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Out with the old. About time...

Out with the old. About time...

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.

Soon this will be an open space

Main road will soon go to the extreme left of this picture. (Note new, cleared, cycleway in foreground)

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.

Future open space/bus station.

Bad picture of future open space/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.

'RadExpress' Logo.

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.

Bike coach, showing the height from the platform.

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.

Normal railcars. Notice low floor and wide doors

Normal railcars. Notice low floor and wide doors

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…

Bad picture of bike service station

Bad picture of bike service station

I’ve had a cold for a couple of days so I’ve not been feeling up to much cycling or writing, but a couple of days ago the local transport authority had their 30th anniversary on my birthday, and just for this I got free travel on their network for the day. I happened to go through Vaihingen, which is a part of Stuttgart, where I passed this rather innovative micro business run by the Diakonie, the charitable arm of the Lutheran Church. They offer bike care, parking, maintenance and hire. The sign says it’s there to create jobs for people, something which bike industries would seem very suited to. Even better, they’re located right in the middle of the bus/tram/S-Bahn interchange.

Seeing this and the network of bike routes near the station made me wonder if I’m being a bit hard on Stuttgarts’ cycling facilities. Although we live very close to the city, we aren’t officially a part of it, and it’s possible that I’ve been unfairly judging them on the basis of the (lack of) bike facilities in our village. This a wouldn’t be a surprise: towns are pretty autonomous as regards their own infrastructure so it’s common for one town to have great cycling facilities, which then stop abruptly at the edge. It could be that we simply landed in a more traditional town. I’ll keep an eye out for this and report on what I find.

Of course that means more cycling. It’s a tough life.

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