TagTravel

What’s up from Europe: London pedestrian spaces

I found walking around in London a tad stressful, as crossing the street can only be safely done at signalized intersections, or at zebra crossings with the flashing yellow globe. Crossing the street safely is then compounded by the left-driving traffic. The “< Look Left” and “Look Right >” messages aren’t printed at all intersections and there’s a delay at signalized intersections because you can’t cross every other phase: you have to wait until the all-walk phase (when signals stop traffic in all directions).

However, London still has a lot of great pedestrian spaces and alleys (with bars and pubs) scattered around the town. It doesn’t have as much car-free space as city centers in the Netherlands and Germany. These three photos show three spaces on my many long walks around the town during my three-day trip there*.

Hay’s Galleria, seen on my Thames Path walk along the south bank. It was redeveloped in 1987 to the design and condition you see here. Like many pedestrian spaces I passed by and walked through this one is privately owned (and monitored). 

This pedestrian space off of St. John’s Road near the Clapham Junction station (with National Rail and London Overground services) was created simply by blocking car traffic from entering or exiting St. John’s Road. It has distinct pavers that match the high street – it’s not exactly a shared space as buses have priority but there is limited traffic otherwise because only delivery and construction workers can access the road. 

Old Spitalfields Market has been redeveloped – it maintains the old buildings and look on the edges with shops and restaurants but has a modern glass and steel roof with modern construction on the interior for more shops and restaurants. Even if you aren’t shopping here passersby can use it as a shortcut through the block. 

View more photos as I upload them directly from my iPhone to Flickr.

* Calling it three days is a stretch because I was tired and slept a lot, missing precious walking and exploring time. I still managed to spend over an hour walking around Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and go shopping at Westfield Stratford City for about two hours.

Europe: A year ago at this time

A year ago during Christmas, New Year’s, and today, I was on my 18-day trip through Europe. To share that trip (again), I’ve been uploading more photos from the trip to my Flickr. I’ll double the number uploaded in a couple of days. A year ago on January 3rd, I traveled from Bremen to Wuppertal, Germany, and then to Amsterdam, Netherlands, with train transfers in Venlo (at the border) and Eindhoven.

Italy

I added a bunch of new photos from Italy, mostly from the mountain bike ride I took in Como and Brunate with my friend’s brother. This was December 27, 2010.

Matteo and I on a mountain above Lake Como and very near the border with Switzerland on Monte Boletto. View on OpenStreetMap

A panoramic view of Lake Como and central Como. Brunate is a village on top of the mountain in the middle. We took the funicular up there

Germany

I also uploaded new photos of Bremen, Germany. I added many more pictures of the Valentin submarine pens, the ferry ride across the Weser River into Vegesack, and the trams that run constantly 24/7.

The tram station in front of the Bremen Haupthbahnhof (central station). Notice how familiar the people are with walking near and around the trams. View this on OpenStreetMapThis was January 1, 2011. 

What the submarine pen looks like from the land side, south of it. Read more about these storage facilities of Nazi submarinesThis was January 2, 2011. 

From the Weser River ferry into Vegesack I saw this enormous shipbuilding facility with a yacht parked out front. It appears comparable in size to the submarine pen. This was January 2, 2011. 

More photos

The list above contains the dates for which I uploaded many photos recently. Here’s the full set of photos and here’s a collection of the different topics.

Past posts about this trip

I’ve written many times about this trip. If you want to read more, I suggest you go to my index of all trips I took in 2009 through 2011. The different cities and countries are linked there. But here are a couple other posts that are more than photos:

How do you enjoy the roses: Smell them or photograph them?

A tram in Milan, outside the Castello Sforzesco and near the Milano Cardona train station, where I arrived from a short trip from Como.

My mother is one to consistently tell me, a communications and photography obsessed traveler who bikes 60 miles per week with a camera around my neck, to “stop and smell the roses” instead of “stop and take their picture”. My 18,208 photos taken in the last 12 months are probably a testament that I’m doing more clicking than sniffing. But the photos I take are there to enhance my stories when I come home. I feel I enjoy my trips even if half the time my eyes are looking through the lens.

