Trial & Error

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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

In our hotel in Freiburg, the glass door in the shower seemed too short and only protected half of the tub. I thought to myself that it was a silly way to make a shower door because the water would just splash out at the other end. However, when I turned on the shower, the water coming out of the showerhead only reached the front quarter of the tub. There was little to no water splashing out of the tub. These shower doors are different than in the United States where the door would cover most or the entire tub. That’s when it hit me! In Freiburg, they use the theory of trial and error. In the United States, we use the theory of better safe than sorry.

The people of Freiburg also implement the theory of trial and error in their public transport system. After WWII, 80% of the city was destroyed but they decided to rebuild the city center according to the medieval city plan – full of narrow winding roads. By the late 1960s, cars were the symbol of wealth. Streetcar lines were abandoned in favor of cars. However, the cars crowded the narrow streets and left little space for other road users. Because Freiburgers were not afraid to try something new, in 1970 they decided to expand their trolley network and make it the backbone of their motorized transportation system. Moreover, the amount of car parking was limited within the city center and the cost for parking was increased.  Even though some citizens were initially critical, cars are now the inferior transportation mode. Drivers in the city have to yield to streetcars, bikes, and even pedestrians!

Presently, the predominant mode of transportation remains the streetcar but there were many trials and errors before the streetcar gained its rank. Around 1980 streetcars carried 27.3 million passengers per year, but now its ridership has increased to 76 million! The major changes occurred between 1984 and 1991 when a new fee structure was implemented that included a simpler ticket system, reduced monthly ticket pricing, transferable tickets, and regional tickets.  These changes helped raise the number of passengers and the public transport company’s profits. But what really made the big difference was that the streetcar system became fast, cheap, and convenient. In Freiburg streetcars usually do not need to stop at traffic lights, they do not share right of way with cars, they run more frequently, and include low floor cars making them more accessible. A low floor vehicle also reduces the time it takes for people to get on and off the streetcar with a suitcase, because they can just roll their suitcase right onto the platform.  Ticket prices fell and there was an attempt to ensure that the maximum distance one had to travel to reach a streetcar was 500-meters.

The Freiburg transit system incorporates the use of private transit companies and the local government.  There are 19 transit companies that provide service to the city. For the people who live far away from a streetcar station, there is a taxi that takes the people to the bus that will take them to the closest streetcar station. All of the profits are split and distributed to each of the companies.

The biggest change that the city of Freiburg is currently working on is an urban planning scheme that tries to increase mobility and decrease traffic. The city is attempting to bring necessary stores for grocery, clothing, and all the other essentials closer to the residents so that these destinations are within biking or walking distances.

Freiburg is known for being bike, pedestrian and streetcar friendly.  That is why streetcar, bike and pedestrian bridges connecting the two sides of Freiburg are located at the center. It is a symbol that shows the main transportation modes of this city. In the US the main bridge in the city center would be built for cars, the main mode of transport here.

Because the city of Freiburg was willing to try out new modes of transportation and continues to improve upon them, they have one of the most sustainable transport systems in Europe. If the United States is willing to try something new and adjust little by little, we will be able to keep the water from splashing out of the shower with only half of a door – like the one I needed in Freiburg.

Guest Contributor:  Arisa Chentaphun

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