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Bristol (UK) has just become the first city in the country to start a bike share scheme, and it’s getting all manner of flak for it. The main argument against seems to be that “Bristol is hilly” which is hardly an astute observation if you’ve ever been there, but apparently a shock to journalists from London.
Germany has several bike share schemes: I know this will annoy the French, but several cities in Germany had quietly embraced the idea years before it caught on in Paris. Stuttgart, which is possibly even more hilly than Bristol, has a successful bike share system run by German Railways (Deutsche Bahn, or DB). The ‘Call-a-bike’ network was launched in 2007 with 400 bikes at somewhere between 50-65 hubs around the city depending on who you ask. It works using mobile phones which has the advantage that they know who is using any bike at any time, Despite this Stuttgart is fussy about you bringing the bike back to the hub you got it from, but on the other hand the first half hour is free. The system has been an instant success and it’s been was expanded since it opened. (I guess that’s where the different numbers come from, so much for Teutonic accuracy).
Stuttgarts traffic is probably a bit safer for cycling than Bristols, but we also have tramlines on a number of streets, and other streets that are so steep they give up and become staircases. So can Stuttgarters handle hills better than Bristolians? I doubt it, especially after a few beers. The major difference in the two systems is the numbers of bikes. Stuttgart has 400 bikes in 60 Hubs. Now Wikipedia says the centre of Stuttgart (where the bikes are) is home to 590 497 people (or at least, it was on the first of June 2008). My maths is a bit fuzzy but I think that works out as a bit less that one bike per 1500 people living the centre. And you thought talking about bike parts was as boring as I can get.
‘Hourbike‘, Bristol’s foray into the brave new world of bike share, involved much fanfare and eighteen bikes in four stations. Yes you did read that correctly. Eighteen. According to Wikipedia and my fuzzy maths, if the population of central Bristol all decided to join, over 23000 people would be lining up for each bike. That’s bad enough, but the four locations don’t include the main railway station. Now call me obtuse, but if I was going to make a bike share system, I’d make darn sure it feeds the main public transport hubs. Last time I was in Stuttgart I found four hubs of about twenty bikes around the main station in the city, or to put it another way, more bikes than serve the whole city of Bristol, and there’s still 61 hubs elsewhere.
Bristol has a chance to prove everyone wrong and become a flagship city like Paris -and for the record, I hope they do- if it starts taking it seriously and stops faffing about. To get the same ratio as Stuttgart only requires 300 bikes, give or take, and perhaps a lot of publicity, and you have a prestige project begging for a politician to sponsor it. Any takers?
I knew I should have written this post earlier: Christoph Chorherr’s German language blog recently linked to a survey of the residents residents of Floridsdorf, a car-free section of Vienna which was built about ten years ago, to see how the place was getting along. I was going to read the report a couple of times then impress you all by telling you about it, but I’ve been busy lazy over the last week and the highly readable “Cycling is good for you” blog got there first with a great translation and summary, and a vast amount of ‘further information’ links all of which you can read by clicking on this link. Go on. I’ll still be here when you’re finished.
Welcome back. By now you’ll have worked out that Floridsdorf was planned carefully: it’s not just about not having parking, but a whole different approach to mobility and livability. It’s also good to persuade people not to get a car and park it around the corner on the sly. I especially love the idea of the shared spaces, so instead of the rich people living on top in a penthouse flat with their own pool, the pool is shared by everyone, as are the community gardens, workshops, and other facilities.
Yet whenever this sort of thing is proposed, it’s accused of ‘Social Engineering’. or worse. It seems that making public transport available or a building a walkable neighbourhood is ‘forcing’ people to live a certain way, instead of allowing people the choice of living how they want, and apparently that’s mile after mile of car-dominated sprawl, which where residents choose to be forced to own an expensive car or be sentenced to virtual imprisonment in in the suburbian gulag. Of course all those people driving require more roads: , so we “choose” to make cities car friendly, and the people who live in them have streets polluted and clogged by car traffic, because that’s What People Want: and forcing them to live otherwise would be ‘social engineering’ after all. Get off my car yer socialist.
One thing: I don’t see one of these around Floridsdorf or Vauban to keep the discontented masses or from leaving. In fact as Anna of “Cycling is good for you” attests, free apartments in Floridsdorf are almost impossible to get hold of because of the high demand. Hmm… Perhaps ‘What People Want’ is a bit more a case of ‘Not wanting to change’.
Either way those pesky socially engineered places are catching on. Vauban caused a little stir a few months ago on the Blogosphere, but very similar schemes exist or are being planned in a few places- Amsterdam has one just around the corner from Henry’s workbikes, Düsseldorf and Tübingen are planning similar and there’s a brand new one in Köln, just off our route along the Rhine. Perfect for a visit in fact, so we’re going to drop by and see what it’s really like.
