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Thanks to the horrendously complex German electoral system the Green Party have managed, via an coalition with the centre-left Social Democratic Party (SDP), to get themselves into the driving seat in our state of Baden-Württemberg. It’s not a great surprise: the natives have been getting thoroughly restless of late, mostly over a project called ‘Stuttgart 21′ to rebuild Stuttgart main railway station. The project briefly flashed into international news on September the 30th last year when police sprayed a peaceful demonstration with water cannon. This didn’t exactly get the population behind the project.
Stuttgart central station is a Terminus, so trains have to come in and reverse out. German Railways (Deutsche Bahn or DB) thinks this is so very last century. The track to the station also takes up a very large area of Stuttgart city centre, which just happens to be very wealthy, very popular with businesses, and very short on prime building land. DB’s idea was to build a groovy new underground through station so trains could arrive under the city, stop briefly to drop off passengers, and whiz off to exciting other European places with none of that annoying reversing business. By pure coincidence this would free up a very large area of prime development land right in the centre of Stuttgart.(I wrote an even more detailed post about this here)
Building a whole new station and several kilometres of tunnel would be a tad expensive, of course, but Deutsche Bahn (German railways) and the ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU) came up with a nifty equation: the current terminus station has 17 platforms, so when that becomes a through station it will only need eight platforms because trains won’t reverse. And that’s obviously far cheaper. Sort of. If you say it quickly is sounds almost feasable.
Now the CDU is out, the Greens are in, German Railways (Deutsche Bahn or DB)paused in their attempts to turn the station into a hole in the ground, and everyone is expecting the Greens to stop them permanently. The question is how they’ll manage this when their coalition partners are cheer leading for the project, but there are a couple of possibilities. One is a referendum, if they can get enough signatures to make it legal. The other is the sleight of hand DB tried to pull a couple of years ago, which at the time I referred to as a POSAD: A Politically Over Simplified Accountants Dream.
After the water cannon episode last year news got out that where old people and children were injured and things were getting out of hand, so a mediator was called in before people started turning cars over. He told Deutsche Bahn to go and find check their shiny new station really could work with eight platforms at peak times. This looks very unlikely, so they’ll be told to go and redesign the station with ten platforms, at which point the whole business case falls to pieces. The report is expected in May.
I can keep you posted if you aren’t bored already.
Normal ramblings to continue next week.
I’m in Freiburg again this weekend but I’ll reply to comments next week.
This is the cycleway over the Rhine between Breisach (Germany) and Colmar (France). As international border crossings go, it’s not very exciting, but bear with me.
A while ago when I was whining that we need a bit more road space to be given to people and bikes, instead of giving cars all the infrastructure they need and then some,* the person I was talking to gave me a long-suffering smile, and said “But surely you can’t force people to take one form of transport over another.”
Fair enough, and in keeping with the European ideal of ‘freedom of movement’ which is why there aren’t any border controls here and you can cross without a passport. You could also once cross here by train, but not any more: the road and rail bridges were destroyed towards the end of the second world war, and while the the road connection was rebuilt, the railway was apparently deemed ‘too expensive’. If you choose to use rail to cross from Freiburg to Colmar, you then have to go 25km south to Neuenburg Am Rhein.
There’s reasonably good cycleway on the German side and a rather unpleasantly narrow footpath. The cycleway now continues a few mètres into France, whereupon you’re faced with a narrow snow-blocked footpath, on a bridge with large trucks driving past and a ‘cyclists dismount’ sign.
So, how can we cross between these two nations at this point?
The choice offered is:
Walking: Difficult and unpleasant.
Cycling: Not too bad most of the way, then technically illegal, and/or unpleasant.
Car: Easy and fast.
Well, we can’t take space from cars, can we? That would remove people’s right to choose.
*Fortunately for my social life, I don’t do this very often. I’m just saying.
In the 1970′s Freiburg decided to encourage people to use public transport, walk ,or cycle, and to make it difficult to drive into the city. In the centre they closed a large area to cars and built tram lines which could take people right into the main shopping streets, and built a network of cycle lanes and other facilities. I can can report that the sky has not fallen, nor has the centre of the city become a wasteland.
