On our third day in Freiburg, Germany, we took a day trip via train to Karlsruhe, Germany. Stepping out of the station, the contrast between the two cities was stark. There was noise from construction happening all around the train station. It turns out construction had been going on for several years, to improve the public transport.
We took a walking tour of the city, to take a closer look at their public transportation system. In the 1970s, Karlsruhe was a city designed for cars. It wasn’t a pedestrian friendly city until 1990 when the trams were reconstructed, as a part of an environmental initiative. There was a lot of debate surrounding the introduction of the trams and connecting trams to the regional rail network (called the Karlsruhe Model), particularly concerning the various overhead wire voltage and wheel size of different trams. These were concerns I hadn’t considered before when riding the tram lines.
Earlier in the trip we learned that three key factors make public transportation appealing are: providing convenient access, cheap tickets, and frequent trips. By connecting the tram networks as well as increasing the frequency of the trams, passengers on Karlsruhe’s public transportation system have significantly increased. A pass for all public transportation in Karlsruhe is 76 euros per month. This may sound high, until you factor in monthly costs of gas and maintenance for a car.
It was hard to enjoy much of Karlsruhe because of the construction. We learned their plan to build a new tramway station underground. While these constructions were necessary to improve the quality of the city in the long run, experiencing the transition period was not great. Later in the day we saw more appealing areas of the city such as the university, their parliament, and a huge green space near the city. Seeing these areas made me wonder what a city might be able to do to improve the period of construction in their city center. Setting up markets in other areas of the city such as some of the parks we walked through could lead crowds away from the noise and chaos of the construction.
We learned the Karlsruhe was the birthplace of the bike. Karl Freidrich von Drais, born in Karlsruhe in 1785, first coined his invention the “hobby horse” in 1817. The first model was made of wood and was ridden by essentially walking your feet on either side of the bike – pedals came along later. I loved thinking about how this invention has changed the way that humans can travel within urban settings and how the bicycle has evolved over the last few centuries. If asked before our trip to Karlsruhe I would have guessed that the bicycle was a much older invention than only a few hundred years.
After lunch at the University, we had a lecture on public transportation in the city of Karlsruhe. We talked about a multimodal model – where various forms of transportation are used within an urban area. While mobility is necessary for every day activities, car driving is not always a positive form of transportation. To name a few negative effects – crowding and traffic, CO2 emissions, and noise pollution.
We talked about various push and pull measures that city planners can implement to increase public transportation. Pull measure make public transportation, biking, and walking more appealing, while push measures make car driving less appealing. An example of a pull measure would be giving a free tram ticket along with the purchase of a ticket to a sporting event within the city. An example of a push measure would be making car free streets or reducing parking within the city (I’m looking at your Virginia Tech parking.)
Ultimately, they found very restrictive policies on car use would not work in encouraging public transport. The people must be allowed to decide for themselves.
We walked through the more scenic gardens of the city, geeked out over a no waste store near the train station, stopped for ice cream, then boarded our train back to our beloved Frieburg.
– Nicole Ferley