Friday 25 May 2012

Bikes, trams and feet

I introduced you yesterday to the town of Freiburg, in Germany. Today I'd like to show you how their residents get around.

I have to be honest, I can't get hugely excited by trams. OK, they're an efficient public transport system and are quiet and don't spew emissions directly into the street, but, in the end, they're just a glorified bus. The thing which is important, though, is that people use it! These trams were full every time I saw them, which means that it is a social norm to use public transport there. I get rather upset when I find myself the only person on a double-decker bus in Norwich. "Why doesn't everyone use this bus?", I wonder.

But I mostly bike places, anyway, which is better.

If you can't see this image very well, the entire other side of this road is full bike racks... and yes, that it is the same person to the left, centre and right of this image (it was stitched together from three photos!).

There are very few streets that you could walk down in Freiburg without seeing a bike. They line the streets, there are people riding everywhere on them. It is just a normal part of life. There are good bike paths too. What I think is the test for whether a city is good for biking in is if, without planning beforehand, you can get from one randomly chosen location to another without having to use major trunk roads or get off your bike to walk along footpaths. Unfortunately, Norwich isn't at that point yet, but has made some great improvements over the past few years.

The entire centre of the town is pedestrianised. Not a car in sight. Bicycles, of course, and trams, yes, but no cars. OK, buses are allowed down some of the town centre streets too, but they do so quite discreetly. And I think cars can enter the town centre for access at certain times of day, but there was certainly never any real traffic.

The town centre feels like a pedestrian's world, and any vehicle is an invader. In most British cities, the opposite tends to be true. We are very lucky in Norwich to have quite an expansive pedestrian area, but I still feel it could be bigger. There's no real reason why Exchange Street couldn't be pedestrianised (with exceptions for access at certain times of day, of course), and this would also have the effect of cutting down traffic along St. Giles'.

However, as I said, we are already doing pretty well in the town centre from this point of view. Perhaps we should consider where more out-of-town areas that could be pedestrianised. I can't think of any out-of-centre community shopping precincts that are designed around the pedestrian in Greater Norwich, can you? Leave your answer in comments below! :)

Tomorrow I'll talk about public open spaces in Freiburg and Norwich.

All photos by the author in Freiburg (first three images) and Norwich (last).

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