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Bakfiets making friends at the local supermarket.
Germany has a lot of ‘utility’ or transport cyclists, although the majority seem to hibernate for winter.
I can’t help thinking that if Ostfildern actually made some slightly better infrastructure and kept the cycle lanes clear we would get a lot more, but then my cynical side wonders if more cyclists is exactly what the local government is trying to avoid.
So the big news for cyclists is that the town council has finally
given up built the cycle lane they have been promising would be in ‘next years budget’ since long before we arrived here.
The lane should have been built when the town hosted the state garden festival sometime last century, but the money was needed for other important things, like a seven metre high plastic carrot which pokes into the ground at the exact geographical centre of the town and is surrounded by a circle of giant luminous pink and yellow rabbits, without which the garden festival and the town would obviously have been incomplete. I am not making this up.
Anyway, despite being only a couple of hundred metres long, and a vital link between two large sections of the town, the cycle lane remained unsurfaced, as in: “a field”, meaning that children going to school had to ride on the pavement/sidewalk alongside a major road for several hundred metres. This didn’t stop the town including it on their ‘cyclists network’ map (nor did it discourage one councillor from repeatedly claiming it was surfaced and we should all shut up and go home). Finally, the dogged persuasion by the local cyclists club has finally paid off and the government recently made a big announcement that at a cost of €20 000 (which would buy about 5cm of Autobahn) they had now put a cycleway in place.
It is 90cm (3′) wide*.
Some of the councillors are wider than that.
This, remember, is a major link for cyclists and pedestrians between the two largest parts of the town. It could reduce short car trips by providing an way to travel, if it wasn’t too narrow for a pedestrian and a bicycle to pass. Or even a pedestrian and a small dog.
The council have answered this criticism by saying it is a ‘good compromise’ and the cycle lane can’t be any wider for ‘environmental reasons’.
I’m not making that up either.
*How did they manage to make a 90cm wide gravel path cost €20 000? Is there gold dust in it?
Well, not a great deal seems to have happened this week, but that would be a false impression. It’s just that not a lot has happened that I can make an interesting blog entry out of.* I can’t even regale you with tales of horrific winter blizzards and drifts up to the windowsills because even the weather is just in a big grey sulk like a teenager being forced to do their homework. When you start blogging about the weather being apathetic then you really are short of blogging subjects.
Still, I suspect it’s the calm before the storm, as next week will be my Praktikum, a trial week with the local carpenter, who fortunately for me is within an easy walk of where we live. If I manage to convince the boss that I can handle a week of eight-hour shifts without tripping over, passing out, crashing the van, or amputating my own thumb, I can hopefully start a full three-year apprenticeship in this company in September. In Germany we still have this quaint notion that training people is a good idea, so a lot of people here do apprenticeships like this in just about everything from social work to engineering, and in many cases it’s seen a sort of ‘job for life’, or near enough: we see it more as a “Skill for life” which will mean we can keep working towards our goals. I’ll go on about those another time.
I have been cycling as well, but as it’s mostly been the “drive to school/kindergarten/supermarket/garden” type of trip it’s hardly exciting stuff, unless you count the early morning “Papa Taxi” ride which occasionally means dealing with commuters in a two tonne weapon who don’t know what ‘Shared Space’ means. Last week we were going uphill on a road just wide enough for one car -so of course there were cars parked all down the side of it- when a VW pulled out and started to come downhill towards us. Lacking the abilities of spiderman to climb buildings** we waited until the driver realised they would have to wait for us to pass them. As we walked by the vehicle the driver leaned across and shouted in a you-are-being-told-off-voice that “Your light is really bright.”
With hindsight, “Good” probably wasn’t the most diplomatic answer…
*Not that this usually stops me, of course.
