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I’m still working as an intern. Currently I’m at the Kulturwerk, an arts centre for people with psychological issues and/or substance abuse problems to get their lives back on track. My job is to work alongside clients working in the theatre section preparing for shows, train them in soft skills and generally help them get ready for normal work. Once a week I go out with a team of people who used to have substance addictions and we do theatre presentations in schools followed by group work and question and answer sessions.

I’m having far more fun than you really are supposed to have at work, so to make up for it I’m supposed to write a Very Boring Report, and this is taking up a lot of time and creative energy.

I also have to attend team meetings without falling asleep.

I’m working in the centre of Stuttgart, a city trying all kinds of creative ways to reduce pollution from cars as long as they don’t actually involve reducing the number of cars, so there’s little meaningful infrastructure for bicycles except for a few white lines and hopeful slogans. I live about 200m higher than the city which makes the ride back a little arduous, especially when being buzzed by impatient SUV drivers, so cycling is reduced to a short ride on the commuter bike to our local tram stop and a tram ride down the hill.

I can still do this and barely touch a road, and the public transport system drops me off right in front of Kulturwerk so I really shouldn’t complain too much. But I still do.

 

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It’s one of my favourite times of the year again, when the weather department realises it is spring and suddenly we go from freezing cold and rain to sunshine, flowers, and very nearly not a needing a coat. This also means I can ride most of the way to college instead of using the tram, and thus avoid the centre with all its annoyances without getting too muddy.

Most of the route is on routes through the forest and across fields where cars are supposedly not allowed.They are therefore indifferently tarmacked or gravel, and used as a turning circle for tractors ploughing. (The local town once made a big thing about how they employed a sort of park ranger who apart from anything else should keep these roads clean, which gave us all a laugh).

Having mudguards helps of course, as well as an improvised mudflap which is surviving far longer than I dared hope, but it is good to know I can ride through the forest and not hit mud or puddles.

Which made last week just the wrong time for the owners of the local forest to decide to play with their big tractors, and close the routes to Stuttgart so they could mess up all the trails undisturbed. It gave the journey an extra edge of adventure, especially as they only reopened them when they’d made sure there were wheel ruts across the trails wider than some local cycleways.

Just a small reminder that for all the hot air, we don’t really consider bicycles to be a proper form of transport.

Meanwhile, our version of Stuttgart is developing, slowly…

One of the best things about spiked tyres is the feeling you get when you swap back to normal tread again. Ah, the silence.

On the other hand, I discovered that the bell doesn’t work any more. I’m not sure how this happened. I mean, how do you break a bell? I didn’t use it much in winter because sensible people don’t go outside when it is below freezing, and anyway, the spikes sound like a truck driving on gravel so people heard them when I was some distance away.

So now I’m back to riding most of the way to college every day or so instead of sharing a tram with lots of dozy commuters. Of course that means I’m occasionally sharing the road with dozy drivers instead, but that may not happen for much longer because a community group in Stuttgart has brought a private prosecution against the Mayor of Stuttgart for “Körperverletzung mit Todesfolge”, which translates as “Actual bodily harm causing death”. This is on the basis that the pollution is reaching lethal levels and he’s doing stuff all about it.

Apparently fifty years of giving cars as much space as is conceivably possibly need and then some in a city surrounded by hills has resulted in The Mother of All Traffic Jams and a fug of pollution so far above the European Standardised ‘Danger, breathe out only’ levels that when the City Government tried their usual tactic of sticking their finger in their ears and shouting “Cars are safe, Cars are safe, stop talking about this la la la, can’t hear you” they had a coughing fit.

Who’d have thought it?

German law allows for the government to ban motor vehicles in places when pollution gets so thick citizens can surf on the top of it, so our government could legally stop through traffic tomorrow if they wanted, but that may annoy some Very Important Drivers and a certain large car company who like driving big trucks back and forth to deliver to their main factories.

