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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…

Esslingen_Cycle_signs

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…

END_03

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.

END_01

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.

SC_distant


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…

“The least fit ten-year-old English child from a class of 30 in 1998 would be one of the five fittest children in the same class tested today.”

From the always interesting No Tech Magazine. link to full article here: http://www.notechmagazine.com/2015/06/the-inactivity-pandemic.html

If ony there was a simple and inexpensive way to change that.

Riding the Bakfiets to the local metro station to pick up the boys* I noticed a cyclist coming towards in full lycra with helmet riding an ancient and rather dusty bike. Nothing unusual there: this time of year the routes over the fields fill with luridly clad riders on bikes which look like they’ve been in a cellar for the last twelve months.

What was odd was that I could hear a tinny voice coming from a large plastic object on his handlebars. I thought this was a cell phone using the hands free facility until he came closer and I realised it was a radio, fastened onto the handlebars and blaring out 80’s hits from the local station.

The end is nigh, I tell you…

And speaking of abominations being where they should not be, my computer seems to have picked up some adware called cheapo-o, which I can’t get rid of. I’ve shut down the add-on but according to several websites there’s still spyware lurking on the hard drive. Of course they all want me to download another programme to get rid of same, but as that’s apparently what caused the problem in the first place I’m not touching them. Can anyone recommend a safe way to remove this rubbish?

*It is downhill coming back: I’m nice but not that nice…

Bridge_BW_01

I’ve discovered a traffic-free route to the next big town. It even includes this bridge over the river so instead of fighting my way down a steep, traffic filled hill or across a multi-lane junction I can now go straight from my preferred route down the hill and onto the cycleway that takes me into the centre of town and hardly have to deal with cars for the whole route.

Black and white photo an attempt to make ‘where I went on my bike’ shot look artsy.

I call it the Bridge of Irony because it was mainly built to link two sections of the huge Mercedes plant in this part of the valley…

I’ve said before that cycling into the next big town is a simple matter of pootling through vineyards and gardens. Unfortunately riding back out again is rather harder work.

Step one is simple enough: find the shortest traffic free route through the suburbs of the town and  avoid being run over by the dustbin lorries that seem to infest these back streets.

Bigill_01

The next image was taken about 500 metres behind the church seen above. The weathervane on the tip of the tower is directly behind the camera, which makes this hill seem rather excesive, frankly.

This road is closed to cars, but there are always one or two who decide to take the short cut. Inevitably they decide they want to overtake on this section.

bigill_02
At the top of the climb is a housing estate in a forest built in the days when everyone was going to use cars, and therefore with no infrastructure for bicycles whatsoever. Often when I ride here the local drivers have tooted encouragement, waved enthusiastically out of the window as they pass, and for some reason pointed frantically at the pavement.

I don’t know why this happens often here but almost nowhere else. Perhaps they just aren’t used to seeing cyclists on the road.

Bigill_03
The secret exit out of the top of the housing estate into fields.
Bigill_04

And the top of the climb looking back to the north, 20 minutes and about 200 metres after the first photograph. The reward for this climbing is a magnificent view towards the distant hills that mark the watershed between Rhine and Danube. Typically on the day I had my camera, it was too cloudy to see beyond the next plowed field.

So last night I was riding the Bakfiets along the main road in the village, in the dark, and noticed I was being followed by something with a lot more lights than I had. Looking back this turned out to be a Big Black Truck.

About a thousand trucks drive through the village every day, which causes much harrumphing from the locals while they wait to pull out from side streets in their 4 x 4’s. This one had just squeezed around the sharp corner at the top of the hill and was rolling  about fifty metres behind my back wheel. I looked again to signal for a left turn, to find it was still there, but noted with surprise that he was hanging well back, giving me space and allowing himself a generous braking distance. Gratified that he was doing his best not to glue me to his massive bull bars, I signalled, pulled across the road and waved to acknowledge that I had seen the fifty tonnes of black and chrome just behind me. I was rewarded by a short flash of headlights with enough candlepower to safely guide ships, which projected my shadow on the buildings opposite.

It being rather late, there was no traffic in the opposite direction, so I could pull into our street easily enough. I stopped to wave again and got a quick honk on the horn and a wave from the shadowy figure in the cab as the behemoth rumbled out of the village into the darkness.

Why can’t it be like this more often?

(And let’s not ask why cyclists are sharing space with such massive vehicles on narrow roads in a small village, that’d spoil the story…)

 

 

Due to some monumentally bad planning on my part, I managed to have four appointments in our local big town on different days last week. The town in question is only a bit over five kilometres away, which comes in at a mere 3.2 miles, but before you serious transport cycling types scoff, it is also almost 200m lower, or a rather more respectable 620 feet, most of which is crammed in a relatively short part of the ride.

The quickest way (down) is the busy, but straight main road.

Nicehill_03

 but if I have the time, it is far more pleasant to use the old road…

Nicehill_04

…which meanders without any urgency through the vineyards…

Nicehill_05

…especially as this route is closed to motorised traffic, so I can stop and take pictures.

Nicehill_06

This was another one of those mornings when I was reminded there are far worse places to live and ride a bike.

You really aren’t supposed to have this much fun on the way to an appointment, especially when the reason was to pick up my results for my carpentry apprenticeship…

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