This is Michael. Joanna invited me to write a guest post months ago explaining what exactly I did while in Germany. Sorry it has taken me so long to finally take her up on her offer. We also realized that I should have been doing one of these after every one of my research trips instead of cramming 18 months into one post (why didn’t this occur to us sooner?) – it would have been much nicer for you to read 10 short entries than this really long one. Also, I am not nearly as eloquent as she is, so forgive me for my rather bland narrative. I’ve kept it simple and used some photos to show you where I went and what I saw and try to explain why it is interesting to me and relevant to my work as a planner as I move forward in my career.
I applied to, and was accepted to be, a German Chancellor Fellow with the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. The program has been around since the early 1990s and is a way for Americans to spend time in Germany learning about something that will hopefully inform their future work/career back in the US. I was one of ten Americans invited to Germany to pursue a self-directed (non-academic) research project. There were also ten Chinese fellows and eight Russians. The program is as much about cultural exchange (which I think Joanna did a good job showing in her blog) as it is about the fellow’s own research goals (which I will try to cover in this one post). After four months of language training in Bonn we participated in a three week long introduction seminar in Berlin before heading to our individual host institutions in cities all over Germany. Later in the year we all gathered again for a two week study tour throughout Germany and for some events in the summer, including a meeting with the Chancellor, Angela Merkel. Through the time we spent together, especially the time in Bonn, we all grew pretty close and I’m sure I will keep in touch with many of the other BUKAs (the nickname for BUundesKAnzler(in) or Federal Chancellor, for whom the fellowship is named since it was started by Helmut Kohl). I could easily write an entire blog post about these great people but this one is about my research and if you really want to meet the BUKAs check out earlier posts on this blog.
The focus of the proposal I submitted to the foundation in fall 2010 was to study “sustainable transportation planning”, and more specifically non-motorized transport (NMT) with a focus on how cities and towns plan for and promote the linkages between NMT (especially biking) and transit. In order to do this I proposed traveling around Germany interviewing planners and transport experts to find out “how” cities and towns are doing just that – getting people to bike/walk to transit, instead of driving or getting rides in private automobiles. And as part of those trips, I proposed conducting modal choice surveys to ask people “why” they chose to travel the ways they do at various locations in those towns and cities. As with many research projects, the scope (and to a much lesser degree, the focus) changed once I got to Germany and set up at my host organization, EURIST (the European Institute for Sustainable Transport) in Hamburg.
Of course, I didn’t pick up and move to Germany with my wife and 2.5 yr old son just to see if there were lots of bikes parked outside of all the train stations in that country. I wanted to find out what things cities and towns are doing and why so many people bike to the train! And that is what I tried to do.
Phase I. (October – December) After the initial four months of language training (May to August in Bonn) and the introduction seminar (most of September in Berlin), I began the research part of the fellowship when we moved to Hamburg in October. I started by figuring out exactly where I wanted to go visit, what I wanted to see, who I might want to meet with, and how I might go about setting up this survey. I also tried to develop some more relationships with transportation planning related professionals in Hamburg. Dr. Jürgen Perschon from EURIST helped me get settled and introduced me to some colleagues. Two influential people were Detlev und Merja. He works for the bicycle planning unit in the city of Hamburg and she works as the policy analyst and governmental relations representative for the local branch of a national bicycle membership organization. They both introduce me to transportation planners and sustainable transport advocates throughout the country and illuminated some issues on the national and local level. They also both grew to become mentors and friends, especially Merja, with whom I would meet on occasion for a beer or coffee to share my research plans and discuss my impressions and findings to date . (We actually had both of them over for dinner a few nights before Pete was born).
I also spent these months just exploring Hamburg and the sustainable urban/transportation planning going on in the city that the European Union had just voted the Environmental Capital of Europe 2011 (Umwelthauptstadt Europas). This meant I went to some events and heard some talks (both excellent for developing my research specific German skills) and also tried to explore the city with an eye to transportation infrastructure. I would not go on my official tour of the highlights of Hamburg’s bike planning until nearly the end of my time in Germany, but I did take plenty of photos from my initial exploration.
In terms of multi-modalism, Hamburg does a pretty good job of making it easy. You can bring your bike on the subway (U-Bahn), commuter train (S-Bahn) and ferries for free, but not during peak hours. And they do a pretty good job with Bike+Ride (they have an entire strategy and have recently built a new Bike Station in the Bergedorf section, which is where I did lots of research). Here is a little example of what I think is well planned and well designed integration of bike lanes and bike parking alongside a bus stop, one of the biggest challenges to planners trying to think about pedestrians, bus riders, bike riders, the buses and the other vehicular traffic all in the same space.