All that happened so far is a rather pathetic advertising campaign to get people to use public transport at half price. This is having as much effect as you’d imagine.

It will be interesting to see what effect the legal proceedings have. So far we’ve been entertained by a number of entitled motorheads having tantrums and demanding that people who don’t like breathing particles ‘just move somewhere else, duh.’ so they can keep driving where they want. Bless.

Meanwhile a rather cleaner version of Stuttgart is emerging on the classroom wall

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The rest of the world is getting madder and madder, but at least the sun has started to come out.

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Whoever invented spiked tyres was a genius.

Riding all the way into Stuttgart is still impossible even with spikes, so the current commute is as far as the nearest tram stop and back. This is only a few kilometres but means that I can at least ride that bit.

The local bus and tram company don’t seem to talk to each other so the bus frequently leaves a minute before the tram arrives. A cold fifteen minute ride is preferable to a freezing twenty minute wait for the bus.

Meanwhile, the mural is progressing:

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I have exams looming so blogging will be minimal for a while…

Our local town is trying to get us all cycling, because “Cycling is healthy for your body and good for the environment”. If only they’d noticed a few years ago: I can think of at least three major road rebuilding projects in the last few years that could have included provision for cyclists with very little money and some thought, but there we go. There’s still all kinds of things that the town could do, like making a couple of parking spaces in the town hall car park into cycling bays, or putting bike lockers by the tram stations for commuters. Or even covered cycle parking. Or any cycle parking at all by bus stops. Or even enforcing speed limits so roads become safer to cycle on. You know, simple, low-cost things that would encourage cycling. With this new found enthusiasm for our health and environment, what are our elected representatives doing?

They’re running a cycling competition.

Actually, they’re joining a cycling competition, or more accurately, encouraging us to join a cycling competition. Individuals can make teams and compete to ride the most. The most committed can aim to become a ‘cycling star’: someone who (you may want to write this down) actually leaves their car at home for the whole 21 days of the competition and uses a bike instead. If you manage this for three weeks you get a bike bag and a cycle computer. Cycling instead of drving: why didn’t I think of that earlier?

That’s Climate Change sorted then. And in July we can all go back to normal.

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Went on a bike ride with Youngest Son to Esslingen Am Neckar. These trips remind me tha while cycle infrastructure in this area leaves much to be desired, it is possible to do trips like this without riding more than a few metres on a road and I should probably count my blessings.

My goodness but aren’t cities noisy? Our college is right by the main road into Stuttgart and all you can hear when you open the window is endless traffic, horns honking and sirens. Quite why anyone would want to drive in Stuttgart is beyond me (or live there come to that, but that’s a different story).

Anyway, for various reasons I’ll probably take the tram into college in future, so yesterday I needed to change my season ticket. This was only a couple of stops away but I decided it would be quicker to cycle to the office rather than walk to the tram stop, wait for a tram, and then work out the way from the next stop. I found a route parallel to the main road/tram route, and set off.

At first, the roads had a slightly Parisian feel with tree-lined boulevards, and cafes, but as I got closer to the city I found more and more traffic until I had to cross a complex junction with traffic lights and a taxi trying to turn around in front of several cars. I’d looked on a map and it seemed I could cross over this lot and cut down a narrow street which would send me in generally the right direction on fairly quiet streets. Having wriggled between the various stuck cars, I spotted the street between two buildings and aimed there.

After a couple of seconds I realised that this street probably wasn’t on the usual tourist cycle routes. The flashy cars with lots of gold trim were the first clue, followed by the buildings with blacked-out windows, but it wasn’t until I saw the names of the businesses inside that I realised why they were blacked up.

We don’t have shops like that in our village, I can tell you.

