Saturday, December 17, 2016

Cultural learnings of Switzerland for make benefit glorious nation of America

Earlier this week I had to spend a few days in Switzerland. It's certainly not the best time of the year to go there - too early for snow and skiing season, yet too late to enjoy good weather. But since the primary reason for my trip was business, I wasn't there to enjoy the weather anyway. Nevertheless, I took a long walk through Zurich trying to get a feeling how different a cyclist's life there is, compared to what we experience here in the United States.
First of all, given the number of old, narrow, cobblestone streets, Zurich is more walkable than any large city in America, but that's certainly not surprising. What struck me more though, was apparent lack of on-street parking nearly everywhere in the center. Instead, motorists are asked to park in either multi-level garages or designated bays such as the one in the picture below. (But there is also less reason to even drive into the downtown, as Zurich's public transport system is quite impressive.)
It doesn't mean that on-street parking doesn't exist. It does, but it's not a norm. At least I didn't have that feeling while walking around the center.

The lack of on-street parking means that there is more space for bike lanes. There are many bike lanes in the center but don't think that Zurich is Copenhagen. Things are clearly better there than on our side of the pond, but infrastructure is far from perfect. Most bike lanes are simply painted with yellow lines, right next to traffic lanes.
I didn't notice any properly constructed protected bike lanes, expect this one - separated with a simple curb.
 Unfortunately, in some places where such a curb would be most needed, bicyclists are "protected" by just a strip of yellow paint.
All this left me feeling a bit disappointed. I was hoping for more exemplary bicycling infrastructure. On the other hand, drivers seem to drive more cautiously than here in Boston and be more aware of pedestrians and bicyclists. Maybe that's why, despite lacking infrastructure, bicycles were everywhere and seemed to be a popular form of transportation. That included mostly city (or similar) bikes, but cargo bikes could be seen as well. I also noticed a large number of electric bicycles, which may be understandable considering hilly terrain. Interestingly, electric bikes in Switzerland are registered (!), with a small license plate attached to the rear rack. I think this comes from European regulations, where e-bikes are considered more of a mini motorcycles and for example, their speed and motor power must be limited.

Because of a large number of bicycles in Zurich bike racks were plentiful. They often had a form of a single bar with multiple hooks where bicycles could be hung up by handlebars. An included steel cable was then used to secure bike in place.
Overall, even though I was expecting a bit more, I would still feel more comfortable riding a bike through Zurich than doing it in Boston. Yes, there are more bike lanes there but since they are very basic, it's not the bike infrastructure that would make me feel safer. I think it's because of calmer traffic in general. They simply don't seem to have that many cars in the center of the city. If that's the case, we could do the same in Boston. Even without heavy investment in bike lanes, simply slowing down and limiting traffic would benefit both pedestrians and cyclists.

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