TagEurope

The United States uses way too much text for regulatory traffic signs

Look at these two signs in Berlin (right outside the American embassy). They’re universal across the European Union – and probably in adjacent non-EU countries. The upper one means “yield” and the lower one with the white arrow means “compulsory right turn”. In the United States, there are several signs that mean the same thing. The simplest one we have comes in two forms: symbol and text. That makes two different signs, but there’s a third one. It’s also a text sign but has extra words!

American symbol sign (actually a symbol with text): The sign has an arrow pointing in an upward curve toward the right and the word “only”. Photo by Joseph Dennis. 

Yet there is no need to mix a symbol and a word, as both parts of the message (“right turn” and “only maneuver you can make here”) can be communicated with symbols. In the EU, the right turn sign has two states, both depicted by symbols: off and on. Off meaning you cannot turn right there and is depicted with an arrow pointing right, on a white background, circumscribed with a red circle. The “on” version means you must turn right there and is depicted with an arrow pointing right, on a blue background. (It would be pointless to have a sign saying you can turn right somewhere.)

The next sign is the text-only version of the “right turn only” sign.

American text sign: The sign says “right turn only”. Photo by Michael Jantzen. 

And then there’s the most ridiculous one, “right lane must turn right”. In many places, Chicago included, bikes and buses are excepted.

A group of people protest the stupidity of this sign design. I mean, a bunch of Tea Partiers protest our socialist road system. Or something. Photo by Susan Adams. 

All of the signs depicted above mean the same thing! Why have we developed four unique ways to communicate a single meaning?

While I’m on the subject of right turns, here’re two signs in San Francisco, on Market Street at Octavia Boulevard. Octavia is the end of the Central Freeway, so people driving here are in the mindset of fast highway driving. Cars cannot be turned right here and bicyclists are warned to look out for people making illegal right turns. In other words, “Beware car drivers who break the law”.

Photo of “right turn prohibited” symbol sign and “[bikes] watch for prohibited right turns” text sign by Adam Fritzler. 

Moving from a subculture to culture

Mikael says bicycling in Chicago is a subculture.*

It will become a culture when lots of people (of all sizes, shapes, and colors) ride bikes for all kinds of trips. Read about the 8 to 80 threshold.

But I’m afraid that our subculture won’t exist anymore if it elevates to being part of the American or Chicago “culture.” Bicycling is the subculture that puts on bicycle scavenger hunts, teaches schoolchildren to repair bikes, takes in abandoned bikes and sells or donates the fixed up ones, goes on Tweed Rides. The same subculture that introduced me to strong friendships, based heavily on our shared passion for using the bicycle as transportation and trying to encourage others to ride for utility as well.

I’m not sure if any of this applies to Portland, Oregon, though. They will be successful in keeping the quirky and whimsical aspects of an American bicycle subculture as they transform into a bicycle culture. This is probably because Portland is so “weird.”

I went to Europe in December 2010/January 2011 and I rode a bike in Como, Italy, watched people ride their bikes in Milan, Italy, then rode a bike in Bremen, Germany, and Utrecht, Houten and Amsterdam in the Netherlands. I then rode again in Copenhagen, Denmark. I saw a lot of bicycle culture happening; er, does culture happen or does it just exist?

I would like to move to Europe and get a job or Ph.D there. Continue to learn how to transplant certain aspects of European culture to improve transportation in the United States. (“Making Transit Work” is one of the most interesting papers I read comparing European and American transportation-related cultural characteristics, discussing how urban form and automobile usage affects how often and how many people use transit – we can learn about more than bicycles in Europe.)

But in some of the places I visit or live in Europe, those that have a bike culture, I would have to adapt to a new culture and base my relationships on something other than riding bicycles to get around town. Because connecting to each other because of a shared passion for bicycling and “sustainable transportation” is not a thing. Fixed gear riding is a thing. Riding for sport is a thing. But riding a bicycle because it’s cheaper and more convenient than riding the bus is not something you tell your European friends about – cuz they ride just as often as you do.

*Mikael said this to me when we had dinner and drinks in Copenhagen during my January 2011 visit. Here’s us late that night.

In a bicycle culture, we won’t need to stop people biking on the street and ask them if they want a free headlight. Everyone’ll have a light because the police will ticket them if they don’t (this could happen now but it doesn’t, so education first and a free light is the strategy used in some places, including Chicago).

Photos from Milan, Italy

I was in Milan on two separate days. The first for an hour while I waited for my train to Como after arriving from Rome. The second I spent eight hours there, walking around the castle, park, neighborhoods, and the Duomo. View the entire photo set.

Milano Centrale, the main train station, northeast of Piazza Duomo (I guess you would call this the “old center”). Grandi Stazioni is a company charged with “upgrading, valorizing and managing Italy’s 13 largest railway stations.”

On some of the pedestrian bridges in Parco Sempione, couples attach locks to signify their love. You may have zoom in on the photo to see the locks attached to mermaid’s “staff.” Here’s a closer view.

I brought my camera into the museum, Pinacoteca di Brera. This worker was busy restoring artwork.

