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Our local town has a free newspaper printed by the local government. It is as exciting as you’d expect.

This week the headline is about how our town is a ‘safe place to live’ according to the police (which would explain why they closed the police station).

They do admit that there was a 6.5% increase in traffic incidents, which would seem rather a lot for a ‘safe town’. This includes two fatalities, but with about eleven fatalities a day in Germany, most towns will get a couple each year. Two deaths aren’t enough to make the traffic situation officially ‘dangerous’.

No mention is made of motor vehicle vs. pedestrian/bicycle collisions involving adults but we are told that there were seven ‘accidents’ which involved children under thirteen. The article tells us: “It is noticeable that three of the children were riding on Roller Scooters. A further three accidents involving children occurred on traffic lights on a pedestrian crossing with a red light showing.”*

So they were all ‘accidents’. Not the driver’s fault: all the fault of those irresponsible children, as the ‘official in charge’ concludes: “It is important that children are carefully prepared for road traffic”.

At no point does anyone seem to stop and ask any further questions.

For example, how fast the vehicles were being driven, and why they were unable to stop in time. Weather conditions or the type of vehicles involved are not mentioned.

We don’t know if the children were driving on a pavement or a ‘Spielstrasse’ (Lit: ‘Play Street’, a street where children should be able to play safely). The speed limit is 7km/h (4mph) on these but motor vehicles normally bounce down them at twenty or thirty Km/h.

We don’t know if the drivers were using their phone or adjusting their navigator.

There are no details at all about the seventh ‘accident’.

We are left to assume we have the information we need: children were driving on roller scooters or crossing the road. Tut, tut, they should know better.

So that’s all right then, keep driving as fast as you like and if no-one takes those naughty children in hand and teaches them to be responsible with traffic, it isn’t your fault if you ‘accidentally’ run one down.

*German: “Auffällig sei, das dass drei der Kinder jeweils mit Tretrollen unterwegs waren. Weitere drei Unfälle mit Kindern ereigneten sich an einem Fußgängerüberweg bei roter Ampel” Any native German speakers are welcome to correct my translation.

Beautiful Wife asked me to get some emergency pizza when I picked Youngest Son up from Kindergarten. No problem, I thought, we can swing past the shop on the way.

Except that Youngest Son likes to cycle home on his bike these days, and the only shop in the village is directly on the main road, which happens to be one of the routes into the Stuttgart/Neckar valley industrial region. There’s no way he can ride there with all the cars and trucks and buses rushing into Germany’s sixth city, and of course, we can’t remove the right to choose your transport mode by say, slowing people down or stopping through traffic: then there would only be three fast roads, and imagine the pain and hardship that would cause.

On top of this a child under seven has to ride on the pavements/sidewalks in Germany. The idea, as I understand it, is to get them used to things like a high curb whenever they have to cross a side road; pedestrians appearing from buildings; and how to jump out-of-the-way* of Very Important Drivers coming out of driveways, opening car doors or just using the pavement as their own private parking space.

In this way children quickly learn that ‘cycling’ is what you do on a Sunday afternoon, and if you want to go more than twenty metres from the front door, get Mummy or Daddy to drive you there.

I’m being cynical: It’s probably just a cheap way to avoid building proper cycle lanes.

Either way, it’s surprisingly difficult to ride down a busy road and keep contact with a small person cycling on the other side of parked cars while Mercedes man leans on his horn because I’m delaying him in his Very Important Journey and distracting him from his Very Important Conversation on his mobile phone.

Now I’m sure some people (probably the people leaning on their car horn) would say I should get off the bike and walk along the pavement, thus getting out-of-the-way** of the Very Important Drivers, which would be fine except that because we are ever-so-special tree huggy types we are usually trying to get somewhere on our bikes.

Which makes it even more annoying that having made an extra trip to get the pizza, and riding all over the village to find quieter traffic calmed streets, we still ended up with an SUV behind us revving his engine and generally expressing his annoyance at our presence on the road.

*WordPress is convinced I need these hyphens. Do I? or is WordPress being nannyish?
** See previous footnote.

This weekend I made a trip to Bad Urach, in the hope of making a metric century.* Bad Urach is the sort of German town you see on calenders, with a medieval centre, winding cobbled streets, timber framed buildings, street cafés and a chemist claiming to have been in business since 1429. The town has been thankfully well looked after too, with a merciful absence of ugly modern buildings, apart from one brutalist concrete monstrosity that the council must have approved during an office party, but even that was tucked down a side street. The council did manage to make most of the old town pedestrianised so that instead of cars in the centre you get scenes like this.