On my trip to Europe this year, I made a commitment to myself to not worry about costs – I had money to spend on a wonderful trip. This came after I spend 10+ hours calculating on the value of a Eurail Pass that would give me unlimited free trips on all local trains and discounted trips on high-speed trains. A simple rule eventually made the decision for me: the ticket took two weeks to mail and my trip was in five days. After all those calculations, and understanding the pass’s restrictions, I was moving towards a decision to buy my tickets à la carte, or as I needed them. I kept all of my receipts to monitor the cost of my journeys. Guess what? They came out the same: I spent $512.55 on 19 train trips (including metros; conversion made on January 25, 2011)*. A Eurail Pass that would have gotten me the same trips (and more if I wanted to) was $716 or $771. By keeping my mind focused on enjoying the trip instead of analyzing my costs.

Why do I bring all of this up now? Wired’s October issue has a “travel optimization” article and I love that the author was in a similar quandary:

Halfway through my visit I missed a text message that cost me $5,000 in lost income. At the moment the message arrived (or didn’t arrive), I was enjoying a eucalyptus steam bath with an old laborer who’d belonged to the Solidarity Union, which had helped defeat communism in Eastern Europe. His stories were thrilling, but were they $5,000 worth of thrilling?

Of course they were, I concluded on the flight back. When the mind of the traveler grows overly preoccupied with estimating opportunity costs, the capacity for discovery diminishes, displaced by the obsession with efficiency. The voyager may as well have stayed home, since he’s not really on a voyage anymore; he’s researching economics in the field.

That is exactly the state of being I wanted to avoid. And I did a pretty great job.

I’ve got another example: When it came time to pay the bill after dinner and drinks in Copenhagen, I opened my wallet and said (mainly because I was unfamiliar with how to convert kroner to dollars), “This is what I have”. Thankfully it was enough, although I had to visit the ATM a couple times per day in Copenhagen.

*Add on $85 for a flight from Milan to Hanover. I rode on trains operated by at least 10 different companies and agencies – it was one of the most splendid journeys of my life.

What it’s like to Amtrak it with a bike

Update: This post has been widely shared. I suspect other people have blogged about their experiences of taking bikes on Amtrak. Leave a comment with the link, or tweet or email me, and I will include a link to your blog on this page. 

My friend, Will Vanlue, from Portland describes his experience taking a bicycle on Amtrak to Seattle. He bought a bicycle ticket even though he was pretty sure folding bikes could be brought on as carry-on luggage. It was true and the Amtrak staff refunded him.

Like some light rail trains, Amtrak Cascades cars have vertical storage for full-size bicycles. Travis was able to get his Bullitt “Long John” cargo bike on the train with assistance from the staff. 

The Amtrak Cascades train spoils their passengers compared to those on the Hiawatha or Wolverine, offering a power outlet for every seat, and free wifi. I took the train in April 2010 on my trip with Brandon to Portland and Seattle.

This is a good time to bring up, again, that Michigan trains will soon offer “roll on” bicycle service to passengers in 2012.

Bikes on trains, Bremen, Germany edition

As part of my “continuing coverage” of how bikes are welcomed (or not) on transit, I’m pointing out how bikes are accommodated on trains in Germany.

My friend and I rode our bikes from central Bremen (the name of the city and its state) to the Valentin submarine pens in the north part of the state (the smallest state in Germany), a 22 miles journey. View an approximation of our route through a rural part of North Germany. The map shows a ferry from the west side of Weser River to the east, which we took. I think it cost 1€ per person, one way.

On our way back we took two trains:

  • A shuttle train, essentially, from Bremen-Farge to Bremen-Vegesack. Operated by NordWestBahn. 18 minutes trip.
  • A Regionalbahn train from Bremen-Vegesack to Bremen Hauptbahnhof (central station). Operated by DB Regio. 23 minutes trip. This trip required an extra ticket, just for the bicycle.

Both trains have designated spaces for bicycles as well as “seat belts” with hooks on the end for wrapping around your bike and then to a pole or to the belt itself.

Our bikes on the first train to Bremen-Vegesack.

Our bikes on the second train to central Bremen.

The train station at our final destination, Bremen Hauptbahnhof (central station).

Find more related photos:

Save the depot

The last thing we did in Detroit was visit the Michigan Central Station, once the world’s tallest train station (according to contributors of Wikipedia). It’s an interesting area, with big lawns and boulevards leading up to it. There are many homeless people hanging around under the broad trees. One of them came over to ask that I don’t take her photo.

Travelers

Photo of me and the “tourist assistant” by Francesco Villa.

A guy riding his bike came over to talk to us. I asked him if he knew how to get into the train station. He did and showed us where the fence could be easily lifted (someone even tied a rope to the fence) and you could slip under. I gave him a dollar for his help (actually, he asked when I said goodbye).

