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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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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.

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…

Well, you asked for it,

Exact centre of the town marked by a giant carrot. Obviously.

The “Sitting and jumping hares”

From the information board:

“The “Sitting and jumping hares” were created by the Stuttgart artist Rosalie for the… State garden festival in Ostfildern in 2002

Rosalies long eared hares are based on the field hares which were once very common in Scharnhauser Park The figures remind us of comic figures. For her artwork Rosalie principally uses colours and materials from our time, and thus connects new techniques and current imagery with techniques with earlier natural experiences.”

Which shows that you can write pretentious codswallop in German as well as English.

The town has bought several other sculptures, including some giant frogs, watering cans hanging from poles (which dribble water on said frogs when it rains) a series of walls dotted about the town, several small pyramids and a sofa in a waiting area in the town hall which looks comfortable but is made of steel.

I won’t be publishing pictures of those. Try The inkwell and bikeyface for interesting, accesible art. (Thanks to Karl McKracken for that last link)

There’s been progress on the training front: I’ll tell you more soon…

Bakfiets making friends at the local supermarket.

Germany has a lot of ‘utility’ or transport cyclists, although the majority seem to hibernate for winter.

I can’t help thinking that if Ostfildern actually made some slightly better infrastructure and kept the cycle lanes clear we would get a lot more, but then my cynical side wonders if more cyclists is exactly what the local government is trying to avoid.

So the big news for cyclists is that the town council has finally given up built the cycle lane they have been promising would be in ‘next years budget’ since long before we arrived here.

The lane should have been built when the town hosted the state garden festival sometime last century, but the money was needed for other important things, like a seven metre high plastic carrot which pokes into the ground at the exact geographical centre of the town and is surrounded by a circle of giant luminous pink and yellow rabbits, without which the garden festival and the town would obviously have been incomplete. I am not making this up.

Anyway, despite being only a couple of hundred metres long, and a vital link between two large sections of the town, the cycle lane remained unsurfaced, as in: “a field”, meaning that children going to school had to ride on the pavement/sidewalk alongside a major road for several hundred metres. This didn’t stop the town including it on their ‘cyclists network’ map (nor did it discourage one councillor from repeatedly claiming it was surfaced and we should all shut up and go home). Finally, the dogged persuasion by the local cyclists club has finally paid off and the government recently made a big announcement that at a cost of €20 000 (which would buy about 5cm of Autobahn) they had now put a cycleway in place.

It is 90cm (3′) wide*.

Some of the councillors are wider than that.

This, remember, is a major link for cyclists and pedestrians between the two largest parts of the town. It could reduce short car trips by providing an way to travel, if it wasn’t too narrow for a pedestrian and a bicycle to pass. Or even a pedestrian and a small dog.

The council have answered this criticism by saying it is a ‘good compromise’ and the cycle lane can’t be any wider for ‘environmental reasons’.

I’m not making that up either.

*How did they manage to make a 90cm wide gravel path cost €20 000? Is there gold dust in it?

As you will gather from this late posting, the week has been a bit busy. Job hunting in German can be a bit of a challenge: it isn’t just a case of looking for a job then applying, it’s a case of looking, translating the job descriptions, doing background research, checking what training I’ll need, working out where I can get that training, then repackaging this information for family so we can make a decision together, then applying.

Add my inability to master time management and it’s a recipe for disaster, so when we had a sunny day last week I dropped everything and took the boys out to explore for the morning. Middle Son has been waiting for a dry day to go on a ‘Proper’ bike ride since he interited his first multigear bike from his brother for Chistmas, so we went to the the next town to see what the boys call “The UFO”. Notice real cycle infrastructure to the left of the boys (Click to enlarge).

We made sixteen kilometres (ten miles) which made Middle Son very happy. On the way home we found that Ostfildern are as usual doing their best for cyclists…

Which meant a minor detour over this interesting piece of cycling infrastructure:

Fortunately when you aren’t in a rush and you have three boys, nearly falling in a ditch is just part of the adventure, and Beautiful Wife was delighted to welcome four damp, mud-bespattered boys home just as she’d finished cleaning the house for the week…

*Apparently, going to the shops in the next village doesn’t count.

It’s good to see good news about Germany and cycling, and the ever interesting Copenhagenize blog has provided some with News that the German government has started a campaign called “Kopf An, Motor Aus” (‘Brain on, Motor off’) which is appropriate as I seem to see drivers doing the exact opposite every day.

That’s enough of my cynicism. Several cities are involved at the moment, trying to get people to walk or cycle for distances of 6km or less, instead of using their car. Posters are “cheeky, fun, ironic or serious” according to the website and “found wherever cars are” Dortmund’s massive poster  “A huge thank you to cyclists” is catching most of the limelight for sheer drama, but my personal favourite is the flag Karlsruhe are using by cycle parking areas: “Reserved for climate heroes”. Of course, Karlsruhe is one of the better cities for cycling and public transport, so it’s fair enough in their case.

