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Living car free is easy, but the expectations of the car culture around us can be a problem. For example, when I have to get to several different places in a short period of time, and the public transport connection is just too tight or too long to be sure of making the appointments.

Enter the commuter bike which finds itself dumped at some distant tram or bus stop where I’d never dream of leaving my Xtracycle, while I follow some complex itinerary to get where I need to go.

Here it is towards the end of a rather complex journey involving two appointments in different places which required a round trip on several busses, trams and trains.

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One thing you can say for the french: they know how to make an impressive railway station.

It would have been even better if Eurostar had managed to get our train into the station on time, but I’m not going to complain too much as the late arrival in Paris Nord was due to a genuine medical emergency.

Unfortunately this also gave us fifteen minutes to get to Paris Est to catch the train to Stuttgart, and Paris Est was twenty minutes away. This nearly caused another medical emergency as we tried to get the family and three wheely suitcases through central Paris.

Our train was in the platform and due to depart in four minutes and just to make it more fun the Stuttgart section of the train was at the other end. And we were in the end coach. And the doors are locked two minutes before the trains leave.

We made it though. And we were able breathe normally by the time we reached Strasbourg…

 

 

Suddenly it is the end of year two at college, so we had an exam. The system of putting everyone in a room and telling them to make something perfectly in seven hours because their whole future depends on it still seems very odd to me, but what do I know?

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This isn’t the exam: it’s what happens when you get too enthusiastic with a hand plane and have to add an extra piece of wood to make up the difference. That long piece of wood is the replacement for 2mm that I took off by mistake: but for that lack of attention I could have started the next step on making a box. I’m choosing to see this as ‘character building’. Or something.

Anyway, the carpentry is now closed for three weeks and we’re off to the UK, which is always an interesting experience. I will have to get used to offering pounds in shops and looking to the right when I cross the road. We’re going by train which can be fantastic or stressful depending on how well the German and French railways, Eurostar and whoever is currently running trains to York  have got their act together. On previous occasions we’ve been through Brussels but this time we will catch a direct TGV to Paris, where we have to make our way from Paris Est station to Paris Nord without getting lost.

As the two stations are a few hundred metres apart and each the size of a cathedral, that shouldn’t present too many difficulties, but if you don’t hear from me in the next week, you know where to start looking.

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Middle Son watching a tram pass near our village. There are a lot of routes all around Stuttgart using these serving the local towns (unfortunately not including ours). According to Wikipedia the trams are 3.7m high, 2.6m wide, and 38m long. They are, as you can see, bright yellow and have headlights, indicators and rear lights, and being rail vehicles they tend to follow the same route every time they pass. You will notice the crossing is protected with lights and signs.

So, I’m wondering, how do you manage to drive a car into or in front of one, or otherwise cause a collision?

Apparently drivers in Stuttgart manage this several times a year, and last month one managed to get tangled up with a tram on a straight road in broad daylight. I happen to know because I was waiting for said tram to come and pick me up so I could go home. Nothing happened for about half an hour, whereupon I gave up, walked to the railway station and caught the train instead. I appreciate that having the choice of tram or train, a service that runs more than once an hour* and a ticket I can use on both, marks me out as spoiled and I should be ashamed of myself, but I’m still wondering.

It turns out that a driver on a straight road parallel to the tramlines simply turned onto a crossing a couple of metres in front of the tram. As the car weighed about 1.5t and the tram is 55 tonnes empty, plus passengers, the car came off rather worse out of the situation.

This is why I don’t bother with reflective high-visibility clothes: if there are drivers out there unable to spot a massive yellow box full of lights, I don’t see that making myself look like an isotope is going to help very much.

*or once a day/week/month, delete as applicable.

 

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This is the ‘Wangerhof’, which marks the half way point between our village and the college I attend. If I’d used a better camera and had better light, you would be able to see, ten kilometres in the distance on the right, the spire from the village church poking above the skyline, and to the left, the hills near the town I’m aiming for. What isn’t as obvious is that this also marks the end of significant hills on the way in: from here it is mostly flat or downhill, with a very gentle climb towards the end of the ride.

Notice highly professional green rubbish bags to waterproof luggage, a trick I learned working in Nepal where bags were often carried on the roof of taxis in monsoon season. Having spent upwards of eight hours on some of my drawings I’m not about to let them get all soggy before I hand them in.

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With world-class cycle facilities like this, you wonder why there aren’t more cyclists around…

Ecologically sound bike parking in Stuttgart centre.

Life is intervening, again. The last few weeks have been a right thumper of an exam session because all the tutors decided that with the half-year report due very soon, they need to have a test at the same time, so I’ve been doing lots of revision, amongst other things about an hour of maths each night which is not very exciting blogging material, hence lack of posts, and replies to comments.

I’ve been feeling slightly guilty for a while about this post giving the impression that our local transport system was run by incompetents or possibly monkeys and that isn’t the case. (Having grown up in the UK I have experience of a transport system run by incompetents, or as they are known ‘politicians’. I think monkeys could do better) so in the interests of balance here is a ‘normal’ commute home.

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When things are working, the last lesson finishes about ten minutes before the train and gives plenty of time to walk to the station One thing German education does fairly well is make sure schools have public transport connections.

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The novelty of being on a top deck coach will never wear off. Bay seating fortunately hasn’t gone out of fashion in Germany.

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Large amounts of bike space and a massive disabled privy downstairs. The things I photograph for you, honestly.

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Cavernous bike and push chair (stroller) friendly doors.

