Torontonians can get a taste of how Berlin is thinking about cities with fewer cars. Click here.
Tag Archives: berlin
Think of one of downtown Toronto’s main traffic arteries, King Street for example, or Queen. Measure the width of the street, building to building. Then take a look at one of Europe’s cities, Berlin for example. Why Berlin? Because it’s the same size as Toronto, similarly in financial trouble, and yet remarkably functional in terms of automobile traffic management, public transit and bike infrastructure. Plus, it isn’t perfect in this regard, so from a Toronto point of view it doesn’t look like unattainable perfection.
So, here in Berlin, I look at the traffic-artery equivalent of Queen Street, say Kottbusser Damm. Here’s what it looks like:
As you can see, it’s about twice the width of Queen. And unlike Toronto roads, that width isn’t taken up by increasing lanes for cars. On this picture we see a sidewalk wider than a lane of traffic, an off-road bike lane (red paving) separated from traffic by a line of trees, parked bikes and parked cars. Then two lanes of traffic, just like Queen, but with a line of trees in the middle.
Poor Queen Street should never have to carry the volume of car traffic it does. It creates bad air, is unsafe for cyclists and pedestrians, leads to angry drivers and creates crazy people like Rob Ford. In Berlin, a street the width of Queen would never be asked to do the work that our downtown arteries do. It looks more like this:
So what’s my point? We can’t shift the buildings back on Queen Street. But we can start investing money in the kind of infrastructure that will get the cars off the roads and give the streets back to the people.
For a Toronto cyclist, riding through Berlin is in many ways an unexpected experience. The first thing you notice is the vastly superior infrastructure. Bike lanes physically separated from roads.
traffic lights turn green for bikes a few seconds before car signals, so bikes can get away first
and if someone does block a bike lane, the sidewalks are wide enough, and their relation to the parking area is such that you veer onto the sidewalk and not the street.
Normally, I don’t like to be told what route to take across the city. If it’s my daily commute, I’m a creature of habit, and cling almost superstitiously to my 4 or 5 standard variations on home – work – home. And if I’m going farther afield, I like to explore at random. But this little device has really captured my imagination.
BBBike @ Toronto announces itself as “your cycle journey planner! We’ll help you find a nice, safe and short bike route in Toronto and around.” And it’s true. Type in your location and destination, and it plots the bike-friendly route. First it lists a turn-by-turn cycling guide…
… then a map (note the elevation chart, so you can look forward to the up and downhills).
Then you set your preferences, and it modifies the route accordingly.
Ah, Berlin, where they understand cycling. Speaking of which, I’ll be reporting from Berlin in May.