Current situation. Can it be worse?

Current situation: pavement as overflow lane

Colin Beavan (aka ‘No Impact Man‘) suggests that optimism is the most radical political act there is. A few weeks ago I had a conversation with one of the the young people I work with about the danger of cycling along our high street. Actually it began as a discussion about not cycling on the footpath, which a lot of cyclists do here because they don’t feel safe on the road. Rather than just complain, we decided to be optimistic and try to do something about it.

With help from Wikipedia and some emails to the Town hall in Ostfildern, we found out more than any reasonable person needs to know about the roads here, cycle ways and traffic theory, and started asking around to see what was happening. This led to my friend contacting the German cyclist’s federation, the ADFC.

Within 24 hours an email came back from the local representative, Herr Rumpf, suggesting we meet on Saturday. Apparently he was quite pleased to see someone in our village keen to work on this. This was pretty encouraging so we prepared some ideas and went with Herr. Rumpf to where we could see the main road clearly, and discuss what possibilities existed with the help of several maps and handbooks that I’ve never set eyes on before.

Bikes not welcome... yet.

Bikes not welcome... yet.

Herr. Rumpf is well known locally to most politicians and cyclists, so I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that people stopped to talk to him. Firstly we had a local cyclist drop by, who recognised my address and offered to be a contact for any information coming through. He also confirmed that cyclists tend to treat the main road as a ‘no go area’. We were talking about the possibilities when a local member of the Green Party came past on her bike, so now there was a little group. We’ve gone from being two individuals with some ideas to having have access to a local network and far more information than we ever thought possible.

Now we’re moving forward. There’s a plan circulating called the ‘Transport Safety Plan’ and it’s just been dug out of whatever drawer it was in for a couple of years. There’s a general resident’s meeting tonight and I’ve been asked to go and ask questions about this. We’re also working on a plan we thought up based on the theories of Hans Monderman, who came up with the idea of ‘Shared Space, also known as ‘Naked Streets’: namely that roads are there for people to connect to each other, and instead of being channels for traffic, should be a place to build community.

I know that ‘Shared Space’ isn’t that popular in some circles. I see it as a ‘second best’ myself, but as the title says, in this case things can only get better. What we have at the moment is a de facto shared space with cars driving on the footpath whenever there is an obstruction- in fact having the whole road flat and pedestrians protected by bollards as seen in Haren (Pictures here, video here) will hopefully bring an increase in actual and subjective safety over the current situation. I’d prefer to have the road narrowed dramatically and the space given to pedestrians and cyclists, but with 11 000 cars and 1500 trucks a day we can’t just do that.

Even if we get rid of the parked cars there isn’t even the space for a 2m cycleway either side. There is some talk of a bypass on both sides of the village- but it’s taking time because part of the land belongs to Stuttgart, not Ostfildern, and besides, I’m not convinced that’ll make a difference because the overall traffic levels will simply increase. I’m hoping that ‘shared Space’ will enable us to reclaim the street for the village some more by discouraging drivers to drive through. Apart from this tight bit, we’re hoping to push for separate bike lanes. I’ll put details up later.

I doubt this will all happen within a year or so. In the meantime we’re talking about having a ‘street party’ on a Saturday, where we close the road off and have street artists and games for the children, to give people their street back and to raise awareness that it is possible. You never know.