Pedestrians take priority in Rotterdam


Rotterdam is committed to pedestrian policy to address a number of challenges. The international Walk21 event serves as a catalyst. Landscape architect Annemieke Fontein and Martin Guit, mobility strategist, reveal their vision of what walking could mean to the City on the Maas.

Just like many other cities, Rotterdam faces a number of major challenges that are shaping the future. "We are in the midst of a whole series of transitions," explains Annemieke Fontein. "50,000 additional homes are being built in Rotterdam, which naturally means that the city's population will increase considerably. This puts the public space under pressure. What's more, we would like older people to continue to live in their own homes independently for longer, so we have to optimise facilities such as bus stops and supermarkets. And thirdly, we want to improve the air quality in Rotterdam." Martin Guit adds: "More jobs are also being created, which attracts more people to the city. That's something we need to facilitate. Our aim is to promote more clean forms of mobility and improve the allocation of space for cars, cyclists, and pedestrians as a result. We also have an economic objective, in addition to those cited by Annemieke.”


Rotterdam has the space

Research conducted by CE-Delft reveals that walking is more popular than cycling in Rotterdam, compared with other cities in the Netherlands. "This is consistent with the City Lounge concept, which expresses the feeling Rotterdam wants to convey. It needs to spread to the rest of the city, like ripples on the surface of a pond", says Fontein. "Certain places in Rotterdam are ideal for walking", Guit continues. “The Central Station is a great place, but we want to change some of the major infrastructure. Coolsingel is a prime example and this could expand to include the Erasmusbrug and a number of large intersections in the city. The character of Rotterdam, with a highly effective public transport network, is perfectly suited to walking. We have the space for it. Public transport is different in a city like Utrecht, which, for example, doesn't have a metro. It’s clear that people are more inclined to cycle there. You could say that Rotterdam is a sprawling city, with the river acting as a barrier. Nevertheless, usage of bikes has increased significantly, and is still on the rise. The city is also easily accessible by car."


Knowledge from all over the world at Walk21

The municipality has expressed the ambition to firmly focus on pedestrian policy. Fontein and Guit are thrilled with the international Walk21 event, which takes place in Rotterdam from 7 to 10 October inclusive. Fontein: "It brings together a great deal of knowledge from all over the world. We are currently examining how we could place walking on the agenda more effectively because considerable gains can be made. We are running lots of pilots that we will only translate into policy after their completion.”


One of the pilots is Park(ing) Day, a day on which car parks at different locations in the city are transformed into small city parks, or the Hoogkwartier city lab where residents are invited to accept the challenge to temporarily abandon their car. Guit: "The great thing is that we conduct these types of experiments in consultation with entrepreneurs. They might be a little sceptical at first but are more likely to participate because it concerns a pilot. In the end they are enthusiastic and they see an increase in their customer base instead of a reduction, which results in a structural approach."


Seeking inspiration abroad

As previously mentioned, Rotterdam has a unique character compared with other cities in the Netherlands. Due to the absence of a historic city centre the city is less able to emulate cities like Utrecht, The Hague or Amsterdam. Guit: "We look abroad, to cities like Gothenburg in Sweden, or Bordeaux in France. Cities with a river flowing right through the centre. New York is another source of inspiration with regard to the City Lounge. In fact, there's something to be learned from every city. In turn, we will have visitors from North America and Asia.”


Comfortable for pedestrians

As far as Fontein and Guit are concerned, pedestrian policy definitely has an impact on designing the public space. "I hope something changes," confirms Fontein. "Appealing public space also invites people to actively use it and encourages people to spend time there. The narrow sidewalks in some city districts have to be transformed into wide pavements. We also want more room for play, and green façades. Space must be created on the boulevards of Rotterdam for different types of cycling and vehicle speeds, and they need to be organised in a way that prioritises pedestrians. Everything must be as comfortable as possible for pedestrians, that's the fundamental principle. For example, this means bus stops need to be covered so people don't have to wait for the bus in the blazing sun or pouring rain."


Special lane for clean transport

Guit: "We are committed to clean mobility. This could mean that we will create a special lane for clean cars or trucks, and shared scooters. This has already been done in Oslo, Norway, where more space is provided for clean transport." According to Guit now is the time to look into the various speeds that are driven through the city, with the arrival of transport modes such as electric bikes, the felyx, speed pedelecs and the Biro, after all road safety is still important.


A number of pilots will be presented during Walk21. They will be translated into policy afterwards, which is totally consistent with Rotterdam's Environmental Strategy (Omgevingsvisie). The integral approach of this strategy links pedestrian policy to other social objectives, such as reducing loneliness and promoting social encounters.