In many places in Milan, the trams had segregated right-of-way. I think it looks beautiful when trains run over and through separated, landscaped corridors. See a smaller tram (one car) outside the Milano Centrale train station.

If the roof is open, go up! You get some nice views of the Piazza below, as well as the always-there crowds and the Galleria. You can also get a closer view of the cathedral buttresses.

Coming from Chicago, I don’t have access to protected or separated bike lanes. And I was surprised to see them in Milan! But I shouldn’t have been surprised, because most cities in Europe have them.

Intercity bike paths, or “bike roads”

Imagine every suburb around Chicagoland connected to a handful of others by a “bike road.” In the Netherlands, it’s a strip of pavement about 1.5 American-car lanes wide but the bicyclist always has priority and any drivers must drive at the speed of the bicyclist. For cars, the road serves mostly rural towns, but for bicycling, it serves as part of a cross-country and intercity bikeway. On some parts of your trip to another town you might ride on bike roads, and others on bike-only paths.

This bike road helps connect Houten and Utrecht. I’m traveling north alongside a Nederlandse Spoorwegen Sprinter train. See more photos from my day trip to Utrecht and Houten.

The Cal-Sag Trail is a typical multi-use path in the works and will do something similar, connecting south suburban Cook County communities (like Calumet Park, Blue Island, and Alsip) along the Calumet River and the Calumet-Sag Channel. It will be car-free. While multi-use paths in Illinois are often used for recreational or touring use (many don’t lead to destinations, or are out of the way for convenient routes), the Cal-Sag Trail will be useful for social, shopping, and school trips as well as fitness. Additionally, it will connect to at least three existing trails.

When any path or road opens it needs sufficient wayfinding. The “United States Numbered Bicycle Routes” system began in 1982 to do for bicycling what numbered highways did for driving: make it easy to create and follow a route. Planning for the system was revitalized in 2010.

Several European countries (including Netherlands and Germany) have had such a system for years but instead of numbering routes, they number junctions. Starting at any origin shown on the junction map, find the junctions that connect the route segments to your destination and remember their numbers. Then watch for signs that point you in the direction of the next number. You only need to remember 2-3 numbered junctions at a time because there will eventually be a new map to remind you which junction is next. See photo and route example below.

This junction is number 34. To go to Houten from here, follow the directional signs, first to 33, then to 36, then to 01. The “bike road” photo above was taken near junction 36.

Welcome to the grand entrance of the Illinois Prairie Path to Elmhurst, Glen Ellyn, Wheaton, Aurora, and Batavia!

Another Chicago trail example

There’s a great example near Chicago of a trail that’s “80% there.” The Illinois Prairie Path begins in Maywood, Illinois, a couple miles from the western edge of Chicago, and a mile from the Forest Park Blue Line terminal. Getting there from Chicago is a problem: it’s not connected to anything but 4-lane, fast-moving 1st Avenue. And bicycling to Maywood from anywhere in Chicago there is a lack of safe routes, regarding infrastructure and personal safety (a lot of Chicagoans would consider the center west side quite dangerous). I grew up the far western suburb of Batavia and have occasionally ridden the trail, but only once did I ride it while living in Chicago.

Another view of the trailhead. Photo by Carlton Holls.

I wanted to visit Fry’s Electronics in Downers Grove, just 4 miles from the trail. It took me over an hour to get to the entrance and then I missed the sign (or wasn’t there one?) for Finley Road and went too far. It was getting dark, so I decided to call the trip a small loss and boarded a Metra train at Glen Ellyn for downtown.

Italian train network looks modern and decrepit simultaneously

Italian trains and stations look modern and decrepit simultaneously. One of a thousand observations on my trip to Europe in December and January.

MODERN: Roma Termini (main station) has at least 50 automatic ticket vending machines that accept credit and debit cards and display text in multiple languages.

DECREPIT: Many train cars have copious graffiti. This train appeared as if it hadn’t moved in weeks, like the one on the right in this photo.

MODERN: But then Italy has something the United States will not have for several more years (go Florida!): a high-speed train. This one travels up to 300 KM/H (186 M/H). I caught my train going 247 KM/H from Roma to Milano.

In Chicago, I think there’s more of a balance to the train state of affairs: not so modern, but not so decrepit either. New stations opened on the Brown Line but without the fancy glass ceilings from the early renderings (had to cut costs). Train cars are 40 years old (new ones in testing). Subway stations have dismal lighting (coupled with the dirty windows it’s hard to tell the difference between the platform and the tunnel areas). Metra just started accepting credit cards at the downtown stations in 2010.

The first thing I see in Amsterdam

I got off the final train of a 4 hour trip from Wuppertal, Germany, to Amsterdam Centraal Station via Venlo and Eindhoven and the first thing I see is parking for about 7,000 bicycles. WOW!

7,000 is just the quantity at the front of the station. There’s additional parking in the rear along a major “bike highway” going east-west (on two defunct barges in the river IJ) and underground (guarded) parking as well. In all there “officially” 10,000 parking spaces for bicycles – and it’s not enough. During construction of the new north-south subway, bicycle parking and station access by bike will be reconfigured. Some people say that when the additional bike parking comes online, it will again be insufficient.

