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Posts from the "Zürich" Category

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Zurich: Where People Are Welcome and Cars Are Not

When it comes to smart transportation options and city planning, Zurich can credibly claim to be the global champ. This Swiss city has enacted a number of policies and practices that have produced streets where people come first. Getting around and simply experiencing the city is a pleasure.

How did they do it? In a 1996 city decree referred to as “a historic ompromise,” Zurich decided to cap the number of parking spaces. From then on, when new parking spaces were built anywhere in Zurich, an equivalent number of spaces had to be eliminated elsewhere within the city limits. Many of the new spaces that have been built since then come in the form of underground garages, which allow for more car-free areas, plazas, and shared-space streets.

Zurich also has an intricate system of more than 4,500 sensors that monitor the number of cars entering the city. When that number exceeds the level Zurich’s streets can comfortably accommodate, all cars are halted on highways and main roads into the city until congestion is relieved. Thus, there is never significant traffic back-up in the city itself.

It’s tough to top the city’s transit options. Zurich has a network of comfortable commuter trains and buses, plus the magnificent gem of the city: its 15-line tram system. Trams run everywhere frequently and are easy to hop on and off. The coordination of the lines is a wonder to behold. And it’s the preferred way to travel in the city center – business men in suits traveling to the richest banks in the world ride next to moms and skateboarders.

That’s only the beginning of some of the great things going on in Zurich. Bike mode share is now 6 percent and climbing. People flock to the amazing parks and rivers that have been cleaned up. Car-free and car-lite streets are filled with restaurants and people at all times of day. If you can never get to Zurich yourself, I hope you’ll be able to experience a bit of what it’s like via this Streetfilm.

Note: All stats in the video are from the Mobility and Transport Microcencus of 2010 by the Federal Government of Switzerland. The survey on travel behavior has been conducted every five years since 1974.

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Streetfilms Shortie: Cyclists on Rails in Zurich

One thing that impressed me during my three days in Zurich was I saw no cyclists crash while navigating the surface rails for the 15 tram lines that run all over the city. I was told by some there are certainly problems, and crashes happen, but I saw some real pro rail-riding behavior.

One of my Zurich interview subjects, Nelson Carrasco, says the city is experimenting with rail treatments that will make bicycling on streets with rails much safer. Essentially, it seems they will be testing a material that is strong enough to support a bicycle but will yield to the weight when a tram runs over it.

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European Parking Policies Leave New York Behind

Grosvenor Square, London, the site of Europe's first parking meter, shows how putting a price on parking clears up the street and makes parking available. Image: ITDP.

Grosvenor Square, London, the site of Europe's first parking meter, shows how putting a price on parking clears up the street and makes parking available. Image: ITDP.

Flashback to Europe, sixty years ago. Just emerging from the ruin of total war, the continent was in the midst of a nearly unprecedented reconstruction. Over the next decade, industry finally was able to turn toward consumer products, from stockings to refrigerators and, of course, the automobile. Italians owned only 342,000 cars in 1950, but ten years later that number had increased to two million, according to historian Tony Judt. In France, the number of cars tripled over the decade.

With mass car-ownership fundamentally new for Europe, parking policy was practically non-existent. The first parking meter — an American invention — only made it to Europe in 1958, arriving in front of the American embassy in London. In most places, cars could park not only for free but wherever they wanted: on the sidewalk, in a public square.

When they realized that simply giving drivers free rein to park anywhere was untenable, Europeans attempted to build enough parking to meet the population’s galloping demand. Public space, from sidewalks to canals, was turned into parking space. Zoning forced all new development to use money and space for parking. All these concessions, however, only made European cities friendlier to cars and further drove up demand.

Today, however, all that is in the past. As outlined in the new report from the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, “Europe’s Parking U-Turn: From Accommodation to Regulation,” the continent is now leading the world when it comes to innovative, intelligent and sustainable parking policy [PDF].

Across Europe, cities have come to understand that oversupply or subsidy of parking leads to too much driving. The effect is considerable. In Vienna, for example, when the city began to charge for on-street parking, the number of vehicle kilometers traveled plummeted from 10 million annually to 3 million. In Munich, the introduction of a new parking management system has resulted in 1,700 fewer automobiles owned in the city center each year since 2000.

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Wiki Wednesday: Zürich, Where Transit Gets Priority on the Street

Ready for some transit system envy? This week's StreetsWiki entry comes from Livable Streets member Andrew Nash, who fills us in on how surface transit became the mode of choice in Zürich, Switzerland:

The first thing one notices about Zürich is that trams are ubiquitous downtown. The city considered changing its tram network several times (either placing the trams underground or replacing the trams with a metro system), but voters rejected spending money on these ideas. However, in 1977, Zürich voters did approve an initiative to make the existing surface transit system work better by providing transit priority for trams and buses.

Transit priority means that public transit vehicles are given priority over other forms of transportation through such measures as traffic signal control, transit-only lanes, and traffic regulations. Watch carefully as a traffic signal changes from red to green just when a tram arrives at the intersection. Transit priority was not a new idea, but Zürich has succeeded in implementing it to a greater degree than almost any other city in the world. Zürich's public transit priority program is described in Implementing Zurich's Transit Priority Program.

Combined with Zürich's regional rail network, the extensive implementation of transit priority techniques enables the city to provide subway-like service without a subway, Nash explains. If the Zürich article interests you, check out Nash's entry on optimizing traffic signals for surface transit -- he's looking to add information about other cities that have implemented such systems.