Thankfully the cool station is on the National Register of Historic Places* making demolition much harder. The problem is getting the right idea and developer married to renovate the station and put it back into productive use.

Amtrak served the station until 1988. I find it odd that Amtrak, or any passenger train, came here in the first place – the station feels far from downtown Detroit. Walking is possible, along Michigan Avenue, but there’s no street activity along the way. I presume that when it was constructed in 1913, the Corktown neighborhood was a bit more hoppin’.

We walked from the train station to the Greyhound station at 1001 Howard Street, a 1.2 mile walk. We stopped for lunch at Great Wall Chinese Food. It was cheap and tasty. Another customer there told us he drives 40 minutes for this restaurant. He also said he worked the light show at the VitaminWater stage at the Movement Festival (formerly Detroit Electronic Music Festival) we spent the previous two days dancing at.

Someone has placed letters at the top of the building saying, SAVE THE DEPOT.

Detroit has so much space. What should we do with all of that room?

*The National Register website doesn’t have permalinks (stupid). So search here for reference number “75000969” or name, “Penn Central Station”. I don’t know why the NHRP calls it Penn Central Station.

I went to Detroit

Update: I’ve started uploading my own photos now, starting with some of musicians who performed at Movement.

There were so many “firsts” this Memorial Day weekend for me.

  1. I traveled on a Greyhound bus to Detroit. Coming back, I took Greyhound to Kalamazoo (another first!) and switched to an Indian Trails bus (same itinerary, though).
  2. I visited and stayed in Detroit.
  3. I went to Movement, the Detroit Electronic Music Festival.

You can bet that all of these have urban planning and transportation links, even the festival (you have to manage the influx of 100,000 people somehow!).

Part of visiting and staying in Detroit obviously includes many other firsts like,

  • Riding the Detroit People Mover in a complete circuit while also being temporarily ejected so a team of Department of Homeland Security agents could bring a dog aboard to sniff for explosives. I didn’t know anyone took the DPM seriously enough to do this, but it was also during a large festival, so I guess that’s appropriate.
  • Riding Detroit transit buses. This was weird. Thankfully the Detroit bus routes are in Google Maps so finding a route is dead simple. Finding the bus stop is not as simple, as not every bus stop sign indicates the routes it serves!
  • Visiting three museums! My friend and I checked out the Motown Museum (awesome, a must-see), the Detroit Institute of Art, and the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit.
  • Dancing at the Magic Stick club for an after party with local DJs. Unfortunately no one told us they stop serving Alcohol at 1:30 AM. Or was it 2 AM?
  • Walking 2 miles to see the Michigan Central Train Station, abandoned in 1988. This local guy came around to us while we were walking along the fence and showed us how to get in.

My poor perceptions of Detroit and Greyhound were reversed thanks to this trip. I’ve got a lot of ideas for Greyhound, but only one so far for Detroit. Detroit’s an interesting place and it’s not like it was bombed like Hiroshima as I imagined it was after reading countless news doomsday articles about the city. It’s probably best if you have a car in Detroit if you want to see many things in a short amount of time, or increase your taxi budget – everything is far away from everything else and you probably don’t want to wait 30 minutes for the bus.

I’ll write more about Detroit when I upload my photos.

Photo of Michigan Central train station, abandoned in 1988 when Amtrak quit service here, by Kyle Gradinger.

Photo of the Renaissance Center, world headquarters of Government Motors and a Marriott Hotel, on the Detroit River waterfront, by James Marvin Phelps.

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).

TransportationCamp West

TransportationCamp West was an unconference that took place on March 19th and 20th in San Francisco at Public Works SF and other locations (restaurants, the street, online).

I only went on Saturday and attended four topic sessions (view the full schedule with 28 topic sessions). These are the writeups of my notes and links to others’ writeups.

My writeups

Others’ writeups

Where I went in 2009 through 2011

I think my trip to San Francisco this past weekend for visiting friends and Transportation Camp West winds up over a year of domestic and international travel. This post links you to all the recap entries and Flickr photo galleries for the awesome cities I traveled to, rode the train in, and biked through.

2009

September

December

Approximate 2009 travel distance: 3,792 miles*

2010

April

August

September

November

December

Approximate 2010 travel distance: 17,515 miles (does not include intercity train trips)*

2011

January

March

May

August

September

Approximate 2011 travel distance: 8,271 miles (does not include intercity train trips and one car trip)*

*Travel distances exclude biking, walking, and trips on transit.

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