Burgemeester Keynote Wereldcongres Ecomobility

Toespraak burgemeester Jan van Zanen

Kaohsiung (Taiwan), 4 oktober 2017

Dear hosts of the City of Kaohsiung, dear colleagues from all over the world, ladies and gentlemen,

Let me introduce myself: my name is Jan van Zanen, Mayor of the City of Utrecht in the heart, the very heart of the Netherlands.

It's a great honour to be in Kaohsiung again. I still remember my first visit so well. Then, in 2010, I was mayor of the city of Amstelveen in the Amsterdam region. I remember the excellent High Speed Rail in which we travelled to Kaohsiung. I remember the National Stadium, the celebration of the Dragon Boat Festival and the view of the city from the Tuntex Sky Tower. I remember the fresh lychees that were offered to me. Great to be here again.

And even greater, ladies and gentlemen, is the honour to be allowed to speak to you, at the beginning of the third day at this world congress.

I think it is a good idea to introduce you, first of all, briefly to the city that I represent with love and conviction. Birthplace of Miffy and Rietveld, certainly. But also a city with roots in roman and medieval times. With a beautiful city centre and three thousand historical monuments as a legacy. Crowned by the country's most important religious buildings, the much-loved Dom Church and Tower.

An old city, but also a very young and dynamic one. About one fifth of the population are students at one of our universities. Making Utrecht University the country's best, making our working population the country's highest educated and the Region of Utrecht one of Europe's most competitive.

Maybe, in your eyes, with its about 345 thousand inhabitants, a rather small city. But it's the heart of one of the world's most densely populated countries and sees itself no less than other cities faced with urban challenges. I already mentioned the location of our city in the heart of the Netherlands. With as a consequence the status of Utrecht as the country's national hub for rail, shipping and road traffic. And - last but not least - as one of the world's great bicycle cities. Being also, as the country's fourth city, the most rapidly growing one with development areas to the east (Utrecht Science Park), in the centre (Central Station Area) and to the west (Leidsche Rijn).

Traditionally, financial and business services are our region's core businesses. But after the last economic recession, we have become more and more aware of the knowledge and creativity present in our city and region of institutions and business companies in the field of healthy urban living. A quarter of the jobs in our region are related to this medical cluster of cure, care and consultancy.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Please allow me to continue my speech by depicting an episode from our history, with mobility (the subject of this congress) as its main theme. Just to show the background to our choice for healthy urban living.

About half a century ago, many people in Utrecht agreed that the expanding city needed more space for car traffic. City government even proposed a plan to fill in the old canals surrounding the historical centre, to create space for a ring road. Broad traffic roads for cars were planned straight across the historical centre, connecting it with the newly constructed suburbs. A revolutionary covered shopping mall was planned to replace the old Central Station area. And the Jaarbeurs Trade Fair Organization was happy with its new location near the city's heart.

There were many protests from the Utrecht citizens, but also from national government. Most of the plans were eventually rejected and nowadays we are grateful for that. Since it means that most of our city's historical attractiveness and basic qualities have been preserved.

Only one part of the plans was eventually carried out: the large shopping mall near the Central Station (Hoog Catharijne). During the following years, this proved to be a tremendous commercial success, lifting up also the existing shopping areas in the historical inner city. And now, this shopping mall, originally dating from 1974, has become, in a modernized form, part of the New Centre, the almost entirely renewed area around Central Station. The Jaarbeurs Trade Fair Organization is still happy with its central location, but now because the Central Station is so near.

It is the simple truth, ladies and gentlemen, that half a century ago, the city of Utrecht seriously and honestly believed to create a livable city by accommodating car traffic. Even in our city centre, where human activity concentrates and consequently the challenge of mobility  culminates. It's an experience that enables us to understand the pain of other cities, struggling with the same dilemmas.

Nowadays, the City of Utrecht is still developing rapidly. Within 15 years, the population of our city will have increased by 20 percent. Still more and more functions will have to be concentrated in a limited space. All the more limited, because the City of Utrecht has decided to accommodate its expansion within the city boundaries. A decision with far-reaching consequences for a city that is the heart of Dutch water, rail and road infrastructure and heart of the country's economically fastest growing region.

