I have a train to catch in Stuttgart, and being one for a bit of adventure I decide to go to the city by bike. Stuttgart isn’t known for being bike friendly, but there are at last two online route planning services, so I log onto both and see what happens. The results aren’t promising. The German cycle club planner apparently can’t tell difference between an bike lane and a heavily used urban road. Stuttgart city is slightly better, and suggests a pleasantly bucolic way through the forest and suburbs but warns the surface is gravel in some places: at least someone looked at it. I’m told to allow 45 minutes for this run, at 15km/h average speed.
Stuttgart is surrounded by steep wooded hills. The way to the city, therefore, is on forest roads: a mix of gravel and surfaced car-free streets. A complete lack of signposts though, so much consulting of map required. The route leads to a main road and here the problems begin. Further progress means crossing an unlovely 4-lane road and cars snarl past while pedestrians and cyclists wait for signals that change grudgingly after several minutes and then change back within seconds.
Between crossings and map reading stops -still no signs- I’m getting late, and the next bit doesn’t help either. It’s an indifferently surfaced forest trail, for 500m after which I need to re-cross the highway on it’s sinuous route down the hillside. This crossing has the centre reservation shaved to a fine point for the convenience of cars turning right, leaving a gap too short for a bike let alone the Xtracycle. Of course, the pedestrian lights trap me in the middle. A rush to the safety of the other side brings a short respite in the form of a contraflow on a one-way street, then yet another crossing -yup, same highway- with all the same features as before and some seriously impatient drivers. Then, like a mirage, a high-quality bike lane appears with its own lights and a red surface. Unfortunately it’s going in the wrong direction, and I’m left following a road with tram lines and parked cars and another minuscule bike lane that sends me off into some impenetrable suburbs, delaying me further.
This pattern continues all the way into the city: steep hills, busy junctions, no signs, and and a map that takes a perverse pleasure in sending me on left-hand turns across oncoming traffic. Eventually, after cycling through a dingy underpass and the city park, I climb up a delivery road and wind up at a sign saying „Welcome to Stuttgart railway station.“ It’s at the bottom of a row of steps, and by the time I get upstairs the train has gone.
Not the greatest introduction to cycling in Stuttgart, but the good news is that the Green Party have taken a lot of seats in the local elections: in other German cities where this took place, there has been a rapid change of transport policy afterwards, so hopefully they will begin to address these problems sharpish.
At the very least they may get some cyclists to test out the website and make reccomendations.
I could do it, for example, for a reasonable fee…