Monday, May 18, 2009

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.

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