I’ll let you know if they have to surround the place with Razor Wire and hunt down escapees trying to breathe the heady exhaust-tinged air of suburbia.
Watch me get scooped on this one.
After a couple of years racing about on a wooden push-along bike, Middle Son is graduating to his first pedal powered vehicle. He’s doing it in fits and starts at the moment, and when I put out traffic cones for him to ride around he spends more time playing games with the cones, but we’re getting there. He’s learning quickly because Eldest Son, who is just off frame, is acting as a pace car, so he has a target and an example. On the flip side he’s used to me driving him about on the Xtracycle so I think he’s reluctant to give that up.
Meanwhile Eldest Son is spreading his wings, getting faster and more confident, and wants to ride, ride, ride, (so as a ‘Good Dad’ I naturally have to ride with him) He’s really embraced the ‘bike as transportation’ idea, and I think he gets a kick out of turning up to his activities by bike. He isn’t alone any more though: now the weather is warmer many children are travelling by bike, often alone, to visit friends or relatives, play, have fun, or go to children’s activities: we we have severe bike congestion sometimes with bikes in the stands, up the sides and all over the lawns People saw the weather and came by bike. This isn’t in Ostfildern I would add: it’s in the next town where there is infrastructure for bikes.
There are lots of other changes on the horizon: as well as the house move there’s other stuff that is looking exciting, and I’m itching to blog about, but unfortunately all the preparation and organising is taking time that I’d otherwise use to write, which is slowing my posting rate down a bit: watch this cliche.
Hills are on my mind at the moment, specifically the one where this sign is planted between Neuenbürg and Waldrennach in the northern end of the Black Forest.
Cycling has a pretty meagre travel share in this region. It isn’t helped by variable quality of cycle paths, but a major obstacle is Geography, (To be more accurate, Geology, but if I’d said that you’d have switched off straight away) The Black Forest is a series of hills with deep gorges slicing through them. For various reasons of interest to geographers and virtually no-one else, this makes most villages are either long and thin in the valleys or small and round on the hilltops, with big with big gaps (and hills) between.
If you just look at this sign you’d think a cycle commute from Waldrennach to the larger town of Neuenbürg was a doddle at 3,8km, a nice easy distance for cyclists, on a road closed to vehicles. What it doesn’t tell you is this is 20m above Neuenbürg, and cyclists to Waldrennach have another 200m to climb. If you want to be the next Lance Armstrong (And much respect if you do) this is your ideal training route, but most of us aren’t really up for this.
To add insult to injury, the valleys can create winds: Geographers call these anabatic and katabatic winds and insist that anabatic winds are created when warm light air rises along the valley floor and up the sides, and on a really good day, make thunderstorms as well, while katabatic winds are cooler, heavier air blowing down at night. Cyclists call them all sorts of things and insist they are created by the presence of a cyclist by a malicious fate, so we’re riding into a permanent headwind. A similar meterological process causes coastal winds in the Netherlands, and as David Hembrow says, they are a major problem as well.
This shows the trouble with a ‘one size fits all’ approach to cycling: Faced with a 200m climb to visit grandma, very few people will use bikes even if there is perfect infrastructure all the way. (that said, a safe route along the valleys would be nice) The villages are so compact everyone walks except for xtracycle nutters like me who should know better. Bike lanes on narrow steep mountain roads probably aren’t practical, so how do you provide an alternative to cars here, especially as this is one place where some people will need cars for work? I reckon a combination is required: trains and buses that carry bikes (lots of bikes) at no extra charge, preferably with good connections from the valley to the hills, so the train along valley comes into station as bus comes into the forecourt, so passengers can change without waiting, rather than seeing their connection pull away as they arrive.
This is the same problem as we face. Ostfildern (Suggested motto: “Four wheels good, two wheels bad”) is about 170m above Stuttgart or Esslingen and there is almost no way around it. Stuttgart now allows limited bike transport on the Metro but you can only carry bikes on a bus off peak, which rules out commuting. Even if Ostfildern wakes up to reality and makes a decent cycle network, we’d still need to help people get up the hills before we have any chance of a cycling culture.
So what ways are there? I’ve already mentioned the rack railway in Stuttgart, but there must be other ways. Does anyone else know of low cost ways to get lots of bikes up monster gradients?