Of course, just after I took this picture a car came trundling furtively down the road towards the café, probably having taken a wrong turn somewhere. I’m not one to criticise drivers for getting stuck on the wrong road, as I’m especially prone to doing exactly that: my dad still hasn’t forgotten the trauma of driving here while trying to follow instructions like “Turn left here… Oops, that’s a cycleway.” But, dear readers, I would ask one question: if you have unfortunately managed to find yourself driving along a pedestrianised street barely wide enough for your car, and come across a café whose furniture makes it even narrower and thus impossible to pass, do you:

A: Drive back the way you came and find one of the perfectly good, fast roads around the town to get to your destination, or…

B: …get your passenger to alight from the vehicle and move the offending furniture so that you can keep going, because obviously, you need to get somewhere and the furniture is In The Way?

I wonder what they would have done if the tables had been occupied…

*106km as you asked, at an average speed of 19km/h, and my legs let me know about it the next day…

As in, “there’s always one” There always is.

In case, spinning wheels ineffectually on a snowy hill for three minutes and moving exactly zero metres forward. The other three cars had turned around and slithered off again in a variety of interesting ways by the time I got the camera.

Well, not a great deal seems to have happened this week, but that would be a false impression. It’s just that not a lot has happened that I can make an interesting blog entry out of.* I can’t even regale you with tales of horrific winter blizzards and drifts up to the windowsills because even the weather is just in a big grey sulk like a teenager being forced to do their homework. When you start blogging about the weather being apathetic then you really are short of blogging subjects.

Still, I suspect it’s the calm before the storm, as next week will be my Praktikum, a trial week with the local carpenter, who fortunately for me is within an easy walk of where we live. If I manage to convince the boss that I can handle a week of eight-hour shifts without tripping over, passing out, crashing the van, or amputating my own thumb, I can hopefully start a full three-year apprenticeship in this company in September. In Germany we still have this quaint notion that training people is a good idea, so a lot of people here do apprenticeships like this in just about everything from social work to engineering, and in many cases it’s seen a sort of ‘job for life’, or near enough: we see it more as a “Skill for life” which will mean we can keep working towards our goals. I’ll go on about those another time.

I have been cycling as well, but as it’s mostly been the “drive to school/kindergarten/supermarket/garden” type of trip it’s hardly exciting stuff, unless you count the early morning “Papa Taxi” ride which occasionally means dealing with commuters in a two tonne weapon who don’t know what ‘Shared Space’ means. Last week we were going uphill on a road just wide enough for one car -so of course there were cars parked all down the side of it- when a VW pulled out and started to come downhill towards us. Lacking the abilities of spiderman to climb buildings** we waited until the driver realised they would have to wait for us to pass them. As we walked by the vehicle the driver leaned across and shouted in a you-are-being-told-off-voice that “Your light is really bright.”

With hindsight, “Good” probably wasn’t the most diplomatic answer…

*Not that this usually stops me, of course.
**And I’ll bet even he wouldn’t attempt that with a Bakfiets.

To the driver going through the old town yesterday morning at about ten past seven, in the dark.

You see those soft, squishy things on two legs? The ones about the height of your wing mirrors? Those are children, and we’d appreciate it if you don’t run them over. We understand that anything or anyone in your way is In The Wrong Place, but -and I know this is a trifling detail that is often ignored by very important motorists- as you came up the road you passed a sign saying this is a Spielstrasse, which means that they, and indeed that person walking their dog, the two people on bicycles and even the even the Nordic walkers, have every right to be there, and that you, despite your big flashy car, are required to drive at seven (7) kilometres an hour, even if the town council can’t be bothered to repaint the sign on the road to remind you.

You may have been on the way to a Very Important Meeting. You were still going too fast.
You may be a very experienced and ‘careful’ driver; you were still going too fast.
Your sat-nav may have told you this was a nifty way through; you were still going too fast.
You may have a big white flashy 4×4 with a metallic paint job, racing tyres on shiny wheels that don’t look like they’ve heard of mud, and four exhausts the size of drainpipes; you were still going too fast.
I know that seen from a car this road looks like a nice quick short cut to the bakery for you to pick up some lunch, but you were still going far. Too. Fast.
Especially for someone talking on a mobile phone.

If you want to go fast you can use the main road through the village, which the mere inhabitants of this village all avoid because of all the traffic. The only vehicles which have a right to drive the speed you were driving have blue lights and sirens. And no, your horn doesn’t count even if you were using it most of the way down the road.

That is why the person on the very long bicycle didn’t just squeeze to the side of the road in the manner of a submissive peasant so that you could continue on your way, but instead rode along the middle of the road. Because I’d rather you are delayed for a few seconds than you drive into/over any of the little squishy things in your two-tonne car.