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Off train and on to bus which leaves exactly six minutes later. The bus takes longer to cover the next five kilometres than the train needed for 20, but saves me cycling 200 vertical metres so we’ll gloss over that. I can get off at the next village to ours and comfortably ride the last few kilometres straight over the fields, while the bus goes off on a tour of local landmarks, so I save about ten to fifteen minutes and I can start on assignments fresh and awake from the ride.

I don’t of course: I faff about and end up trying to solve maths problems when I’m half asleep before rushing to get ready for the next day, but never mind.

Half year reports are coming next week, so the pressure should let off for a bit.

Kim Harding, and others, are trying to get trying to Strict Liability back into the political agenda in Scotland. Strict Liability is part of traffic law in Germany, and in fact most of the world,  outside of the UK.

Some time ago, Eldest Son had a very minor collision with a car on a Spielstrasse (shared space street, 7km/h limit). Being about six at the time, Eldest Son didn’t know that in Germany you give way to vehicles coming from the right, didn’t stop on a junction, and was clipped by a very expensive vehicle speeding up the hill. Eldest Son was fine, but Expensive Car had some minor damage.

Beautiful Wife learned to drive in Japan, and didn’t know that in Germany you should always call the police when you have an accident, so when the driver said “we don’t need to bother calling the police”,* gave her his address, then drove off saying he needed to go to an appointment, she accepted it.

A few weeks later a rather large bill arrived.

We have liability insurance, so we wrote to our insurance company and explained what had happened. They found it very amusing, wrote to the driver and reminded him about Strict Liability, in particular that if a car hits a child, the driver is always liable. (Driving over the speed limit was also a bit naughty, as was not calling the police, which in Germany made it a hit-and-run, but we’ll ignore that)

The driver tried to make much of the point that he technically had right of way on the junction, and his lawyers sent us a threatening letter with an even bigger bill in the hope we’d panic and pay up, which we passed on to the insurance company. They wrote to said Lawyers and asked them to kindly stop messing about, and that was that.

Had Eldest Son been injured, the rules would mean the driver of Expensive Car would be held responsible. whereas in the UK it would have meant a long legal battle for us to get compensation or simply not be held liable for scratching his paint. His insurance would have had to pay, at least partly, for treatment and rehabilitation, pushing up his premiums. Drivers -unfortunately- seem to be more aware of this than just the danger posed by a ton of metal to vulnerable road users, and it makes them slightly more careful. As I recently heard a policeman complain: “Unfortunately, as soon as you drive a car in Germany, you are assumed to be responsible if any accident happens” ** I’m still convinced that German drivers are more cautious around pedestrians and cyclists than British drivers, and I’m pretty sure it isn’t because German drivers have a better understanding of the value of human life.

It also sends a clear message that the law is there to protect more vulnerable people. I’d have thought this was a given in any civilised country, but that’s just me.

*A phrase rarely heard except from drivers involved a motor vehicle collision and from people with a black jumper,  crowbar and torch, kneeling in front of a broken safe at midnight. They could be right, of course.

**And this was the policeman supposed to be telling us about pedestrian and cycling safety. The mind boggles…

I haven’t written much about using bicycles lately, especially considering how much use our bikes get.

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The Bakfiets spends much of its time being a tractor, as seen above delivering compost and a load of wood to the garden for making the Mighty Steppe. Without the Bakfiets we’d probably not be able to keep our crazy hippy lifestyle going, as it is the main way of transporting stuff back and forth to the Very Smallholding. I could probably fill one of these if I had one, which would remove almost all need for a car except for the occasional long trip, but I always end up deciding I’m better off with what I’ve got.

I may make a flat bed for the Bakfiets as soon as The Boys are too big to ride in it (that’s if I don’t make a coffee bar instead).

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Meanwhile the Xtracycle remains my vehicle of choice for going to the next town and beyond, visiting friends and running errands, not least because it means I can combine trips.

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This of course means it is out in all weather, and I’m going to have to get myself into gear and replace the wooden deck at some point: it is made for sunny California, not cold damp Germany.

People still shake their heads and tell me it is much more convenient to have  car, but when I hear stories like this I’m not so sure…

My experience with the infernal combustion engine is limited, which was fine until someone at work realised that the apprentice lurking in the corner could drive back to the workshop and get whatever had been forgotten, so I’m getting a lot of quality time with the two company vans. These are both rather elderly and probably not in showroom condition. Other vehicles seem to be magnetically attracted to them and roads magically become narrower as I approach. I have yet to successfully make a hill start in the largest of the two, and every gear change is an adventure.

So last week, when I was working within the village and I’d just got back to the workshop to collect something, I realised I had an empty van and threw the Xtracycle inside before anyone could object, on the basis that I’d probably be sent back to get something else fairly soon, and sure enough, my supervisor found he was missing a small but rather important bracket that he needed, as in, now.

Downstairs, Xtracycle out of van, off we went. Through industrial estate, round shunting trucks that would have held up the van, a braked briefly for driver turning in front of me because despite having lights on I was still apparently invisible, into the village proper, past some children playing, into residential streets, where I was buzzed by a large SUV until we came to cars parked on both sides of the road that left him trying to squeeze through the remaining gap without losing his mirrors, and through the secret bike and pedestrian cut through (although not so secret that the town hasn’t managed to add a chicane halfway through to make it that little less convenient). I popped out of the other side, through more houses, over the main road and down through the old village centre to the workshop.

Off bike, searched workshop, no sign of bracket.

I got back on the bike, made the same journey in reverse*, and used all my acting skills trying not to look smug at “How did you get here so fast?” look on supervisors face.

We found the bracket under a toolbox.

*Even down to being buzzed by another SUV: it was one of those mornings…

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