Interview with Edvard Hendriksen

Cities have to show more guts

After his study of economics Edvard Hendriksen switched sides and started working in the mobility domain. He was at the basis of the first electric taxi company in The Netherlands and now works on the acceleration of the mobility transition in the existing urban areas and new urban developments at Over Morgen. “When it comes to the mobility transition, cities need to show more guts.

a man smiling

After his study of economics Edvard Hendriksen switched sides and started working in the mobility domain. He was at the basis of the first electric taxi company in The Netherlands and now works on the acceleration of the mobility transition in the existing urban areas and new urban developments at Over Morgen. “When it comes to the mobility transition, cities need to show more guts. Start for example the restructurering of roads.”


What does your ideal city look like?

“As far as I am concerned, it’s designed in such a way that it works for the people who live in it. That means safe, sustainable and inclusive, with the possibility to quickly move from A to B on foot or by bike and the possibility to use high-quality public transport.The car plays a minor role in this city.”


The dominant narrative with regard to designing a suitable living environment is currently rather different. How do you view the dominant narrative and the place of livability in it?

“At the moment we are very stuck in our thinking with the idea that the car is the sacred cow and occupies a central place in our living environment with room for a place in front of the door. We also believe that we should be able to get to any place in the city by car. Fortunately major cities in TheNetherlands are transitioning to a more car-free policy for their city centres. In Amsterdam for example eleven thousand parking places will be canceled by 2025. These are the first steps towards a different narrative that outlines what a car-free city could look like. You can build a more pleasant narrative for the future by taking small steps.”


What would it mean for communities if we don’t alter this narrative?

“Cities in The Netherlands are getting bigger and about one million homes will be built in the coming years. This means that the pressure on our cities will increase even further, due to car mobility, if we don’t invest in public transport, cycling and good pedestrian facilities. The traffic jams will get bigger and with it the call for more roads and that actually means that we are going in the wrong direction than we would like, namely that of a cleaner and safer living environment.”


How could we best challenge this dominant narrative?

“What I experienced in Amsterdam, but also in Utrecht where they just reopened the canal that floats around the city, is that it is important that people can experience it and see that steps towards a different narrative are being taken. In Barcelona for example, you see that they are busy eliminating streets in the grid of their road network. It immediately evokes such a pleasant experience when it changes to a quiet, clean and green part ofBarcelona. If you experience that, you don’t really want anything else. We have to make this change by taking small steps, because if you do it too quickly you will get enormous resistance from the residents. If you let people calmly experience how pleasant it is to live in such an environment, where peace, regularity and cleanliness are paramount, then people will no longer want anything else and will probably get rid of the car themselves. I am against making certain things mandatory and more in favor of offering better and cheaper alternatives.”


And these alternatives are walking, cycling and public transport?

“Exactly. And let's not forget shared mobility which is partly are placement for the car. What you see is that people who get rid of their car for a shared car for example also drive less by definition. People’s mobility mix changes completely when they get rid of their cars. They will then walk, cycle and use public transport more. If we could speed up this process, it would lead to a lot of changes for mobility use in The Netherlands.”


Getting people out of the car is a big challenge I think. 

“At Over Morgen we work on new area developments. The new homes that will be built over the next years, will be built outside the cities. We shall just start there with building car-free neighborhoods. We also work on rethinking current urban mobility plans and let's try to work in small steps towards a new narrative there as well. Cities need to show some guts. Start for example with the restructurering of roads. In Utrecht for example, I lived for years in the western part of Utrecht, having the Cartesiusweg/Marnixlaan as an important traffic artery in the city. Now this part of the Westelijke Stadsboulevard will be reduced from two dual carriageways to two single carriageways. That will probably hurt people in the beginning, but when they eventually start to experience how pleasant it is to cycle and walk there, people don’t really want anything else. We have to let people experience good accessibility by making the alternatives much more attractive in the meantime.” 


That is quite a challenge given the state of public transport in TheNetherlands. 

