A tram travels along the Danube river in Budapest, Hungary
I’ve posted a few articles about my trip to four countries in Europe over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, so this is purely a recap to link to them.
I visited Germany, Hungary, Netherlands, Germany again, and Switzerland. It was a multimodal trip by train and plane, and some local transit buses. There are hundreds of captioned photos on my Flickr, but check out these three articles:
Five common “best practices” that every city with a high-use transit system in Europe has that the transit agencies in Chicagoland should adopt.
Day 1 in Switzerland on Mapzen’s Transitland blog – I discuss how amazingly interconnected Swiss public transport systems are, and how their single schedule data source makes it possible to get a route for a journey from Zürich to the top of a nearby mountain via four modes of public transport.
Day 2 in Switzerland where I spent a lot of time riding trams, buses, funiculars, and a cog railway to get around Zürich and visit a couple of museums.
I was taking pictures of the tram and when I got home I saw that all three people were staring at my camera. At Bellevue in Zurich.
The post for day 1, Friday, when I went to Mount Rigi, hasn’t been written yet.
Today was a busy day, which is expected when you travel Steven Vance-style: efficiently (meaning you see a lot of stuff without wasting any time), alone, with a very good sense of what you want to do, where they are, and how you’ll get around.
I’m staying at Hotel Bristol, which came up in an Orbitz search as being a decent place less than $100 per night – that’s hard in Zurich, and even harder if you want a place near the Hauptbahnhof (Hbf). I knew that’s where I would be coming and going a few times to get to Lucerne, the mountains, or to buy cheap (relatively) dinner.
This morning, after eating a continental breakfast in the hotel, I walked a couple of blocks from the hotel to the Hbf – I’m measuring blocks in a Chicago-sense. It was about 4-5 minutes to the nearest station entrance to buy the ZurichCard.
Getting the card was a no-brainer because for 24 CHF (Swiss Francs, about $25) you get a 24-hour public transit card and free entry to dozens of museums. It includes the city zone and the adjacent zones, including the airport. I have to leave for the airport tomorrow by 10 AM and I validated the card at 11 AM so I’m covered there.
After checking out and riding the city’s two funiculars and single rack railway, I visited the tram museum and national museum (Landesmuseum). Add to that the dozens of trams and buses I rode to reach the hill transport and two museums.
Consider that the cost of the train to the airport is 6.40 CHF, the tram museum is 12 CHF, and the Landesmuseum charges 10 CHF, I’d say I got more than my money’s worth.
What’s really great about the ZurichCard is that you can purchase it at any of ticket vending machine, including the ones labeled “SBB CFF FFS”* that also sell national railway and supra-regional tickets. You have to remember to validate the card right before your first use, either at a ZVV (Zurich regional public transport union) ticket vending machine.
My first transit trip this morning was on a fantastic double-articulated bus. That means it has three sections with five doors! These buses are only used on routes 31 and 33 in the city center, and they’re electric and silent, running on overhead trolley wire. The bus has the same priority and comfort as a tram, and multiple screens attached to the ceiling showing the next stop and its connections (transfers).
The front two sections of a bi-articulated bus. It’s normally not possible to bring a bike on a bus or tram in Europe, except when the bus has been specially outfitted for the bike to be on the inside. Buses in Europe aren’t allowed to have bike racks on the front.
The tram system in the city center is the perfect complement and support for having so little driving here. Some of the streets restrict driving, and other streets have only a single lane in one direction, or just two lanes, one in each direction. Many of the major intersections within a mile of the Hbf surprisingly have no traffic controls.
Trams and buses load and unload passengers very fast because you can board through any door. “Winter mode” is enabled on many of the vehicles to keep passengers already on board more comfortable by opening doors at the stop only upon request (you push a button on the door).
Driving in the city center is thus primarily for leaving your parking space for elsewhere in the city or region, or the reverse. Trips are extremely convenient by tram or trolley bus.
Motorists are obliged to stop for people who want to cross the road in zebra crossings, and trams which are turning across the lanes. Then, unless a road sign or marking dictates the priority of a lane, the rule “yield to the motorist on your right” reigns.