Especially as two of them are mine.

Thank you for your time, and -I really mean this- have a safe journey.

You know you’ve been car-free a long time when you are sent a gift voucher for petrol and you don’t know where the nearest garage is.

A long-term friend in the UK is getting married next year, which means I have to find out a way to get to Newcastle via my parents house in York. Normally we go to the UK via the channel tunnel, but this time there’s a small complication because he’s getting married in August, when there will be some kind of sports event in London, so the city will be full to bursting point and beyond.
Fortunately my destination is Newcastle, far up in the frozen north where trolls live, so there are alternatives. Most likely is a train journey to Rotterdam, a peaceful nights sleep (optimism springs eternal) as we cross the North Sea by ferry and next morning, catch the train to my parents hom in York. Simple.

Except that the railway stations of both cities are some distance from the ferry terminals.

Okay, so take a bike: cycle from Rotterdam Centraal to the ferry, and from the ferry to Hull station, and while I’m at it, from York station to my parents house.
Look Rotterdam up on Google Earth. Can’t find a bike lane anywhere. Mutter dark mutterings about the claims of these blogs then realise the ‘road’ I’m looking at is a cycle lane. With a white line down the centre. Follow same from station to ferry port. Hooray for Dutch cycling infrastructure, and apologies to the above named bloggers.

Check Hull.

Oh, dear.

There’s only a few kilometres between port and railway station, but it looks as navigable as a set from ‘The Matrix’ and slightly more dangerous. The roads are a mess of dual carriageways, flyovers and roundabouts with enough space in the centre for a small farm, built when city planners knew cars were going to be the only way to travel*. There’s the occasional cycle lane for a couple of hundred metres, usually ending at road islands and dual carriageways.

Obviously the chief trolls don’t use bicycles very much.

I could give up and use a taxi through Hull, but that would mean I don’t have transport for the week or two that I’ll be in the UK, which would seem a bit silly for the sake of six kilometres, and nor would I be able to ride in Rotterdam.

The other alternative would seem to be finding a native guide, or at least a map.

So, if there are any cyclists in Hull who are versed in the secret ways of the Matrix, I’d be glad of any tips, decent maps, or better still, a local cyclist willing to guide me through hostile territory between ferry and railway station and back again a couple of weeks later.

Please get in touch through the comments or contact box. Many thanks.

*This was ensured by making lots of dual carriageways, flyovers and roundabouts so it was impossible to travel without a car.

To the German car drivers club:

May I record my gratitude to you for the lurid ill-fitting plastic jacket you sent Middle Son through our local school last month. I’m not sure how large you think children are when they start school, or what you think they’ll be called upon to do: the reflective ‘Traffic detective’ written on the back is somewhat cryptic to say the least.

He will not, however be wearing the jacket unless we have an urgent need to be spotted by a helicopter rescue team. Middle Son’s backpack has a much more subtle design, yet still manages to have enough reflective material to be visible from space and frankly if your members can’t see it, then they really shouldn’t be storming about the village in their big cars. Mind you, as they seem to be incapable of seeing the big reflective sign with the black ’30km/h’ on our street, or the or the 2 metre (6 foot) long ‘7km/h’ painted on the roads nearby, I’d suggest a large minority could do with getting their eyes tested anyway.

Your claim that you “want children to be safe” is a great way to make parents feel guilty unless they force their children into these coats, but it hardly adds up as we know that the best way to keep children safe is to keep cars well away from them or have stringent speed limits, and yet the mighty Google shows that your organisation is often quoted as opposing such measures.

This is hardly a surprise: you are after all a car owners club, not a child protection society, and as such your main concern is to promote the ‘rights’ of your members. They in turn seem to feel that anything on the road that is not a motor vehicle is trespassing on their territory.

Call me mister cynical if you will but the jackets you hand out look like another attempt to reinforce the message that pedestrians are only really allowed on roads -or pavements- under protest, and that anyone venturing out into the Sacred Space For Cars* must be dressed like a radioactive teletubby, and stay out of the way of the Very Important Drivers. If children are injured by a Very Important Driver it’s their own fault; in fact, they should really stay indoors, well of the way, or go to school in their parents car.

So the jacket will stay in the cupboard, but thanks anyway.

*Which apparently includes pavements/sidewalks.

Many thanks to Utility Cycling for the video.

Bearing in mind that the difference between the cost of petrol to society and the much lower price at the pump amounts to a government subsidy, how exactly will increasing speed limits on motorways from the current 70mph to 80 mph, and causing a 20% increase in fuel consumption, help to reduce the budget deficit in the UK?

Answer that one Mr. Hammond.

And then answer this one.

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