Transport and Sustainability–Germany and Switzerland

June 30-July 1
Anna Friedrich and Will Drews

As the first couple days of our trip progress, we now have the opportunity to compare two of sustainable European cities; Freiburg and Basel. While both cities were beautiful and interesting with efforts to be sustainable, there were definitely obvious differences between the layout, design, and visibility of sustainability. This being said, we attended very different tours in each city and this could have influenced our overall opinion of each individual city.

On Tuesday, in Freiburg, we attended an information session at the transit company known as VAG. Here we learned details about the transportation system in Freiburg including buses and trolleys. We learned that there are many different, affordable ways to access public transit which we really took a lot from because that is a major influence on whether or not citizens use public transit so this is something we can try to take back to the United States. Also, it was interesting that the transit company actually loses money each year, yet the government subsidizes 10% the transportation company’s operating budget which is another reason it is so successful.

After this information session, we went on a walking tour around the town and our sustainability guide took us all around Old Town and Vauban in Freiburg. On Tuesday morning we also went on a bike tour around the city again. On both tours, we saw a plethora of houses and buildings that had visible sustainability efforts. Many buildings had solar panels on the roof and sometimes a green roof or maybe both. There was one house in particular that we saw that produced more energy than it consumed and in this case, it sold its excess energy to the energy company and got money back for it.

Also on the bike tour in Freiburg, we saw first-hand how easy it was for bikes to get around town. There were a lot of streets that only allowed bicycles or there were streets where the bikes could ride right along with cars but the cars had to go walking speed. This is to say that in Freiburg, bicycles were the prominent form of transportation and people really utilize it and support it.

In contrast, Basel was a city that mostly relied on public transit rather than bicycles. We went on a 3 hour walking tour with a former city planner and he pointed out a lot of things that he thought were wrong with the city. His favorite thing to say was that “this is a disaster” referencing city streets that were devoted to vehicle and trolley traffic. Despite the fact that public transit was so prominent in Basel, we noticed that there were not distinct traffic laws and it was more of a free for all at every intersection which made it feel less safe for pedestrians and bicyclists. This being said, there were a lot of parts in the city that were devoted to pedestrians only which was a really lovely aspect. The part we liked most about Basel was the old infrastructure and the Rhine River that passed right through the city. We actually took a quaint ferry from one side of the river to the other which transported us using only two ropes and the current of the river.

All of this being said, we have learned a lot so far but this trip is not just all work! We were able to watch the German soccer team play and win at a student viewing party and unfortunately watch the USA team loose against Belgium. We also ate a traditional 3-course Swiss dinner! There are also some interesting cultural differences that we noticed including the drinking water. Everywhere you go you have a choice of water with or without gas and of course most of us made the initial mistake of ordering with gas. We quickly learned our lesson and now know to order still water. Also, all of the public water fountains in Basel were drinkable water. These water fountains were not typical American water fountains (which are nowhere to be found over here) but they were beautiful fountains that would be off limits to even touch in America. Also, there were these weird things in Basel that we saw that were open, male, port-a-potties! Finally, our bodies are looking great after all the walking we’ve been but it is definitely very exhausting and we are looking forward to some down time in Riva!

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