It’s tax time in Germany, which means that the ranks of the self employed have been carefully getting our information ready for the tax office, or in my case putting it off as long as possible. Most people will post their taxes off but I decided to take mine this year. I like to be sure the paperwork is with the tax advisor and isn’t in a sorting office in Ulm, and South Germany has a relational culture so it’s good to connect with people. The fact it gave me a good reason for a bike ride on a sunny day is entirely irrelevant.
I had to go through Hohenheim, which as I’ve said before, is the other side of a deep valley. I know some readers envy the hills, but the problem is that when you go down, you have to go back up, and in this case, it’s straight back up. Mind you, this time I was able to winch up without wondering if my lungs would explode, so I think I may be getting fitter.
The tax advisors office is stuck around the back of a delivery entrance, and the front has a slightly down at heel look, as if the door will be opened by a gentleman in a trench coat saying: “Mr. Tortellini is unavailable”, and the sounds of someone getting beaten up in the back room, but unfortunately for the purposes of a good story nothing of the sort happened. I dropped off the tax forms, spoke briefly with the tax advisor and as I wasn’t feeling up to a climb up the 25% hill back home, continued towards Stuttgart.
In Germany there’s relatively little sprawl, which can throw up surprises: you’re minding your own business riding along a forest trail which could easily be on the edges of the Black Forest, and then suddenly a you look left and across the valley there’s a glass and concrete skyscraper looking like that mysterious monolith out of ’2001, Space Odyssey’, and then you turn a corner and you’re in a large town. It happens all the time, and it happened to me on this occasion: I turned a corner and there was the town of Möhringen. and suddenly I’m surrounded by high-rise buildings, lines of taxis and expensive suits -even a casino. The cycleway leads directly into the centre of the town and the metro station, which is a hub for metro trains serving this side of Stuttgart. Möhringen has caught up with the notion that public transport and bikes are a vital part of keeping the cities liveable and the Metro/bus station is in a pedestrianised area with cars restricted but a place for buses and taxis right by the station. There’s fair bit of free bike parking here, and shared use cycle/pedestrian ways cutting through the buildings. The air is clean, the roads are safe, and as I realised when I took some of this picture, it was so quiet that even with thousands of people passing by, I could hear the birds singing in the trees: It was like one of those utopian “Cities of the future” pictures from the 60′s, only with kebab stands. I don’t like cities, so I probably won’t move house and live there, but the next time someone starts saying how difficult it is to make a city people friendly, I’ll take them to Möhringen.
On my first visit to Germany I stayed at Esslingen-Am-Neckar, in the valley of the Neckar river. At the time, the town was still pretty car-dominated: The bus and rail stations exuded shabbiness: the station in particular was a rather dingy hole: my main memory of it was the darkness cast by an ugly canopy grafted onto the formerly grand building. The station was fronted by a busy road, so pedestrians and cyclists had to scuttle across as and when they could. The bus station was in a similar state, and likewise cut off from the town, while people driving could park under the centre, which gave a clear message about the value of people who came by public transport. On the other hand the bus and trains ran on time and were integrated with through ticketing, and a large part of the old city was pedestrianised, which put the town many years ahead of the UK at the time.
Since then vehicles have been largely banned from the high street and several side roads have been blocked and turned into mostly pedestrianised areas. Now the gradual improvement has reached the railway station. The road which currently blights the front of the station will be moved between the building and the railway track ie: out of the way, leaving the was clear for people and bikes to get to the network of pedestrianised roads in the centre. Obviously this will make a lot of space available, and this will become a large square (ie: space for people) with a new bus station.
In the first week of January, the diggers were already at work demolishing the old buildings, and to my lasting satisfaction, the canopy has been partially removed which has made a dramatic difference to the station building. There’s already more infrastructure and bike parking (And I’ll blog about that sometime), and of course bikes are allowed into the centre of the town while cars have to skirt around the outside for the most part, so the future of pedal power looks good.
Hopefully the politicians of Ostfildern are taking notice. I’ll keep taking pictures as the work continues.
I promised Eldest Son that we’d go on an Xtracycle ride together last week, but the weather was freezing, and Ostfildern haven’t caught up with the idea of clearing cycleways yet, so we had to take the train. It’s a tough life.
German public transport is fairly efficient and reasonably well organised. I got a day ticket, which meant we had the use of the entire bus, tram, and rail network within about 50km of Stuttgart. Eldest Son wanted to go on a double-deck train and to go into the countryside, so I planned a trip to a village called Oberlenningen, which long-term readers may recognise as the station where I caught a train home after horrendously underestimating how long it takes to ride 80km. Going there by rail gave us chance to ride on the top deck of a double-deck train, which is rather like riding on a very big, fast, double-deck bus without the bumpy ride, and it gives an excellent view of the factories, boats, freight yards and scrapyards which every little boy loves. They also have a generous area for carrying bikes on the lower deck which we’ll use another time.
