By Kristen Von Bampus
We started the day with an early morning train from Freiburg, Germany, where our hotel was located, and went out to Karlsruhe, Germany for the day. Our first stop was KIT, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology. There Dr. Bastian Chlond talked to us about developing multi-modal transport systems. His presentation started with a brief history of Karlsruhe’s transport history. The city saw a large decrease in bike users in the 60’s and 70’s as the popularity of car use increased. The prevalence of car use also created a division between car owners, who were often rich and lived outside the city center, and the carless, who were often poorer and lived inside city centers.
Chlond’s initial analysis compared private car ownership/use–a “universal mode”–to “specialist modes” which included cycling, public transit, railway, and walking. Each of these “specialists” have specific kinds of trips/distances they are beneficial for, so in order for them to work as a viable alternative to the car, they have to complement each other easily and smoothly. This perfect integration would compensate for each individual mode’s weaknesses. In past years, the number of multi-modal individuals using many of these “specialists” have actually been going up, especially among young adults possibly because of new mobility services that are available, decreases in car usability/availability, cheap “student” tickets, decrease in attractiveness of car ownership, etc. We learned that to continue increasing the number of multi-modals it will be necessary to make sure the use and connections within this complex system become easy to understand.
Karlsruhe has always been known as a car-user friendly city, but oddly enough is also known for its environmentally friendly modes. In the 70’s, unlike other cities, Karlsruhe did not abandon its tramway operation. In the 90’s, the extension of the tramway network took place while there was also the creation of a combined tramway and railway system. This public transit development even led to the the smoothing out of real estate prices inside and outside the city center.
In terms of cycling as a sustainable option, the city only just began to develop it as a system within the last decade. In order for cycling promotion to work, the system had to be a real network not a bunch of isolated paths. This cycling infrastructure required making more space available for bikes on the roads and redistributing signaling times to prioritize bikers. Many benefits come from an increased use of cycling and development of its infrastructure–the cost of construction and maintenance for its infrastructure is relatively cheap compared to that of car infrastructure, more people biking means more space for conservatives who still want to drive cars, and the space needed for roads and parking spots is relatively small.
An overwhelming theme from Karlsruhe’s work towards an integrated sustainable transport system was the balance of “push” and “pull” policies–“push” policies being restrictions or determents such as lowered speed limits or increasing parking fees for cars and “pull” policies being incentives such as user friendliness of public transit or a newly refurbished cycling infrastructure. Karlsruhe’s policies combined with public awareness have shown to work in the past several years as car use and ownership have been decreasing and use of public transit and cycling especially have increased. At the end of the presentation there was mention of future plans which included the current ongoing construction of underground infrastructure for public transit and cars.
Our next stop after lunch was at KASIG, the construction branch of the local government office in Karlsruhe, where we learned about Kombiloesung Karlsruhe, the ongoing project for the construction of the part underground tram tunnel and part underground car tunnel. This project is meant to help redevelop the city center of Karlsruhe by redirecting public transit and cars underground–resulting in a large, new pedestrianized area above ground. After learning about the details of the construction process for the tunnels and underground tram stations, we were able to visit one of the underground construction sites–of course, not before gearing up in hard hats, construction vests, and safety boots! At this point in the trip it came as no surprise that we had to gear up. These would be our fourth and final hard hats of the trip.
Our journey began with a 30 foot decent down a temporary staircase that had been put in place for the construction process. Eventually we were in a massive underground space with a few large rectangular holes in the ceiling and some exposed wire mesh reinforcement cages along the length of the walls. This underground trip was actually such a relief as we were able to enter a very cool, damp space–a nice retreat from the 95 degree, sunny day. We were able to walk into the large tunnels we had heard so much about. One of the most interesting facts we learned about this project was the length of time it took to complete such short distances of underground tunneling–only about 24 meters of the tunnel could be installed per day. Other issues occurred with this construction as well–such as the need for compressed air within the tunnel because it was located under the ground water table and the requirement for workers to go through a series of air locks to withstand the pressure during the initial construction process.
This day truly provided some insight for what can be done in the U.S. We gained a great example of how policy can work to support the development of a sustainable integrated transit system as well as increase the number of multi-modals in an urban area. Even more importantly, we learned about arguments that can be made to help pass policies that might initially be opposed by a large portion of the public. One last surprising insight I gained was actually that above ground public transit systems like the tram may be preferable. Although I do understand that the underground construction was justified because of the desire for the pedestrianized zone above ground, the underground construction is incredibly costly and is taking longer to complete than expected (an extra 4 years to be exact). Also, for the time and money going into this underground development, it is actually only a very short length of tunneling being constructed.
After this long, hot day, we took a train back to Freiburg where we picked up our luggage from Novotel and hopped on a tram to Vauban, one of Freiburg’s eco-suburbs, to check into Green City Hotel for the last two nights. To complete our final group project of the trip, we gathered that evening in the hotel’s conference room and presented our ideas on what we had learned about sustainable transport in Freiburg–or even more broadly, in Europe. We discussed the differences we noted in pedestrians, cyclists, and public transit users, and we offered up ideas on what concepts U.S. transport engineers and planners could successfully take or adapt from European cities. This final discussion left us all with thoughts to carry home and perhaps, something to apply to our various majors and future careers.