Last thing from Hamburg (below) which caught my eye within a few days of getting settled, were these “little bike houses” or Fahrradhäuschen. While I saw lots of creative and design savvy ways to park bikes on crowded German sidewalks, these little shed are only seen in a few cities with the most by far found in Hamburg. Some fun facts about them: they are currently created by a social welfare program that is helping unemployed people with job training in carpentry and wood-working. Second, they are created as a partnership between residents and the city. Once a group of 12 residents on the same block (or even from the same building) decide they want to do it, they put up half the money and the city puts up the rest and find the sidewalk space.
Phase II. (January to March) With the exception of two short breaks during this time period (one right after Pete was born in mid-January and one for the two week study tour with the other BUKAs in March), I spent most of these three months setting up visits in the cities I decided were important to see and arranging travel and itineraries. In the original project proposal I submitted to the foundation, I had proposed visiting roughly ten cities to conduct these surveys. Most would of course be in Germany (because I could prepare and conduct them in German) but I had always proposed getting to a few others in Northern European countries (for example, the Netherlands, Denmark, Great Britain; where I’d have to do them in English). Due to logistical and resource related limitations, I had to abandon the idea of surveys in all these places but I was still able to set us visits with local experts and/or professional planners. The destinations included (in alphabetical order) Berlin, Bremen, Dresden, Frankfurt, Freiburg, Hamburg, Kiel, Köln, Münster, and München in Germany; and Copenhagen, Denmark; Groningen, Netherlands; London, England; and Malmo, Sweden. I also attended a regional conference in Essen and a national conference in Hannover, but had limited time to explore those cities or meet with planners outside of the sessions.
So, I started contacting people directly, or through my colleagues and friends in Hamburg (and a few contacts I made during a semi-research related trip I made to Köln during the summer of 2011 when I was still in language training). I was overwhelmed by the generosity of these busy people, all experts in some regard. Most were willing to meet with me for some period of time (usually 45 mins to an hour) and others went as far as setting up tours of their cities and towns. Most gave me not only his or her time but also printed materials such as official plans, reports and studies about sustainable planning in their city, as well as promotional or informational brochures used to encourage the use of NMT. Besides the interviews, I biked and walked around the cities to experience the environment for NMT users first hand. On these trips I took photos (over 2,000), made rough sketches in the field and had informal conversations with residents. Every visit was worthwhile and interesting. The next section will cover the details of those visits.
Phase III. (April to August) Most of this time, especially the first few months, entailed me traveling to cities through out Germany for one complete day or maybe an overnight. The one exception was a lovely 5 day trip that I made with Joanna and the boys to Freiburg in southern Germany in late May (We stayed with our friend’s mother and he, Jonas, joined us for a few days. We also met up with fellow BUKA Catherine and her boyfriend, Nick. You can see more from that visit in an earlier blog post). The beauty of a country as dense as Germany (roughly the size of Montana, but with the population of the eastern seaboard of the US) and with such excellent rail network, is that you can get to almost any destination on high speed train (InterCityExpress or ICE) in 4-6 hours, even from Hamburg which is pretty far north.
Here are a few sentences about each visit and some photos:
In Berlin, Burkhard Horn, explained how all planning (transport and otherwise) in Berlin was shaped by the reunification of Germany in the early 1990s and how this is different from elsewhere in Germany where the environmental movement or large scale highway projects may have been the impetus for people to demand “greener” options. He also told me about a new public relations campaign in Berlin called Rücksicht, which basically means, respect or consideration. While in Berlin I was also given a bicycle tour by Merja, my friend/colleague from Hamburg, who grew up in Berlin and had worked there on bicycle planning issues. The tour included examples of good bicycle and pedestrian planning and ended at the new park at the former Tempelhof Airport.
In Bremen I was able to meet with four different people; they each provided distinct perspectives on sustainable transportation in that city and cycling throughout the country. From the city I met with Wilhelm Hamburger and Michael Glotz-Richter. The former is a bicycle planner who explained that NMT and traditional transport planning have been integrated for many years. The latter discussed how Bremen has become a world leader in car-sharing and the various offerings by the local public transport operator to make the service almost irresistible. I also met two people who provided a more national perspective on bicycle policies and culture. Wilhelm Hörmann from the ADFC’s national office spoke about the national work such as promoting riding with children and families and a national survey called the Fahrrad-Monitor 2011. While it is all in German, if you want to check out the actual report there is a PDF at the bottom. There are lots of interesting facts from the survey. Here is just one: there are more bicycles available in households than automobiles, 2.5 as opposed to 1.5, respectively. The other Bremen interview was with Beatrix Wupperman who created the documentary film Beauty and the Bike. Ms. Wupperman’s film follows the cultural exchange between teenage girls from Darlington, England and Breman.
