Commuting in the US was roughly 45 minutes each way during my last job. This was on the low to middle range among my friends, some driving far longer. I have been commuting by bicycle for 2 of the 3 years that I have been in Germany. It has some ups and downs, but overall a much better thing for me. It is amazing to me how similar the commuting public is regardless of car or bike.
This is a follow on to my article on the Culture of Public Transportation. In a routine where we have to go back and forth to work, there are commuters and thus a rush hour of sorts. Here is an idea of what it is like to commute by bike. Yup, though a lot of riders are students, we certainly get rush hour here. Especially on nice days, bike riders flow out of the city in the evening up the river to enjoy the sun and water. Fridays are heavier too, as people are ready to be home. None of this is bad enough to keep you stuck for 3 hours of bumper to bumper, but the trends are there.
Left Turns Can Still Be a Pain
Apparently for right hand drivers (this being all of mainland Europe and the US) the dreaded left turn is just as annoying on a bike as it is driving. On my commute to work I have 2 left turns and 1 coming home, all without signals.While nowhere near as potentially annoying as unsignaled turns in the US might be, there are similarities.
The first Left heading into work is to get out of my side street onto the main cycling street. Riders can be hidden by the long rows of parked cars in both directions, so there is that same idea of easing your nose out to see who is coming. Add to that the occasional car on the bike street. Thankfully the second left is a round about. Coming home I have to turn off of a cross street back onto the cycling street. There can be people coming across in both directions and usually a car or two. Again not ever been a problem, but I have to pay attention.
Finding a Parking Spot
The bane of commuters is often finding a parking spot, once you get where you are going. This is no different as a bike rider. Freiburg is a city of bikes, both due to the number of students as well as the green reputation. The center of town is a “no bike parking” zone. They have indeed set up bike parking areas around the edge of the pedestrian zone, but they fill up fairly fast. I end up parking my bike just with a bunch of others near where I work on the very edge of where we can ride. It is quite convienent, but even that area gets full.
So with several options to park the bikes and each potentially many meters long worth of bars to lock to, the problem of remembering where I parked is still with me.
Parking in the US, often you get advertisements shoved under your windshield wiper. These are annoying, especially if you don’t notice for a few days or it just happens to rain that afternoon. I have a basket on the back of my bike.. (quit giggling, they are very common here and quite nice to carry some very manly six packs of beer in…). I very often find stuff in it. From advertisement leaflets to empty cups, and today even a single glove. People seem to think that an open basket is just like a trash can. Ugh, oh well.
All Backed Up with the Light
When I come out of town and head home, I have 2 crossings to make that do have lights. These are standard crosswalks and cross fairly busy streets. So when the rush hour starts to hit and more people are heading home, they all back up around the light and rush to get through when ti hits green. And since we aren’t in lanes, it can end up as a free for all. This can be especially true with pedestrians to avoid. The difference here is that since it is “just” a crosswalk, some people will definitely run the reds if they don’t see traffic. Don’t be fooled, I have heard that police will definitely still ticket bike riders for that. Bikes definitely have to follow all the rules. I did have a friend get a 15 Euro ticket for riding the wrong direction.
Stuck Behind Slow Drivers
Just like in the car, sometimes you get stuck behind a slow driver. Some people are just out for a leisurely ride and others are hauling child trailers. Sometimes you even get stuck behind a group of friends riding side by side, which I have though never seen on an American interstate. There are no painted lanes obviously, so passing is potentially possible anytime. Sometimes I will just enjoy the pace and the river and other times I peak around to make sure I won’t be heading into an oncoming bike and just power past. There is an odd thrill to be found by blasting past a slower bike, almost child-like
On the Other Hand : the Differences
Accidents are very rare. I have seen only a few in the entire time of riding here. Most are very minor and I have never seen an accident stop the flow of traffic. We are all moving at much slower speeds, which seems to help reduce both the frequency and severity of accidents. Cars are fairly respectful here too, even with bikes turning left across their path.
Adverse weather seems to make the traffic less not more. The big downfall of the bike is being exposed to the elements. So if you like riding in the cold or the rain, you usually have the road to yourself. A lot of people (including me) choose to ride the trams when it is raining, snowing or just too cold. Though I did see people riding in the snow and ice last winter. No thanks.
As a great benefit there are no gas prices to worry about. Parking is free. The bike itself wasn’t very expensive, and although I have had to put some maintenance into it, those costs were pretty minor.
