While I’m getting bored on an endless plane flight, let’s look at Tübingen, where countless tourists have made the pilgrimage to see where Goethe threw up in an alley.

Tübingen is about 50 kilometres from Stuttgart and a million miles away in philosophy: the mayor is part of the green party and is following in the way of places like Copenhagen and Amsterdam by encouraging cycling and aggressively taking space from cars for bikes. And here’s a surprise: even in the steep narrow medieval streets and squares central Tübingen there is lots of space when we keep cars out of the way, showing contrary to the claims of drivers, roads are congested because cars simply take up a ridiculous amount of space.

It seems -and anyone from Stuttgart may want to sit down before reading this- that when you make good quality infrastructure so it’s it safe and convenient to cycle you get more people riding bikes as transport. These ‘Utility Cyclists’, moreover, don’t just want to ride around and take their bike home on the back of an SUV, they want to do things like shopping or attend lectures during which time they will want to park their bikes in the city, and preferably not have it disappear before they go home. This is awkward because even with small objects like bikes there come a point where there isn’t any more space, and to make matters worse people often leave bikes locked up to solid objects for a long time -I had one friend who seemed to keep his by the railway station- or forget about them. As there isn’t a handy canal to build an Amsterdamesque multi storey bike park over, Tübingen simply has lots of parking where ever there’s space, and regular cleaning sessions to get rid of the abandoned bikes currently rusting away in the racks to make room for more. Of course, chucking out old bikes is a tricky matter: You take an ancient rust bucket with oval wheels and throw it in the truck, and the next thing you know some professor is threatening to sue because you’ve destroyed a family heirloom. So what do you do?

Tübingen tells people when they’re going to do a sweep: the town has a web page informing cyclists when the next cleanup will be and what to expect: on a certain day council staff will go around the city and mark abandoned or broken bikes with yellow tape, and a week or so later they’ll go and will pick up any marked bikes that haven’t been taken home. Notice that the main point of this is to provide parking for bikes, so they don’t inconvenience everyone else by demanding that all bikes be removed, simply the ones they think are probably abandoned anyway. In fact, much of the press release is to reassure cyclists that they won’t lose their bike, like this concluding paragraph:

“If, despite the care taken by the clean up teams, you find your prized transport has been removed in error, don’t panic. Just go along to the collecting centre [Withing a couple of weeks] and you can pick up your bike free of charge.”

I like that: No threats, no snarling at people for daring to park for too long, just simple information and help if you need it.

Unsurprisingly Ostfildern doesn’t have this problem, so I’ve yet to see this operation up close. How do other cities deal with it?

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