On the other hand…
…there were lots of bikes…
And very little traffic.
In fact, the whole experience of walking in this city was far more pleasant than in our village.
Now there’s a coincidence.
Apparently the modal share of bikes in Freiburg is 27%, Not bad considering that Freiburg is right on the edge of the Black Forest, which is a Very Hilly Place. For comparison ‘driving a car’ is given as 26%, ‘car passenger’ as a paltry 6% and public transport covers 20%.
I asked David Hembrow when the Dutch City of Assen made the same policy decisions as Freiburg and the current modal share for bicycles. It turns out the main change was in the 1970′s and 80′s, and today bicycles have a modal share of 41%.
The coincidences just pile up, don’t they?
I’m getting all monochrome again: new bike bridge in Nürtingen, where someone in charge has realised people using bikes may want to get from A to B rather than pootle around.
I whine about Ostfildern’s apparent resistance to cycle infrastructure plenty, but I will say this for them: they’ve made sure that there’s a comprehensive network of signs for cyclists. Using these you can generally navigate your way anywhere you want to go, mostly avoiding busy roads. Of course, because I live in Ostfildern I already know my way around (and importantly, when to ignore the signs) so they are of limited use. Whereas when I need signs, like I did in Bempflingen* last week, there aren’t any.
Actually that’s not entirely true: there were a few signs in Bempflingen: it seems that the policy was to save money by only putting in every second sign, or possibly by only ordering signs pointing to the right. The village had also made them marginally larger than a postage stamp, and placed them on existing signposts, after first ensuring that these were properly hidden behind a bush or a house.
As a result I had a lot of opportunity to get to know Bempflingen rather well, and I can report that it’s an attractive village with a pleasant church and a very nice mill with a water wheel, which I was able to view from several different angles. Unfortunately I was trying to find the way to Bad Urach and back, a round trip of 100km, so it was not the best time to be on a magical mystery tour of the local dead ends, all of which had a clear view of the next village, but no way of getting there.
So there’s something Ostfildern have done right. I am happy to set the record straight. Now if they could possibly move along a bit with actually surfacing the cycle ways and making it possible to ride in the town centre without the feeling we will be flattened by a large truck, that would be even better. Thank you.
I’ll bore you further with the trip to Bad Urach another time.
*And who decided that ‘Bempflingen’ would be a snappy name for a village? and did this person have any connection to the person who decreed that the first road I crossed would be called ‘Klarwerkstrasse’: ‘sewage works street’?
Trailblazing 1: I’ve been trying to find a direct route to the south that doesn’t involve death by hill climbing. I came through the town of Neuhausen auf den Fildern, which apparently has been in existence since 1153. It was technically part of Austria until 1802. There are lots more buildings like those in the picture.
We have villages like this all over the countryside here: there are worse places to live.
It’s a perfect morning, one of those crisp autumn days where the leaves are just beginning to turn golden brown. After a bracing ride uphill along a busy road we pull off into a quieter street and squeeze between the expensive cars on the ‘no parking’ section in front of the Kindergarten entrance. I take Middle Son to the door and wave goodbye as I leave. The mist clears as I climb through the slowly waking village to the crash of the Xtracycle gears changing at random intervals -I really must adjust the barrel twister- and after a dirty look from a driver in a BMW for daring to be on the section of tarmac he was planning to use as a short cut, I cross the main road. There’s not much traffic yet, so I can get across fairly quickly and follow a leaf-strewn shared use path under dark clouds, and a bright sunrise from the east turning every bit of moisture into silver. On the main road alongside, Audi and Mercedes sports cars barrel past at daunting speeds, drivers hunched over the wheel, talking on their mobile or drinking coffee, trying to shave those vital seconds off the morning commute, apparently oblivious to the fact that the supply of dinosaur remains they’re burning up is rapidly dwindling.
A few metres further on, and I come to a tall pine standing alongside the road. From here I can see close to a thousand square kilometres, to a long section of hills in the distance which mark the edge of the Rhine/Danube watershed and contain several castles so impossibly fairytale like that they would be world famous in a country less liberally endowed with buildings with pointy bits. Between me and them slight wisps of cloud linger in a valley containing Tübingen, centre of learning in Germany for hundreds of years and Metzingen, started by a group of Celts before records began. If you ignore an unfortunately sighted block of flats, its perfect, and I get to see it every morning in the company of a couple of other cyclists and some dog walkers.
