Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Some additonal photos

The beautiful main train station in Bristol, England which is about 1 1/2 hours west of London.

Colored bike lanes in Bristol.

The ubiquitous bike box that we saw in use in every country.

Pedestrian wayfinding signs in London.

A pedestrian crossing in London (the yellow globes on top of the post flash)

Some Final Thoughts

As I think back over the two weeks of the scan tour, there are a few things that stand out. In all the countries we visited, bicycling and walking are considered to be components of larger initiatives such as sustainability, traffic safety, addressing climate change and creating a high quality of life for citizens and visitors. In general, there was a mindset that when traffic congestion was getting to be too great, the solution was not to add more capacity for motor vehicles, but to seek solutions to reduce the traffic. These solutions included increased costs for parking in city centers, bolstering public transportation and doing more to make bicycling and walking safe, comfortable and efficient ways to move around. We heard of the U.K. road user hierarchy that puts the various modes in this order: pedestrians, bicyclists, public transit, service vehicles, private vehicles. This kind of model leads to very livable downtowns based on people, not cars.

At our final team meeting, we sought to gain consensus on our "top ten" list to bring back to the U.S. for implementation. As we had hoped, we ended up with a mix of policy, education and infrastructure ideas that all fit under the traditional 4 E's of Education, Encouragement, Enforcement and Engineering.

It is clear that it takes both political will and targeted investment to raise bicycling, walking and public transit to the levels we observed during our trip. Clearly, we are at a time where many external factors and challenges point to bicycling and walking as key components to solve some of our pressing issues like climate change, energy independence, obesity epidemic and the decreased role of public life in our communities. Hopefully, with the inspiration of what we observed over the two weeks and some direction from a new administration in Washington, we are poised in the U.S. to begin a transportation revolution that will bring economic development and a more people-centered transport system to our citizens.

I look forward to working on achieving this over the coming years.

Change is a process, not an event.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

London and Bristol

We met with officials from the national Department of Transport and then from the City of London. London is very busy with 7 million residents and another 2 million that commute in. They have established congestion pricing so that it costs more to enter the city during peak periods. This is an attempt to encourage the use of public transportation, biking and walking. The traffic here is more like an American city and biking is a small but growing percentage of the mode share. They have some innovative programs around teaching kids including one where professional actors come to a school, work with kids on traffic issues and then put on a play about safety issues. This has been well received and thought to be effective.

They have a great data collection and reporting system and are very careful to evaluate the effectiveness of projects as well as any educational campaigns. Their main bike facility is on-road bike lanes.

Bristol is about an hour and a half out of London by train and is a city of 400,000. Bristol has recently been selected as a cycling city in the U.K., which is a program like our non-motorized pilot program. The premise is whether they can double the amount of biking by investing heavily in promotion, education and infrastructure that supports it. They are just at the beginning of this program which will run through 2011. They are working on critical links in their biking network but all of the city staff and elected officials seem very supportive of the idea. In a brief chat with a City councilor, she said that the program fit well with several initiatives they already had going, like things to address congestion, climate change, better health for citizens and maintaining a high quality of life for citizens. This is a theme we have heard throughout our trip. Bicycling and walking and public transit are key components of efforts to address many of the worlds largest social problems. It's not just about biking and walking, but about establishing a more sustainable lifestyle that will benefit all.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Winterthur, Switzerland

Due to our busy schedule, I've gotten a little behind on doing these. We travelled by train from Bern to Winterthur. The Swiss trains and transit are amazing. You can literally set your watch by the trains. If the schedule says they will leave at 7:52, they mean it!! The train is comfortable, smooth and fast. Winterthur is a former industrial city with a beautiful historic city center like many of the places we have been to. They are emphasizing walking, bicycling and public transit over cars to solve their traffic congestion problems. There is great public space and it is very well used.

The City just culminated a year long public involvement process with a successful vote (70% approved it) on a master plan and the funding to implement it to construct a project that will put a roadway under ground, build a pedestrian and bike plaza between the city center and a former industrial area. They anticipate that private developers will then be attracted to fill in some of the vacant lots with new business. This model has already worked in the City and they now have many good businesses providing jobs and money to the local economy. Some of the attractiveness is the high quality of life offered in the city center.
The two photos are of a public market on one of the car free streets in the city center and a plaque on a new environmentally sustainable building that includes a readout of how much energy the building is producing with solar cells on the roof.

Monday, May 18, 2009

A shared space street in Bern, allowing only bikes, pedestrians and transit.

A roundabout in Bern.
A view of the Alps from a bridge crossing in Bern.

Ernie Blias, Vermont FHWA administrator near an old section of the Berlin Wall in Potsdam.

Bicycle route signing in Potsdam.

Photos from Germany

Above is a traffic calmed street in Potsdam. The Brandenburg Gate in Berlin

The ubiquitous pedstrian refuge in Berlin. Colored bike lanes through an intersection.

The cathedral in Berlin.

Bern, Switzerland

Bern is the capital of Switzerland with about 130,000 citizens in the main center of the city. It is truly beautiful with views of the Alps in the distance as you cross one of the many bridges in the city. Like many of the places we have visited, they have great public transit with trams and busses going all over and coming every few minutes. Unlike some of the other places we have visited, there are some hills here and the surrounding countryside looks much like Vermont. Their government structure is very much like ours with a Federal Transport department, then the canton (state) level and then the local level.

Bicycling, walking and public transit are key components of their transportation investments and strategies. The head of their federal Human Powered Mobility section stated that when the roads were getting congested, the solution was not to add more capacity, but to increase the options that people had to get around, including biking, walking and transit. This is something that the public demanded and the government had policies and funding to support it.

We have seen many things here that we have seen in other places, especially many bike lanes, traffic calmed streets, roundabouts and streets in the historic center of the city that are for pedestrians, bikes and transit only. They have the main train station right in the center of the city in the midst of a historic square surrounded by beautiful buildings. There used to be a major through street running right through the center of the square, leaving little room for pedestrians or bikes. They initiated a project to build a roof/shelter over the square so that transit users could be protected from the elements. During the one year that this was under construction, traffic was banned from the square and people liked it so much, that they suggested it be a permanent change. The square is now all for people and sees 150,000 pedestrians and 4000 bikes a day with about 18,000 cars a day.

We think we have problems with historic structures. The whole old part of Bern is a World Heritage Site and they have to get projects approved by a commission that oversees these. However, they were able to get the roof project approved and everyone seems very happy with it.

Here is the quote of the day:

When reviewing a new bike/ped bridge being built over a trunk road that is being built to connect into the city, the bike/ped planner for the state said that when people asked, "Is it worth the money to build this?", his response was that was the wrong question. Cars and their infrastructure were pushing bikes off the road so they appropriately are being asked to pay the cost for infrastructure to maintain bike and ped mobility and safety.