How do we create good access in this more and more concentrated city? How do we improve air quality, reduce noise pollution, create more attractive public spaces? How do we achieve our goal of climate neutrality in 2030? Summarizing: how do we create a healthy urban environment? That's the ultimate question, that's why ecomobility is so crucial, that's why I came to Taiwan again.

We firmly believe that urban development strategies should make people happier, our environment healthier and our economy more sustainable. We are convinced that for any such strategy health should make the difference. Leading us to the consequence, ladies and gentlemen, to give public health priority in all fields of policy. Urging residents and other stakeholders in the city and surrounding region to do the same, forging partnerships to do their part in creating a healthier place to live.

Not as a sign of luxury, but as a way to survive and, even more, to continue flourishing as an urban society.

And if we want to keep our city attractive and accessible, we need to adopt a different approach to mobility. An approach which, by the way, should not just be about traffic, but has to be integrated in a more energy-saving society, in a more circular economy, in the development of attractive and high quality public spaces.

An example of this approach in our city, is the New Centre I already mentioned: the area around Central Station. It is, so to speak, the heart of the heart of the Netherlands, used every day by about 300 thousand travellers (90 million a year). Even in this urban area, development focuses on being a city (‘metropolitanism'), but no less on green spaces, health and sustainability. How do we achieve this? To mention just a few examples: by creating more space for pedestrians and cyclists, while arranging car parking facilities in the city's outskirts. By creating lively shopping areas and by planting trees even on a newly constructed passageway across the Central Station's railway tracks.

The same approach is visible in several of our town quarters. Various streets have been or are being redesigned to create more space for cyclists and pedestrians. And also, by the way, for other activities that are beneficial for local economy. Because this space can also be used to have, say, an outdoor coffee or tea (or Heineken).

By focusing on the way people can be nudged to ‘good’ behaviour for instance in the area of sports and culture (instead of dictating extra regulations), we not only create more attractive public spaces, but also encourage a change of mobility choices and safer traffic behaviour.

Other mobility measures applied in our city, are the use of electric vehicles – including boats – to deliver goods and pick up waste in the city centre. The old diesel trucks, vans and cars are prohibited from entering the historical city centre, thus creating the Netherlands’ first fully low-emission zone. With reduced traffic emissions of 30 percent as a result. As well as the country's lowest carbon dioxide emission per inhabitant. By expanding the possibilities of car sharing and the use of electric vehicles, air quality can be improved even more and space can be used even more efficiently.

And now that I'm talking about space, ladies and gentlemen. If there is a space saving way of transport, it is the bicycle.

Not everyone understands the Dutch passion for cycling. I am aware of that. But it's a fact that Utrecht is one of the great(est) bicycle cities of the world. Number two after Copenhagen (Denmark). Utrecht, where most children learn to ride a bike before their fourth anniversary. Where even mayors go to work by bike. My own parents, 81 and 84 years old, still ride their bikes (low step) with pleasure. The City of Utrecht even counts more bicycles than people. Daily, more than 100,000 cyclists roam through our streets.

This has at least one consequence I can't leave unmentioned: we had the first serious bicycle traffic jams in the Netherlands. But also, express services provider DHL is piloting in Utrecht a new City Hub concept with cargo bicycles for inner-city deliveries. Each City Hub replacing up to two standard delivery vans, with an equivalent yearly carbon dioxide saving of over sixteen tons. Just another illustration of the healthiness and effectiveness of cycling as a means of transport and the importance of cycling facilities as a contribution to healthy urban living.

In Utrecht, 'cycling highways' have been constructed to accommodate our cyclists and in order to lead them to the available parking spaces, we use an electric parking route system. Besides, we are creating a three-storey underground bike parking facility near the Central Station with a capacity of 12 thousand 500 bicycles. hen it's ready, it will be the world's largest bicycle shed. Apart from the unexpected innovative aspects of the software needed to lead the cyclists to the available parking places.

