Agile intervention at Alexanderplein? - Master's Thesis Part 3
Updated: May 2, 2022
I am sharing what I found in my master's thesis in parts broken down from the research questions. This third post focuses on a specific project of the Bicycle Program of the Municipality of Amsterdam: the recent turning off of the traffic lights at the Alexanderplein intersection. See prior parts here: 1, 2. See the full thesis here. Need some background on what agile means? See here.
Blog post 3: Analysis of the recent intervention at Alexanderplein in Amsterdam
I looked at one project of the Bicycle Program of the Municipality of Amsterdam in detail: an intervention at the Alexanderplein intersection. After consulting many stakeholders, the municipality decided to do a pilot project where it turned off the traffic lights to see if flow was improved at the intersection.
Instagram photos before, during and after removal of traffic lights (Image credit from top to bottom: mattresses_of_amsterdam, siebeswart, emmapeijnenburg)
Research studies accompanied this trial to see how it was going, including one of intercept interviews from the University of Amsterdam that studied the human experience of people cycling through before vs. after the intervention. Despite people’s nerves, the trial was declared a success and the intervention was extended for a few months. Eventually, it became permanent and the intersection was fully redesigned. Now, the Alexanderplein intervention is one of several interventions the municipality has taken to improve the flow of cyclists.
To learn about the way of working on this project, I used a hybrid method I called Assisted Process Analysis. This combined narrative interviews and process mapping sessions with two key stakeholders, along with an online search for public content. From the narrative interviews I found some main themes (and sub-themes, see image below): an iterative project strategy, legitimization through analysis, and maneuvering stakeholders and organization(s). The process maps and content search are in the thesis.
Key themes and sub-themes from narrative interviews
From the narrative interviews, process mapping sessions and online content search, I developed a second-hand understanding of the project and evaluated its way of working. I used the agile lists that I made at the start to do this- here is what I found:
How the Alexanderplein project measures up to agile characteristics and practices (green = yes, orange = somewhat, red = no, blank = no clear conclusion could be made)
What are gaps between the current way of working and agile for a specific planning project?
I found that the Alexanderplein project had many agile characteristics and practices, although it did not cover the entirety of the agile lists. Could it have been more agile? Would doing so have improved the project outcome and better served citizens while using less time and money? Yes and potentially- but the second answer is not fully clear from this research. What is clear is that what was done has been seen as a success by many. Citizens now have infrastructure coordinated to their needs, and while the project did take quite a bit of time, infrastructural changes needed for the intervention appear comparatively small to what could have been done.
It shows that agile working doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing sort of affair, and there appears to be benefits from being only partially agile. Feedback from the analysis, informed iteration of street design, and learning about cyclists’ experiences on the street all happened during the Alexanderplein project. And it was done with a physical intervention in the public realm.
Update: since this blog post was written, an academic article has been published on the thesis research (see here, open access).