The Netherlands Institute for Spatial Research (various projects)
Traffic and transport contribute to many environmental problems. The programme of the former RPB (now the PBL - Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency) mapped the current and future environmental pressure factors of traffic and transport within the framework of MNP, but also to support policy making by its principal (Netherlands Ministry of Spatial Planning, Housing and the Environment, Directorate General for Environmental Protection).
The Netherlands Institute for Spatial Research was established by Royal Decree and had the following tasks:
- to explore and highlight spatially relevant social trends
- to forecast the demand for and use of the space available in the Netherlands
- to monitor social and spatial trends
- to analyse government policies that have a spatial dimension
- to develop variations on spatial policies and alternative scenarios
- to publish its findings in research and advisory reports.
The main aim was to contribute to the public debate on spatial development. RPB provided independent information on present and future spatial development, based on original and innovative research that meets academic standards. It also generated new insights for national spatial development. Moreover, the Institute for Spatial Research aimed to be a window to future spatial development.
In September 2008, the RPB merged with the Milieu en Natuur Planbureau (MNP) to become the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL - Planbureau voor de Leefomgeving).
The Institute for Spatial Research was a consultant, commentator and critical observer, giving advice on request and on its own initiative. It did this for various organisations: not only for central government and Parliament, but also for other government authorities. In the end, the institute worked for everyone who is interested in the spatial development of the Netherlands and it maintained an independent position in relation to all these parties.
The Institute for Spatial Research worked to a study programme. This was adopted every two years, but it was flexible and could be refined during the implementation period.
A project group was created for each item in the study programme. Their aim was to ensure that project groups charged with writing the report contain members from different disciplines. The Institute employed professionals from a wide range of disciplines, including economists, public administrators, social scientists, urban designers, landscape architects and planners. This clustering of disciplines was one of the institute's key strengths. As well as being interdisciplinary, the research projects were intersectoral, drawing on theories and hypotheses from all policy sectors with a spatial dimension.
The Institute's working method integrated research and design - a combination that distinguishes the Institute from other policy assessment offices. The core principle was that, right from the start, researchers and designers focus on one topic at a time, the interaction between them moving the project forward, step by step.
For 2002-2003 the following focus topics were included in the study programme:
- Modelling the use of space
- Evaluation framework
- Metamorphosis of the countryside
- People, time and space
- Towards an innovative development planning
- Land market
- Accessibility and reliability.
The latter project was transport-related and therefore interesting in this context. A more elaborate description of the project (background and methodology) is given below.
Social and economic trends (just-in-time delivery to companies and time pressures on households) are making the reliability of travel times increasingly important. Although reliability is frequently mentioned in definitions of accessibility, it is never discussed in detail. But it cannot be ignored.
Meanwhile, travel times are becoming increasingly unreliable. Current traffic volumes are putting the infrastructure networks under strain, particularly in the Randstad. The pressures on the transport infrastructure are growing and are expected to severely reduce the reliability of the system. How this unreliability is translated into longer travel times, the inconvenience actually experienced and the opportunities to respond adequately will differ between regions and groups of travellers. Infrastructure and spatial developments can make an important contribution to creating alternative arrangements for routing, transport mode or destination.
Based on the literature, the institute determined the importance of the reliability of travel times in accessibility to various groups and for different purposes. A mathematical model of travel times was being developed with TNO. Given the infrastructure networks, a spatial distribution of activities and other assumptions about factors such as car ownership, travel costs and 'modal choice in relation to distance', the model can be used to calculate mobility, travel times and distribution of travel times. These in turn can be used to determine accessibility and reliability.
The model can also be used to forecast mobility and calculate its consequences for accessibility and the reliability of travel times, broken down by group and region. A number of strategies for infrastructure and planning policy were constructed and their effects on mobility, accessibility and especially reliability were evaluated. The results were interpreted and reported.