“That’s right. We have stripped down public transport completely in recent decades. The train perhaps the least. Many bus lines and tram connections have been canceled in the major cities, but also in the periphery. In The Netherlands we suffer from profitability thinking in terms of mobility, which means that a bus or tram line must be able to support itself. With this mentality we are not going to build a well-covering network and encourage use among residents. We must reverse this and invest more in these lines and that actually applies to tram, train and bus. If we want to see public transport as an important alternative to the car, more money will have to be spent on it instead of investing in more roads. I think the government should listen more closely to what is going on in society and there should be a much better vision on mobility from the government, especially one that is linked to the housing task at hand. In addition, we need to look closely at how we can make the alternative to the car even more attractive. By reducing car use and car ownership we can work towards a much cleaner and more accessible society. I really believe that it is possible and I think the new generation is our salvation.They no longer want or need a car, because they are happy to use a shared car and have no problem using the alternatives..”


Who do you think are the forerunners in The Netherlands? 

“Some of the major cities are, because they have a clear vision of where mobility is heading in the next ten or twenty years and they have residents early adopting new mobility innovations. EV’s and charging infrastructure also launched successfully in the larger cities, now expanding to the rest of the country. The next step is mainly about phasing out car use and car ownership at places where there’s a lack of space.”


How can you ensure that this is no longer seen as just a left-wing hobby?

“That’s actually the problem. In all the municipal councils, the left parties vote for and the right parties are against plans that deal with this transition. I think we need to substantiate our story even better. This means on the one hand showing what is going well and on the other hand also showing that this is a better solution for citizens; in terms of quality of life, affordability and accessibility. We need to show that the car is not always the best solution for both existing cities and new area developments we are working on.”


How can we speed this all up to achieve an even faster effect?

“The reason the car is still so dominant and occupies a large place in our collective consciousness is because the car infrastructure is still so dominant. In addition, the car is still a status symbol for so many people. We need to accelerate the construction of better infrastructure, because cycling next to a busy street is still not pleasant. So let’s turn that around. It is also not pleasant to drive in busy bicycle streets, so let’s build more bicyclestreets at an accelerated pace. And when it comes to status, I expect that will eventually disappear, but this will take just a little longer. In that respect,I have pinned my hopes on that new generation that attaches less importance to private property anyway. If we can also make shared mobility more visible in the city, I expect this will also lead to a faster adoption among older generations.” 


How can we broaden the discussion about quality of life and not just leave it to politicians?

First of all, quality of life is only part of a broader picture on prosperity. I think we should first of all elaborate, prioritize and ‘market’ our broad welfare thinking, a concept that fortunately has been receiving more and more attention in recent years, much better. There are enough beautiful visions about this, but unfortunately the citizens notice little of this at the moment, apart from the many reports that have been written about it. It is clear that mobility has a major influence on the broad prosperity in our country. At a local level, in the larger cities, I can already see good plans to accelerate the mobility transition. We also see great willingness among residents to change in their environment. A group that should receive more attention, simply because they determine our mobility behavior to a large extent, are the employers. For them in particular, a change in mobility behavior is important for several reasons; think about health, costs and attractiveness. I also slowly see a shift happening here as well, but employers should be backed with better (tax) policies to provide this to employees. So again you end up back at the guts and willingness of politics. 


What can we start doing ourselves to improve the quality of life?

“Even though we as citizens have less influence on long-term investments in infrastructure, we can already do a lot at the moment. Ultimately, it is the behavior of individual citizens that shapes the mobility demand to which the mobility offer adapts, also in the long term. When I started driving an EV ten years ago, one of the first charging stations was installed in my street. Supply follows demand. I now start seeing this happening with shared cars in my  neighborhood. People hand in their private car and switch to a completely different mobility mix of bicycles, or e-bikes, public transport and car sharing. This ultimately results in far less car kilometers driven, plus betterfinancial coverage of public transport and partly healthier and cheaper travelkilometers. People often think they are making a rational choice for a privatecar, but many are subjectively car-dependent and make an emotionally drivenchoice based on status, convenience and comfort.”  



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There is an urgent need to rethink our thinking about mobility. The current expectations on mobility innovations are often rooted in the advances in digital technology and are generally greeted with eager optimism. Unfortunately what is often overlooked are the unmet needs of humans and our planet. The Lab of Thought attempts to explain mobility from this standpoint, so we as individuals and as societies lessen our impact on the planet, now and in the future.