The role that the governments of the City and Region of Utrecht have to play in this field, ladies and gentlemen, varies according to the circumstances. Sometimes, we need to set the agenda. Sometimes, we need to encourage, to direct, to facilitate, to regulate and organize and, finally, even to execute.

This is not always easy. It takes a lot of effort from everyone involved to share goals and to speak the same language. At least, in recent years, the workers of our mobility department have made a huge turn. More than ever, they co-operate with their health and urban development colleagues, with our citizens, with local knowledge institutions, private companies, specialized startups and other innovators in the field of urban mobility. It's a partnership to which, we think there is, as a basic approach, no alternative. We need everybody's knowledge, experience and spirit of enterprise. In our view, it's the only effective way to support sustainable development goals. The City of Utrecht was very happy to be awarded, earlier this year, the country's most inspiring Global Goals City, because it confirmed that we are on the right track.

And that's why, ladies and gentlemen, it is such a great honour to present, here in Kaohsiung in Taiwan, some of the inspiring and expert companies and institutions in this field, that have their home base in Utrecht. Innovators I brought with me to Taiwan, because we are convinced that their ideas are of use for any developing city in the world. Innovators with ideas that are practical and workable, but also make use of state of the art IT technology.

There is, for instance, the Springlab company, that developed the so-called Flo system, showing to cyclists the best strategy to catch the green light. Flo measures a cyclist’s speed about 120 metres before the traffic light and gives a speed advice, shown on a pole near the  cycling path. I'll explain this to you in some detail. Seeing a tortoise, you have to slow down to catch a green light. 'Thumbs up' is the sign that you can continue at the same pace. If you see a hare, you'll have to accelerate. Finally, a cow means that this time, unfortunately, you will not be able to catch the green light at all.

Pilots show that this is not just a playful idea. Making cycling safer and more relaxed, it's an innovative contribution to ecomobility and to healthy urban living.

Another Utrecht company, Dynniq, may be known by some of you already, ladies and gentlemen, since it supplies equipment for Kaohsiung light rail. Their product is a vehicle communication system used to exchange information between equipment in vehicles and along the route.

Vehicle identification is used for priority requests at intersections, route tracking, punctuality and regularity. Travellers get real-time information about delays. The ultimate results are greater punctuality, more efficient traffic, less traffic jams and happy customers. Sustainability can even be enhanced by improving battery charging procedures. And there are also possibilities to develop a broader smart traffic flow system like the so-called intelligent green waves and the safe guidance of emergency services.

The third inspiring example I would like to mention, ladies and gentlemen, are Robin Berg and We Drive Solar. Yesterday, Robin explained this system during his own lecture. In brief, 'We drive Solar' has the ambition to make smart, a hundred percent clean mobility available for everyone. The idea is that cars store and use locally produced solar energy, not inconsiderably reducing emissions. But that's not its only remarkable and innovative feature. Combined with car-sharing, it will also save space. A subject about which the next speaker - Robin Chase - will no doubt introduce you more thoroughly.

Because of its potentialities, the Utrecht We Drive Solar project is supported by General Electric and by the car manufacturers of Tesla and Renault. For them, the Utrecht project serves as a living lab for the development of new technologies. Adding to every future car a ‘made in Utrecht’ technological touch.
Ladies and gentlemen,

Please allow me, to summarize briefly my lecture, which was a great joy to convey at the beginning of this final congress day.

By putting health at the heart of our urban development, we created a value based strategy and a purpose for the future of our city. Ecomobility is an indispensable part of this. A fundamental partnership approach enables us to pursue the ambition of healthy urban living with the knowledge, experience and creativity of all Utrecht people, companies and institutions. Showing that it's again cities and their surrounding regions that are at the heart of the urban solutions needed today.

I am convinced that the City and Region of Utrecht will be able to inspire international institutions, national and local partners to setting comparable frameworks for the coming years. Inviting every city in the world to come round for a serious talk about mobility and the other challenges of present-day cities. Thank you very much.