The road here is made of concrete slabs which give a gentle ‘ker-chug, ker-chug’ sound for a few hundred metres down the hill. As I pass a barn I flush a bird of prey -either a hobby or a peregrine- which flies alongside me for a few seconds before vanishing south.
The village is in sight as I pass two apple trees standing tall in the recently harvested fields. After a brief but exciting slalom through some apples that fell in the night, I join an arrow-straight road downhill into the village, past the house of the local sculptor who displays his stonework on the grass verge for people to enjoy, through the play street, and into the middle of the village with its 400 year old wooden framed houses glowing in the sun.
I park the Xtracycle under a canopy so it’s safe from any rain that may decide to fall, and go inside to work, with two thoughts in my mind. Firstly: I really should whine less about living in an ‘urban’ area, and secondly: why do perfect days like this only happen when I forget my camera?
We’ve had a wet summer, the sort where if you see the sun you call a policeman. This is a problem because at the bike shop we rely on a good summer to keep the accounts from becoming a nasty shade of red in winter. We aren’t there -yet- but it’d be nice to actually see a customer now and again and the boss has asked my if I have any ideas about how we could, perhaps, persuade people to wander over the threshold occasionally.
We’re a small bike shop (ie: we have no money) in a hilly town that does as little as possible for cyclists, and which has cold winters and the cycle lanes aren’t cleared of snow and ice. And they are steep in places. Oh, and we’re just up the (steep) hill from the Mercedes factory, so cars are big here. Despite that there’s massive potential for recreational and transport cycling because of the geography: for historical reasons those traffic free routes we do have are more direct in many cases than roads, when they aren’t on steep hills. The shop is on the edge of the town centre, but right next to the main bus stop, so we have a lot of foot traffic although it’s hidden from the road by parked cars. At the moment it’s a mess.
This means trying to get people to buy stuff. As I spend a lot of time not buying stuff, I’m putting a personal engine into reverse gear for a bit to come up with ideas, and I could do with some help here.
Here’s what I’ve come up with so far. Any ideas and suggestions welcome:
Focus on cycling as convenient, fun, and a way to go on adventures to great places (see video above)
Advertising on the Bakfiets (I don’t mind carrying an advert if I can take it off again later)
Running tours? (Possibly english speaking)
Two adverts in the shop window so commuters and bus passengers see them, mostly about hopw much more fun it is to use a bike, and how much money you save over cars. Again: convenience and adventure.
Aim to be proficient in a range of maintenance tasks by next summer, so I can take a ‘mobile workshop’ (Bakfiets again) to local markets and fix bikes there.
Do checkups for schools and cycle courses.
Run repair classes.
Host evenings for environment groups and cycle groups.
Start selling clothes and bagy, not (just) for cyclists, more adventurewear, travelwear.
Change displays to show fun, convenience, adventure, not bike parts: move bike parts behind counter and more accesible things in front.
Move old used bikes away from the door (they look really tatty and they don’t sell very well). Maybe even ask their owners to take them back home.
We can’t afford a lot of bikes, so really allow a lot ofdisplay space for the ones we have so they look really good. Have four areas: Family, Transport, Travel and Fun, with one or two bikes in each, possibly even set up with bags and things so people get an idea, this also this means we are saving space.
For display signs, hand paint signs on wood to give a natural feel. (I knew that set painting in the theatre diploma would be handy one day)
Use the whole front area for this and clothes, not repaired bikes like we do now…
Have a clear area to store repaired bikes, with a (wooden) sign.
Get rid of the massive junk piles behind the counter and use the space for bikes awaiting repair.
Tidy up back room for storing dead/long term bikes
Use old canvasses left by previous shop and make road signs for exotic places (set painting again).
Basically, focus on convenience, adventure and travel.
Any other ideas from anyone?
Pedelec in Würzburg. The sticker in the back window translates as: “How many cars do people need?”
Apparently they are made by a German company and are a battery/pedal hybrid.
Personally I’d go for a pedal-only huneligger, but I still like the look of it.