**And I’ll bet even he wouldn’t attempt that with a Bakfiets.
Longer suffering readers of this blog will have have noticed there isn’t much infrastructure in our local town for anyone who isn’t driving a car, but just occasionally the council makes a token gesture towards helping
unimportant people pedestrians and cyclists and last year they very kindly gave the peasants a build-out, a slightly wider section of pavement by a road crossing. It is very handy because it does slow traffic down a fraction and if you’re driving out of one of the side roads, you can see the 48 tonne trucks coming before they hit you. You can also imagine the excitement amongst pedestrians at having a section of pavement wide enough to push a pushchair on without having to use the road.
However, the build-out is at the end of a gradual right hand curve. So when I’m cycling up the hill, I can see the build out, but the car following me can’t.
This means I have a choice: stay by the side of the road until the last minute and hope one of the cars rushing to the next set of lights will then let me pull out, to or signal early and follow the same line as other vehicles. I tried the first approach and if the driver of the Mercedes that passed me is reading this, I’d like the end of my handlebars back. Thanks. You’ll probably find it wedged into the mobile phone you were using.
Cars do seem to notice us a bit more when we follow the line of traffic, possibly because they realise we won’t just get out of the way. Trouble is, every now and again Mercedes Man (or, for some odd reason, Fiat Woman) gets stroppy and starts leaning on their horn.
In the end I decided it would be better -especially when I was taking small boys to Kindergarten- to go through the traffic calmed old centre (speed limit 7km/h) and back downhill to drop the boys off. It means a steep hill and driving three sides of a square, but at least the commuters are going the other way.
Except for Porsche** Man who decided that this was the perfect short cut this morning and took exception to the presence of a bicycle (and pedestrians, schoolchildren, etc) on a road that clearly belonged to him and him alone.
As you will gather from this late posting, the week has been a bit busy. Job hunting in German can be a bit of a challenge: it isn’t just a case of looking for a job then applying, it’s a case of looking, translating the job descriptions, doing background research, checking what training I’ll need, working out where I can get that training, then repackaging this information for family so we can make a decision together, then applying.
Add my inability to master time management and it’s a recipe for disaster, so when we had a sunny day last week I dropped everything and took the boys out to explore for the morning. Middle Son has been waiting for a dry day to go on a ‘Proper’ bike ride since he interited his first multigear bike from his brother for Chistmas, so we went to the the next town to see what the boys call “The UFO”. Notice real cycle infrastructure to the left of the boys (Click to enlarge).
We made sixteen kilometres (ten miles) which made Middle Son very happy. On the way home we found that Ostfildern are as usual doing their best for cyclists…
Which meant a minor detour over this interesting piece of cycling infrastructure:
Fortunately when you aren’t in a rush and you have three boys, nearly falling in a ditch is just part of the adventure, and Beautiful Wife was delighted to welcome four damp, mud-bespattered boys home just as she’d finished cleaning the house for the week…
*Apparently, going to the shops in the next village doesn’t count.
‘Tis the season to be mucky. Especially as it’s rained most of the last fortnight, and despite promises to the contrary the cycle lanes are still not cleaned. Not that I ever believed they would be, based on Ostfildern’s record.
Our poor bikes are looking reproachful at the moment but as I keep telling them, they are working bikes, not toys, so this is bound to happen sometimes and it’s better to be covered in mud than dust. I’ve promised them a good clean for new year. Hopefully.
If it isn’t raining for the entire holiday.
Still, we’re over the winter equinox, so things can only get better…
A long-term friend in the UK is getting married next year, which means I have to find out a way to get to Newcastle via my parents house in York. Normally we go to the UK via the channel tunnel, but this time there’s a small complication because he’s getting married in August, when there will be some kind of sports event in London, so the city will be full to bursting point and beyond.
Fortunately my destination is Newcastle, far up in the frozen north where trolls live, so there are alternatives. Most likely is a train journey to Rotterdam, a peaceful nights sleep (optimism springs eternal) as we cross the North Sea by ferry and next morning, catch the train to my parents hom in York. Simple.