I never waited more than 7 minutes for a tram (I know because the countdown signs never exceeded 7 minutes for the route I was going to ride) and the average was probably closer to 4 minutes. It seems that a majority of the time trams run in exclusive right of way and traffic signals are set up to prioritize their movement.
Transit signal priority isn’t a given in all cities with trams; in Amsterdam and Budapest it seemed the tram waited just as long for a “green” light as adjacent, same-direction motorists did.
At the tram museum I talked to a staffer there who was pointing out features in a model created by a city task force which was investigating a potential U-bahn (underground) system for Zurich. He said that a couple of years ago the museum hosted an event to talk about whether the city was better off without the system.
The consensus amongst the attendees was that the city was indeed better off without a subway because the trams have a higher frequency than what the subway would have had. Another point made was that the connections between trams are easier and faster than between other modes.
Traffic on the local transit was lighter than yesterday. Many riders I saw today were headed to a hill to go sledding. It might also be a coincidence that I rode all three hill-climbing funicular and rack railway lines, as well as the train that goes up “Mount Zurich” (870 meters; its real name is Uetliberg).
The Dolderbahn is a rack (cog) railway that heads up the Adlisberg mountain from Römerhof to the Dolder recreation area. At least half of the passengers today were children going with their parents and friends to sled down a hill there.
The last word on Zurich: It’s very expensive to eat here. I paid 11.50 CHF (about the same in USD) for a “döner box” which is something I paid about $5 in Rotterdam. A döner box is fast food. The cheap beer that went along with it was $5, which I could probably get for less than $2 in Rotterdam.
* “SBB CFF FFS” is a set of three acronyms that when expanded mean “Swiss Federal Railways” in German, French, and Italian, respectively. It’s normally abbreviated to SBB – German is the most commonly spoken language in Switzerland. Each of the acronyms plus dot “ch” has its own website that loads the organization’s website in the respective language.
UPDATE 12-11-10: Someone recently searched for rubber in tracks and I wanted to provide some additional resources on the topic of protecting people who ride bikes from the dangers of open streetcar tracks. It is possible, in some situations, to fill the track flangeway (where the wheel goes) with rubber that the train depresses as it rolls over but people riding bikes ride over a level surface. Resource one input from people around the world, and two, a column in The Oregonian newspaper of Portland.
UPDATE 12-14-10: BikePortland has a story about an activism and advocacy group (AROW) that will demand better accommodations for bicycling around new streetcar tracks in Portland, Oregon.
Bicycle riders in Seattle are suing the City of Seattle for not providing enough warnings about streetcar tracks in the South Lake Union neighborhood. They allege the City installed warning signs only after several bike-track crashes.
Photo: A sign on Stewart Street in Seattle, Washington, advises bicycle riders to use EXTREME CAUTION when crossing the streetcar tracks. These signs are coming under question in a lawsuit this week.
Mixing bicycles and transit is one of the most sensible matches of transportation modes. The Federal Transit Administration has been promoting a positive union since at least 1999 (see the booklet they produced). The publication includes case studies and good examples of integration, including a story about how King County Metro (the primary bus operator in Seattle) installed bike racks on its buses in 1993, following the footsteps of Phoenix.
Photo: A resident rides their bike on the street while a Portland Streetcar rolls by.
So how is it now, 17 years later, we’re still deliberating how streetcars, light rails, and bicycles can safely share the road? Why this is a problem:
People are getting hurt. Concerns about personal safety demotivate people to ride their bikes.
The Federal government is funding many new streetcar projects across the country, including in Tucson, Arizona, two hours south of Phoenix, which has its own light rail system.
Bicycle riders have been navigating tram and streetcar tracks in Europe for 100 years. What knowledge can European riders and planners share with us?
Photo: A rubber-filled flangeway in the gap between rail and deck on the Cherry Avenue Bridge in Chicago, Illinois. This bridge serves a 1-car train a few times a week.
Could a rubber-filled flangeway be used on a medium-frequency streetcar line?