The local train to Oberlenningen was also set up for bikes, and branded as a Bike Express, with two big areas for bikes along the train. I wasn’t so sure about this: Germany often has low platforms, and whereas the new double deck carriages have nice low floors, these older carriages have a set of ladder-like steps to carry a bike up. I’m not sure that’ll catch on with many cyclists. There are low-floor trains on this line -I caught one last time, but when passengers don’t know if they will have low or high floor trains, how many people will be willing to take the risk? On the other hand, at least Deutsche Bahn are doing something, and it seems to have been thought out within the limitations of the carriages, especially on one carriage where there were windows between the passenger and bike compartments, so you could see the bike (and thus leave it with panniers). At least having local towns pay for rail services means they can have more say in what happens: if people don’t like this, then the railway company will be under pressure to provide a more suitable train. The train staff said they just bought the train second-hand from an operator in North Germany, so they may have plans to improve bike access.
We had a rather cosy ride through very snowy countryside, and observed the federal system in microcosm: half the villages had cleared bike lanes, the other half didn’t, which sent a clear signal about how they value cycling, or don’t. (Surprise: Ostfildern’s bike lanes aren’t cleared). So that’s another point to add to the list of things to look for if and when we move: Go in winter to see how bike-friendly they really are.
Today the thermometer just made it above freezing. We may have a couple more train journeys before we get back to the Xtracycle…
Hat tip to Stephen Rees for highlighting an advantage of high oil prices I’ve not considered: road deaths go down as people drive less and drive more slowly and the incidence and severity of accidents decreases. The fact that people will slow down to save a bit of money, but not to look out for pedestrians or children is a bit depressing, but on the other hand, the results count.
Lower speeds and less driving = people live longer. So it follows that if we get people cycling, then not only are they reducing emissions, they are also using a slower form of transport and are therefore less dangerous to pedestrians, and on top of this, there are less cars on the roads, making it safer for other drivers. How about that?
Mr. Rees goes on to argue that while there are still masses of hydrocarbons sloshing about, the current economic problems (or as he technically puts it ‘The economy is down the toilet’) mean that demand -and therefore the price- is low, which means that there is no money to look for more oil. And the stuff is getting harder to find, and harder to get at.
In other words, when the economy gets back out of the toilet and demand for oil goes back up, supply won’t bounce back to meet it, sending prices up faster than a delayed motorist’s blood pressure and potentially causing major economic and social problems -as if cars don’tdo that already.
So, now would be a good time to stop planning more roads and think about making it possible to travel and shift materials about without burning oil, or damaging the environment, and my word, but public transport, rail based infrastructure and cycling seems to fit the bill perfectly, and cycling infrastructure is cheap and even saves money elsewhere. How fortunate that we have such a simple, useful form of transport available.
So let’s see if Ostfildern’s politicians are listening…
No, still in cloud-cuckoo land.
I’ve given my opinion before that our current home town of Ostfildern is just a bit slow when it comes to helping cyclists, and how facilities that are taken for granted in surrounding towns are still announced as something new by our local government. Their message to cyclists seems to be largely summed up by this notice taped to the front door of the town hall: “Please do not bring roller scooters or bikes inside!”
For an authority that loudly proclaims “We advocate alongside public transport cycling as an environmentally sustainable form of transport” the actual steps to make this happen are massively underwhelming.
The gap between statement and reality is almost farcical. The town hall is in a new planned part of the town which was completed recently, equipped with a large underground garage. It’s apparently not possible to even spare one bay for bike parking in this garage. Presumably the taxpayers of Ostfildern are happy to subsidise car use in this way.
Well it seems it’s not just me who has noticed this. The Ostfildern chapter of the ADFC (German cycling club) have been clamouring about it for some time, and the local paper has just written a few articles on the subject. Hopefully this will embarrass the local authority into doing something towards making their claim into something like reality.
Getting rid of that silly notice would be a start. I suggest the following as a replacement:
“If you do not wish to leave your bike outside, please use the free bike parking area in the new parking garage. Thank you”
I’m thinking of doing my own version of this nifty little video to show people locally. I’m glad to see that Freiburg im Breisgau got a mention. This is not so far away from us in the south of the Black Forest, and is known as a very bike-friendly city. They were making bike facilities in the 50′s and 60′s when everyone else (like Stuttgart) was building bigger roads, which is yet another example of how cities tend to go in vastly different directions with transport policy in Germany. It also shows that narrow streets and old towns needn’t be a problem when making bike facilities- you just have move motor vehicles out of the way.