Since you read this blog, you know I have a passion for bicycle parking. Just like planning for automobile storage, bicycle storage requires similar attention and infrastructure.

I’ve uploaded more photos of bike parking in Europe (so far just 16 photos), including the fancy underground garage at Amsterdam Zuid Station, with its own escalator! For more sweet bicycle parking in Netherlands, check out the Fietsappel on Daniel Sparing’s blog, Railzone.nl.

Europe trip recap: List of cities I visited

All links lead to a photo or photoset of that city. More links will be added as I upload more photos. Cities are in the order I traveled through Europe, over 18 days.

All blogs about this trip are under the tag, Europe trip.

A bike “jam” – everyone in the photo is performing a “Copenhagen left” or box turn.

The Schwebebahn is the world’s oldest operating monorail that operates daily in the North Rhine-Westphalia city of Wuppertal, Germany.

Friday, I try again

Because of severe weather delays in the Midwest (ice and fog), my plane to JFK from ORD arrived almost 4 hours later on Tuesday. That meant I missed to Rome Fiumicino before I even left Chicago.

In a situation like that, one’s options are poor and limited.

I much prefer Midway to O’Hare. Weather delays are less of an issue there (mainly because there’re fewer flights) and it is 4x closer to my house (in terms of time to get there).

I could choose to take my flight to JFK, arriving there about 10:30 PM (local time). I would then talk to the gate agent in JFK (which gate) or the ticketing agent and ask to be placed on standby for a flight to Rome. The Chicago gate agent was extremely helpful to me but would not place me on standby on any Rome-bound flight from JFK. When I introduced myself to him, he said he had called me on the PA once or twice (which I didn’t hear) seeing that I was not going to make my connection.

He explained there was not an open seat to Rome for days (he was telling the truth, according to the ticket counter agent). I decided that waiting in New York City was less preferable to waiting at home in Chicago. He had a ground worker pull my bag from “baggage system” (remember, the plane it would be loaded onto hadn’t arrived).

I told him I would attempt rebooking later.

I went to sit down in an empty gate and mulled my options. It was extremely difficult. My friend in Rome was expecting to meet me at Stazioni Termini di Roma at noon (local time). There’s no free wifi in O’Hare (nor Midway) so I couldn’t email him without paying $9 for the privilege – I’d have to wait until I got home. And I had no idea when I would be getting home.

I got my bag from the “lost bags area” near the baggage claim and headed up to the ticket counter. Wow, there was not a single person in line. Much different than 3 hours ago when I was in line for 30 minutes just to drop off my bag (I’ve since rearranged my bag situation so that I can just carry it on). The ticket counter agent (“Alexis” – not her real name) sighed many times during our conversation as she searched for an alternate itinerary. She complained several times that my fare class made this harder, as the airline limits the amount of seats available on an airplane in any fare class. She was still helpful and found a workable alternative for me. I told her I had to think about it.

I sat down and just stared at my calendar. How would this work? How is it interrupting my trip? In the end, I realized that the new trip meant I only had to skip Rome and that everything else was intact. I went back to see Alexis and she booked me on the flight. Done, and done.

Fast forward to Thursday. I’ve repacked my things, but this time into a rollaboard (roll on, whatever). I was able to put back some things I was going to leave (like my heavy SLR camera) because of the different luggage dimensions (I originally was taking a Jansport hiking backpack). I checked in for my flight, and Delta gave me the option of changing my flight plan (again) at no charge. Weird! So I found a better flight than Alexis booked me on. It goes through Atlanta instead of JFK but cuts my layover in half (now 3 hours instead of 6).

Looking at tomorrow’s weather forecast, it’s supposed to be snowing when I’m riding the Blue Line at 8 AM to ORD.

Please follow my Flickr for trip updates.

Note: This is an unedited chronology of events I experienced on Tuesday. It was one of the most stressful days I’ve encountered. I was at the airport for almost 5 hours, and, including transit time, away from home for 8 hours (getting nothing accomplished, it turned out!).

Departing under the best conditions

I was reading a brochure and timetable (yes, we still call them that) about the TGV Lyria high-speed train service from Paris to cities in Switzerland. Someone left it on a counter at work. It’s in French, and I can read about half of it.

The timetable asked that travelers board the train at least two minutes before the departure, “pour assurer les départs TGV Lyria dans les meilleures conditions” (to ensure the train departs in the best conditions).

Two minutes? You only have to find your train 2 minutes before departure time?

Short story: Back in 1998 (I was 14), my mom and I were traveling from Paris to London on the Eurostar (travels under the English Channel). We’re walking down the ramp to the platform and one of the conductors sees us coming. He yells or motions for us to hurry up. We start jogging down the ramp and jump into the nearest car door.

About 45 seconds later, the train leaves.

A Eurostar train at Gard du Nord. Photo by Marcel Marchon.

More about being on-time:

  • 87.8% of TGV Lyria trains were arrived on time in June 2010.
  • 76.% of flights from 24 reporting airlines arrived on time in the same month. (U.S. DOT)

© 2019 Steven Can Plan

Theme by Anders NorénUp ↑