infrastructure of The Netherlands made the trip very enjoyable. Compared to the intense biking from the day before, this was a relaxed ride. We decided to stop at the Castle Duivenvoorde, built in 1226, along the way. Although it was not as large as stereotypical European castles, it was worth seeing. A moat in the form of a gentle river surrounded the base of the structure. Surprisingly, this castle has been owned by the same family for its entire history. We kept our tour of the outside brief so as not to disturb the family currently living inside.

Castle Duivenvoorde hs stayed in the same family since its construction in 1226. In fact, the ancestors of the original owners still live there today.

After walking the grounds of the castle for a while, we made our way back to the ‘bicycle highway’ that connects Leiden to The Hague. These roads typically run through wilderness areas and are safely removed from the busy highways that allow cars and trucks. Throughout the whole ride, we passed several people walking, a few horses, and only one car. Even with us being right outside of one of the most urbanized areas of The Netherlands, it felt as though we were deep in a secluded forest. It wasn’t until we were very close to the Central Station of Leiden that we emerged into an urban environment.

“Bike highways” connect metropolitan regions through scenic trails in the wilderness. This is the trail that connects The Hague to Leiden.

Before reaching the city center, we passed a sculpture honoring the life of Rembrandt van Rijn. Born in Leiden, Rembrandt grew up in a house close to the sculpture. He eventually moved to Amsterdam so he could sell his world-famous paintings for better prices. Citizens of Leiden are still proud to claim Rembrandt as theirs, and even boast a museum including many of his most renowned works. However, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam holds the majority of Rembrandts’ paintings today.

A statue honors the famous painter Rembrandt in a square near his birth home in Leiden. He later moved to Amsterdam to increase the size of his market.

Finally, we reached the center of Leiden. Like most Dutch cities, the Central Train Station marks the hub of life in the city. We parked our bicycles in an underground parking garage with the capacity to house over 20,000 bikes in racks and lock-stations. Then, it was time to roam the city. We spent most of the day exploring a festival, restaurants, and the local castle. Although we never discovered the purpose of the large festival, we were all excited to receive free snacks and drinks. The city is full of delicious restaurants ranging from authentic Italian to true Dutch cuisine. The castle provided a stunning view of the city from its vantage point on a hill. Most European castles are constructed on hills or mountains for defensive reasons.

The train station in Leiden includes a large underground bicycle station. This one can support over 2,000 bicycles at once!

Other students spent their free time eating their way through an open-air market, investigating the two main churches in Leiden, or watching a rowing race in the canals of the city. The market offered everything from fresh fruits and vegetables from local farmers to traditional sweet treats like Stroop waffles, all at a great price. Even meats like sausage and chicken were sold in cooked and raw forms. Unfortunately, one of the churches was closed due to a wedding, but it was still amazing to admire it from the outside. Some students were even lucky enough to witness an intense race between several teams of rowers in the canals that connect parts of the city.

Students look on as rowers race in the canals of Leiden. Canals are a common sight in Dutch cities and are often used for recreation.
One of the churches in Leiden dominates the skyline from the castle in the city center. The second major church in Leiden is just out of frame to the left.

After a long day of exploring the city of Leiden in smaller groups, we reconvened in front of the bicycle parking garage. Professor Rademaker led us back to The Hague via an alternate route along a canal. Although this route was much less wooded and included more homes, it was nice to see the water. We covered the 8 miles between us and the hotel faster than expected and could leave for dinner once we returned. It was nice to have a more laid-back day to explore a new city while still getting to learn about and experience the incredibly organized and user-friendly bicycle infrastructure of The Netherlands.

-Jed Higdon