I just concentrated on the road and got out of there…

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There’s a massive effort in several local towns at the moment, probably connected to the end of year spending and the belated recollection by a few officials that they’ve signed up to the ‘cycling friendly towns’ scheme. If the evidence so far is anything to go by, to be a ‘cycle friendly’ town means painting a couple of hundred metres of dotted white lines on the edge of some roads -apparently with the express goal of channeling cyclists into the door zone or onto a roundabout- scattering a few bike racks about, and most importantly, Putting Up Signs.

This last one is by far the most popular because it has the advantage of making it look like you are providing lots of things for cyclists while not actually giving the cantankerous treehuggers any actual road space or slowing down the Very Important Drivers, so there’s barely a lamp post on my way to work that hasn’t sprouted a little green bicycle and an arrow, several of which point the right way.

I saw these examples in our local big town of Esslingen this week -forgive the quality of the photograph but I was hosting a friend who hasn’t reached this level of geekery and I couldn’t stop to try again- and noticed that they have little extras like a castle symbol and warnings that there may be a hill coming up. As all the destinations on these signs are on the top of steep hills, this seems like a cruel joke on the part of the sign makers, or the locals are so used to hills that only the most murderous gradients are considered worthy of mention.

So yesterday I went back to have the bandage changed on the smallest industrial injury ever. I was a bit apprehensive about this to be honest because I wasn’t sure where the surgery was, and after the faff we’d had driving there I thought it may well be in the outer reaches of Karlsruhe, or possibly Paris.

Then I looked on Google and found that this same surgery that had taken almost an hour of stop-go traffic to reach, was ten minutes away by shared use pedestrian/cycle roads and residential streets.

It isn’t supposed to work that way: cycling is supposed to be really inconvenient, fine for a trundle on a summer Saturday but not a serious way to get anywhere you need to go. I know this because I’m told by several people a week. Driving -even allowing for taking wrong turns, shouting at the navigator when it claimed we were at our destination when we clearly were not, and getting stuck in a one way system- must still be faster. Because cars are faster. End of story.

I suppose this has one advantage of making sure the cycleways are empty. If the drivers of Stuttgart collectively notice how much easier it is to cycle even on the paltry facilities we have, then the currently quiet cycle ways may well be filled with ex-motorists all trying to cycle as if they’re driving along an Autobahn, scattering slower cyclists and pedestrians then promptly collapsing in a heap and blocking the way at the slightest hill, and no-one will be able to get anywhere…

Or maybe it will become safe to cycle along those wide, smooth, well-maintained roads and a virtuous cycle will start, of ever improving cycle facilities and ever decreasing car use, causing drastic reductions in urban pollution and traffic deaths, so the only thing visible in the otherwise entirely clear sky will be the flock of pigs flying overhead.

I can dream. Still, cycling is a lot faster and easier than people think. I’m just saying…

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Yesterday, Beautiful God-daughter -and others- were giving flute recitals, so naturally I went to watch. The Xtracycle can be seen above in the large plaza outside the town arts centre where the performance was held. It is a very tasteful rebuild of an old tram depot.

The tram used to run through here to a couple of other places, including this town. Unfortunately the line was closed in 1978 ‘for economic reasons’ and ‘because we need the space for cars’. Of course. A local group tried to build a museum on the edge of the town but the local government decided to use the space for a petrol station instead.

A walking/cycle way runs along the old tramway, which is a nice thought, but really, we’d have preferred to have the tram.

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Track on old level crossing

But the shell of the old tram depot has a few cycle racks in one corner, so that’s sustainable transport covered.

In 1995 a new road bridge was built over the valley, making it easier to drive, walk, and cycle from one side to the other. It was promptly closed to pedestrian & cycle traffic because it was ‘unsafe’, so schoolchildren now have to be driven by their parents or take the bus.

And the town centres on both sides are crammed full of cars.

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Eldest son on tramway.

So now the local governments are looking at plans to possibly, maybe, build a new tramway and/or railway running along a similar route, at a cost of millions of Euros…

Ah, well.

More importantly, Beautiful God-daughter was awesome…

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