Unfortunately I only made one research trip to a city in the former East German federal states (other than Berlin) but I was pleased with my visit to Dresden. I met with Professor Udo Becker and a doctoral candidate at Technical University of Dresden (TU Dresden). They shared the historical and political challenges that Dresden is facing to make local transport planning “greener”. I also met Martin Randelhoff, a student at TU Dresden, who is the creator of, and main contributor to, the award-winning blog Zukunft-Mobilität (Future Mobility).
In late May I visited Frankfurt to give a presentation about the work that the New York City Department of Transportation has done for sustainable transport in recent years and to learn about what has been happening in “Main-hattan”. Jutta Deffner from ISOE and Thomas Klinger from the Goethe University were my hosts. My visit included a two hour bike tour. The highlight was the last stop which brought us to a beautiful modern bridge over the Main River where Thomas pointed down to park land and bike paths along the river where 15 years earlier had been empty land and parking lots. The waterfront has been transformed into a greener, healthier, more attractive place that some people now call “the city’s living room”.
The only city where I was unable to set up any meetings with professional planners, government officials or recognized experts was Freiburg in Baden-Württemberg. While this was disappointing, the trip was probably the best trip I made in Germany because it was also a mini-vacation with Joanna, Charlie and Pete. We stayed with our neighbor’s mother in a spare apartment in her house. Our neighbor, Jonas, was also there during our visit. I was able to speak with them – both regular bicycle users, so I consider them local experts – about the evolution of sustainable mobility in the city. The city has an excellent reputation for being “green” not just in transportation planning but all areas of urban planning, design and development. I was able to see many of the things I had read about such as the the Radstation, the bike counter, the bike and pedestrian bridge over the train station, and of course, the eco-neighborhoods of Vauban and Rieselfeld. (I could easily put together another post just about sustainable urban design and land-use planning with more pictures of these neighborhoods as well as some communities in Hamburg and Hannover. Depending on how this one is received, maybe I’ll ask the editor for another post).
In Kiel I connected with Uwe Redecker, a man who I am so honored to have met and pleased to have worked with on my survey project. Mr. Redecker showed me the new Umsteiger Service Center and the Radstation, and told me about the public relations work the city has been doing to inform residents about how infrastructure for the bicycle has been changing and improving in order to attract more riders. One of the coolest things he mentioned were flyers with self guided bike tours which showed where scenes from one of the most popular (and longest running) crime procedural shows, Tatort, have been shot around the city. I would later come back to Kiel for a series of day trips in September to conduct my surveys here (more on that below).
My first research related meeting in Germany was actually conducted while I was still in Bonn. One day when we had off from language class I traveled north to Köln to meet with some of the staff at a sustainable transportation consultancy that does research and project development for the European Union and other clients. During the first visit I met with Sebastian Bührmann and Matthias Fiedler of Rupprecht Consult. (Sebastian is now at difu and Matthias is München organize the next Walk21, and while they have left Rupprecht, a former BUKA from my class, Rebecca Garcia is not on staff there) They were an amazing resource that actually led to other contacts throughout Germany. I stayed in touch with the firm, especially Sebastian, and met with him again in the summer of 2012 during another trip to Köln. It was a lively conversation about my time in Germany, my research and one of their new projects called Sustainable Urban Mobility Plans (SUMPs). These are sets of criteria that cities reach targets of modal share, safety and emissions in order to meet EU goals. I was also visiting Köln in August 2012 to learn more about the city’s Bike+Ride concept. I met with Franco Tillmann, who was one of those responsible for the creation of the concept back in the 1990s and has been involved in its ongoing evaluation and further development. We made site visits to two Bike+Ride locations and the Radstation Köln at the main train station.
When people think about the bicycle capital of Germany, one city is always at the top of the list: Münster. According to 2007 data the city has a modal share of 38% of trips by bicycle! Mr. Stephan Böhme, head of the bicycle planning department, made a wonderful presentation on the history of bicycle policy and planning and also shared about some of the new projects and initiatives, such as the safety campaign “toten winkel” to inform bicyclists and drivers alike about the dangers of riding in the blind spot. A member of his staff, Isabell Schultz (who I first met when she was an intern at EURIST in Hamburg), lead me on a bike tour which included features like the Radstation, the Esplanade, and even a trip to a residential area – Gremmendorf – a little outside of the center to see what the connections were like for residents commuting more than 5 km (over 3 miles) by bicycle.