Except that the railway stations of both cities are some distance from the ferry terminals.
Okay, so take a bike: cycle from Rotterdam Centraal to the ferry, and from the ferry to Hull station, and while I’m at it, from York station to my parents house.
Look Rotterdam up on Google Earth. Can’t find a bike lane anywhere. Mutter dark mutterings about the claims of these blogs then realise the ‘road’ I’m looking at is a cycle lane. With a white line down the centre. Follow same from station to ferry port. Hooray for Dutch cycling infrastructure, and apologies to the above named bloggers.
There’s only a few kilometres between port and railway station, but it looks as navigable as a set from ‘The Matrix’ and slightly more dangerous. The roads are a mess of dual carriageways, flyovers and roundabouts with enough space in the centre for a small farm, built when city planners knew cars were going to be the only way to travel*. There’s the occasional cycle lane for a couple of hundred metres, usually ending at road islands and dual carriageways.
Obviously the chief trolls don’t use bicycles very much.
I could give up and use a taxi through Hull, but that would mean I don’t have transport for the week or two that I’ll be in the UK, which would seem a bit silly for the sake of six kilometres, and nor would I be able to ride in Rotterdam.
The other alternative would seem to be finding a native guide, or at least a map.
So, if there are any cyclists in Hull who are versed in the secret ways of the Matrix, I’d be glad of any tips, decent maps, or better still, a local cyclist willing to guide me through hostile territory between ferry and railway station and back again a couple of weeks later.
Please get in touch through the comments or contact box. Many thanks.
*This was ensured by making lots of dual carriageways, flyovers and roundabouts so it was impossible to travel without a car.
As this post still manages to be one of the most popular on the blog, it’s only fair to say my Brooks Flyer is now, finally, comfortable. It took about 1000 km to achieve this and I’m still not sure which of us was actually broken in, but I can at least stop carrying a spare saddle around with me.
The foliage in the springs isn’t a permanent feature, I had an appointment in our local ‘sustainable town‘ and whilst cars had a large underground garage, the only parking space for the Xtracycle was in a bush. Probably the planners would argue that having to lock your bike to a tree is the ultimate sustainable parking solution…
A friend has asked for ideas on ‘how to start cycling’ for someone who owns a car but wants to cycle more for transport, especially commuting. Now, I’m not terribly well qualified for this as I never owned a car and only got my driving licence when I was twenty six because we were in a rural area and I mistakenly believed I ‘needed a car’. Here are my paltry suggestions, I hope more experienced people can add others:
- Don’t panic: the streets look scary, but they looked pretty scary on your first driving lesson too, and you made it.
- Get a decent bike: Yes, I know supermarkets are selling ‘bargain’ bicycles, but how much are you really going to use a bike to get around if you have to pedal to get downhill with a following wind? Especially if it doesn’t have lights/mudguards/luggage rack. And your ‘expensive’ bike will still work in ten years time: your car won’t.
- Get at least one good lock.
- Freeze your car keys: put them in a margarine tub full of water and put it in the freezer: that way you can get at them if you need to, but it’s a lot less convenient than having them by the door.*
- Put your bike keys by the door.
- If you feel the need for a helmet, get one, if the idea (or cost) of a polystyrene lid puts you off, don’t.
- Explore: bikes can go places cars only dream of. Find regular routes you are happy with. In six months your mental map of the town will look different to a motorists, so you’ll send drivers down dead end streets.
- Always hide after giving drivers directions.
- Learn how to ride safely. learn about blind spots, door zones et c.
- Please, stop at red traffic signals.
- Wave at other cyclists.
- Learn which sort of car to watch. Locally it is Taxis, old men in big cars (especially Mercedes) and young women. Other places are different. I don’t know why.
And of course:
- Enjoy yourself, smile and wave at drivers, even when they are swearing at you. It’s nicer than shouting back and it makes them madder than anything else you could do.
*maybe not if they’re one of those new-fangled electronic keys…