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May 3, 2011 @ 8:57 pm
Funny that bike parking is so strictly regulated…not a problem for me though since I have a folding bike. I just take my bike with me when I have to go inside.
May 4, 2011 @ 9:37 pm
I have seen those. Not sure I would ever ride one just around town, but I see the people using them on the trains which I could understand.
April 19, 2011 @ 12:14 am
This blog is good in saying daily commut with bicycle.
April 17, 2011 @ 12:36 am
How great for you. I love this about Europe. It was a breakthrough for me when I lived in the Czech Republic after college. My roommate and I had no way of transportation except a bike we rarely used– we walked everywhere every day, but we lived in a pretty small town, so it was doable (but cold in the winter!). When we wanted to go somewhere else, we took the train or bus, and we used the subway all over Prague. Commuting to work by bike is simply impossible for me here in Sacramento.
April 21, 2011 @ 12:05 pm
Thanks for the comment and story. Prague has such a good system. How far from Prague did you live?
Does Sacramento have no public transport? Or does it just not go where you want to be?
April 21, 2011 @ 6:50 pm
Sacramento does have public transportation. However, it doesn’t cover all areas of the city and it doesn’t go to the airport. It can be a convenient way to get downtown but even with traffic, driving can be faster in some situations. Sacramento is a very spread out place. If you live downtown, public transportation or biking is an option for some people. But it’s nowhere near what it is in Europe.
April 24, 2011 @ 4:05 pm
That whole idea of not having public transit go to the Airport seems completely wrong. It seems like exactly the place that makes the most sense. I choose to go to Frankfurt airport over some others even if there were slightly cheaper flights just because the train stops right in the airport, so it is really easy to get there and away. I don’t understand why any system wouldn’t want to go where people would be happiest using it.
April 21, 2011 @ 11:20 pm
Yes, Prague’s system is great. I lived on the other side of the Czech Rep., in SE Moravia, about 3 1/2 hrs by bus from Prague.
Sacramento does have lightrail and buses, but the city is so spread out. I try to do everything in my little neighborhood to avoid much driving, but I do have to drive to work. When I lived in Ohio before this, I biked to work, so moving here was an adjustment. People drive way too fast here to make biking a reasonable long-distance commuting option. You are fortunate to be able to bike to work!
April 24, 2011 @ 4:10 pm
Wow cool about living in Moravia.
I remember the highway system from NC too. It would be suicidal to try to ride a bike on the highways. Not necessarily due to speed, but just because drivers aren’t used to bikes and don’t pay attention. The distance that would have to be covered and the insane hot summer temperatures add to it. It is good that you have a neighborhood that you can get stuff done without driving though.
April 16, 2011 @ 12:14 am
Interesting post! I’ve been to Berlin a few times and really enjoyed riding a bike there. One night, I went out to a club and my friend and I rode bike to get there. That was different for me (as an American). And a couple times in the US, when I was carless, I had to rely on my bike. Not so easy here.
Funny re: remembering where you parked and wild that people would view the basket as a mini garbage can!
April 17, 2011 @ 7:24 pm
Not done biking in Berlin, but could be fun. I have friends in Munich that definitely do it. Berlin to me though it pretty big and has a good public transit system, so maybe not as necessary as some of the other.
Yeah, I still get days where I forget completely where my bike is.
April 15, 2011 @ 11:18 pm
I loved being able to go by bike anywhere in town when I lived in Zurich… and I really miss it now in the french side – it’s all so hilly!!
April 17, 2011 @ 7:29 pm
Even Zurich seems like it would be hilly enough to be annoying in places, though I remember the center of town near the station and around the lake. H
April 15, 2011 @ 8:09 pm
Very efficient way to get around. I like the exercise aspect as well. However, I would be wary of left hand turns too. This is where driving in the UK would be nice but then they just have to deal with right hand turns.
I do love roundabouts though. Wish we had more of those in the US! As for your basket, do you have streamers and a flower on it as well? 🙂
April 16, 2011 @ 11:37 am
Nope, no streamers. Racing stripes are cool though right?
Yeah, the exercise aspect is another thing that makes it much different. I think riding to the pub and back for a beer and a cheeseburger somehow negates the benefit. This is a mini-roundabout, not the great big ones they have in England (or apparently New Zealand as my Kiwi friends point out). It is a circle of pavement and a roundabout sign, but still it is nice to have a slightly easier left turn.