This year there are four cities involved: there is a competition for 25 more next year and some are local to us. But Stuttgart and Ostfildern are not. What a surprise. I expect if I ask we’ll be told the usual excuses a valid reason for this.

Another  initiative is free hugs for cyclists, pedestrians, and other climate heroes, but as the video shows, drivers need not apply.

I can’t help feeling that more infrastructure would be more profitable long-term, and the cynic in me resurfaces when I remember this is the same government that was paying people to buy cars earlier this year, but at least there’s a growing awareness that getting people walking and cycling is good for cities and for people. You never know, the tide may be changing. If things carry on like this, Ostfildern may even notice.

The website is at http://www.kopf-an.de/

I’ve mentioned before that there is a harebrained scheme in the offing to lay yet more tarmac on the fields by our village, and last week there was an information evening where a local traffic planner was giving us details of what they were going to do. I naturally felt I had to go: I’m a local resident, I had a duty to both of my readers to blog about it and besides, there may be food.

We live in a fairly small village just outside of Stuttgart which happens to be between an Autobahn to the south and a port and industrial centre to the North. There is a bypass to the east and west, but we still have a lot of traffic through the village (about 13500 cars and 1500 trucks every 24 hours). Almost everyone wants a bypass because they believe it will ‘finally’ solve the problem. Like the last bypass was supposed to.

Now the city of Stuttgart is offering to build a nice new road under the village to connect to one of the existing bypasses. This will take the traffic well away from the village and the noise, and no-one will have their view spoiled.

Why would a city offer to spend taxpayers money on an infrastructure project in another administrative district? The answer is geography. The north-south and east-west autobahns meet to the West of Stuttgart, but none to the east, so traffic going from the North-west going to the South East has to curve around three sides of Stuttgart and climb a major hill.  For about 20 years the Strassenbauamt has been quietly working on a plan for a bypass to the east of Stuttgart avoiding the hill, and it’s a section of this road that will go under our village. The road isn’t for us, but for Stuttgart, and we are in the way, but that’s not quite how it is being presented.

The economy is now going fast down the toilet, and the transport industry is going with it. As the majority of the traffic is cars, and about half of that is internal traffic, we could reduce traffic in the village simply by making less parking spaces and more bike infrastructure, because traffic expands and contracts to fit the space available… I’m being rational, sorry.

Not that any of this matters, because no-one has yet committed to the €20-30 billion that this white elephant will cost, so I suspect it’ll be a while before any diggers turn up, but rest assured the Strassenbauamt is out there somewhere, building pointless roads to link up their fantasy network…

Freiburg looks ever more attractive…

There’s been a lot of blog-based discussion of This article in the New York Times about the car-free suburb of Vauban in Freiburg, which I’m all for: much as I moan about how hopeless Ostfildern is, I live in Germany because I love the country, so it’s good to see some all-too-rare positive reporting about Germany in an English language newspaper, and with a slide show, no less. Mind you, they really should have checked their facts: Vauban isn’t just an ‘Affluent Suburb’  but has different income groups (It just looks affluent because it’s pleasant), and a sign showing a bike and ‘Frei’ written underneath actually means bikes are permitted, but there we go.

I’ve not been able to post about it as quickly as I’d like, but on the other hand I can now include this video of the place and its place in Freiburg as a whole, along with an interview with the mayor, who is part of the Green Party, about how they have worked to make Freiburg a more sustainable/pleasant/livable city.

(Thanks to ‘Cycling is good for you’ for the video)

Ostfildern had the opportunity to do the same, but of course decided to build a new road and make it easy to drive through, but it does at least show that when we do this sort of thing in Germany, we do it well.

Vauban’s English-language website, showing their aims and ideas is here.

After a couple of years racing about on a wooden push-along bike, Middle Son is graduating to his first pedal powered vehicle. He’s doing it in fits and starts at the moment, and when I put out traffic cones for him to ride around he spends more time playing games with the cones, but we’re getting there. He’s learning quickly because Eldest Son, who is just off frame, is acting as a pace car, so he has a target and an example. On the flip side he’s used to me driving him about on the Xtracycle so I think he’s reluctant to give that up.

Adventure Awaits

Meanwhile Eldest Son is spreading his wings,  getting faster and more confident, and wants to ride, ride, ride, (so as a ‘Good Dad’ I naturally have to ride with him) He’s really embraced the ‘bike as transportation’ idea, and I think he gets a kick out of turning up to his activities by bike. He isn’t alone any more though: now the weather is warmer many children are travelling by bike, often alone, to visit friends or relatives, play, have fun, or go to children’s activities:  we we have severe bike congestion sometimes with bikes in the stands, up the sides and all over the lawns People saw the weather and came by bike. This isn’t in Ostfildern I would add: it’s in the next town where there is infrastructure for bikes.

There are lots of other changes on the horizon: as well as the house move there’s other stuff that is looking exciting, and I’m itching to blog about, but unfortunately all the preparation and organising is taking time that I’d otherwise use to write, which is slowing my posting rate down a bit: watch this cliche.

Infrastructure = Bikes. Simple

Infrastructure = Bikes. Simple

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