While Münster may be the most bike-friendly city in Germany, München has named itself the Radlhauptstadt or Bike Capital City. Elizabeth Zorn spoke with me about the city’s emphasis on “compact and green” urban planning for years and how NMT is an obvious element of this strategy. She also told me about their Bike+Ride concept and I was able to visit a few locations. I also rode the new tram line 23 to Schwabing Nord to see some new transit oriented development. I heard about this area from Dr. Mikael Beim, a Polish transportation planner, whom I met at a Humboldt event in Berlin at the beginning of my fellowship and provided lots of tips on what I should see during my fellowship. I also met with Kerstin Langer, from the city of München, and Paul Bickelbacker, a local city council member. They had worked with Sebastian Bührmann on the Neighborhood Accessibility Planning (NAP) project that I had read about over a year before. They shared a great story about how advertizing the community forums at local bakeries generated more attendance than when they distributed them at libraries and other traditional neighborhood institutions. This might say more about the German love affair with Backwaren as community planning methods.
Of course, having been in the country for almost 18 months, I saw a lot more than could fit into this one post. I was inspired by some street redesign projects in saw in Bonn while living there for the language training. I was amazed by the modern and beautiful illuminated street furniture and cobblestones I saw in Leipzig during the study tour. And I was impressed by the role that the bicycle plays in tourist destinations like North Sea resort island of Sylt. While there on a little vacation with friends who also have children we got to experience it for ourselves during a 12 km long bike ride from Westerland to Rantum. I was also able to attend the National Bike Transport Community Conference in Hannover in September, which is a gathering of transport planners from cities and towns from throughout the country to discuss issues relevant to their work and share best practices. I was honored to be allowed to attend and excited to hear them discuss the newly released national bike plan 2012. And on and on and on…
I had lots of conversations with wonderful people. I saw lots of inspiring plans and interesting projects. I feel I learned a great deal about German culture and lifestyle by observing (and actively participating in) the movements of a normal day in Germany. I encourage everyone to visit this country (and not just Berlin or Munich), but especially those interested in urban planning and sustainable development (those people really need to go to Freiburg, Bremen and Kiel). Of course, everyone needs to go to Hamburg.
I also made four trips outside of Germany and have hundreds of photos from each place, but I know this post is going pretty long and I’m hoping to put at least one more blog post together, so for not I’ll just share two or three from each place:
Na ja, bin ich fertig. That was a long but still very basic overview of what I saw and learned related to NMT and Bike+Ride planning. I am working on other products from my research including a more professional and detailed presentation with even more photos (right now there are about 150 slides). Of course, the best product from my best practices research is the network of contacts I made all over Europe.
In addition to the interviews, I wanted to have some research that contributes to the discussion with new knowledge. In order to do that I conducted modal choice surveys at two Radstations in Hamburg and Kiel. The former was done at the newly opened facility located in the renovated train station in the Bergedorf section of the city. The latter was at the Radstation at the main train station. I wanted to learn why different people choose to ride their bicycles and park them at Radstations. My goal was to identify specific trends within the demographic groups and then think about if this information could shape policy recommendations or plans for future Radstations. In addition to usual demographic questions (age, income, composition of household, residential location, etc.) and travel behavior questions (frequency of modal usage, car-ownership, membership in car-sharing groups, etc.) I also asked attitudinal questions (what motivates their modal choice, perceptions of bicycle conditions in their city, etc.) The experience of conducting surveys is something I enjoy and gave me a chance to speak with regular Germans about why they use the bicycle and what they think about biking in their cities. The lessons learned are being analyzed based on both descriptive and inferential statistics. Hopefully I will be able to present my findings at a conference in the future. I would like to thank Herr Redecker from Kiel (whom I mentioned earlier), Herr Stefan Clotz from Hamburg Arbeit Services who helped me conduct my survey in Bergedorf, and I will be forever grateful to Dr. Christian Martin from the University of Kiel for helping me with the statistical analysis of my findings. We met Christian and his wife and daughter early on through a playgroup in Hamburg and was a great friend for helping me (I just wish I had asked him sooner!).
Of course, I must also thank Joanna for everything she did to make my time there possible and our time there as a family so wonderful. I would especially like to thank her for documenting our life there through this blog (which you should really read, if you haven’t already) and Facebook updates and emails to our families. She is an amazing writer and very funny. I could never do as good a job as she did sharing all my personal experiences and emotions from my time in Germany, but she did a great job capturing our life: trips, friends, food, daily life, milestones, visitors, etc., so that helped.
What I can share is this: I miss Germany a great deal and I’m sure I will not stop missing it for a while. We met wonderful, special people who are honestly some of the closest friends we’ll ever have. We lived in an amazing building, on a beautiful street, in an ideal neighborhood, in a charming and vibrant city. I miss the people and the places (and the bread products). I know how good we had it in terms of quality of life and it will be hard to recreate that anytime soon. But, I am happy to be close to colleagues and friends and especially to be back for the exciting things going on in my family (new babies and weddings and lots of other good stuff).
I’m not sure how to close in words, so I’ll just put up a few more photos and say, Es war wie eine Traum. Bis zum nächsten mal.