Europe beats the US all to hell in terms of transportation. I realize that part of the reason is large parts of Europe are compact, compared to the spread out United States. Still, it’s fairly easy to move from city to city on a train (preferred) or a bus, and then within a city using a subway, tram or bus in Europe.
When traveling, it helps that we plan to stay near the center of these cities to take advantage of the transportation. But even traveling to Potsdam on a day trip from Berlin during a recent vacation was easy and fairly inexpensive. We bought a seven-day Eurorail pass, which allows free transportation on the days we designate. They weren’t cheap, but it’s a relief knowing that most of our major transportation is paid for. Sometimes you have to pay extra to take high-speed trains or book a reservation on a particular train, but those costs are modest.
In Berlin and Amsterdam, we bought tourist passes that included transportation. So in addition to free or reduced admission to certain museums, the buses and trains were included. The Amsterdam passes alone were more than 200 Euro total, but we visited enough museums to more than recoup the cost, not counting the half-dozen subway and tram rides we took.
Cyclists and bikers everywhere
That’s not to mention the bike riding. Many European cities are compact, making it easy to get around by bike or motorbike. Few riders had helmets, but I never saw a crash, even among pothead tourists in Amsterdam. We even saw small children riding with their parents on bikes and tons of kids on Razor scooters.
I believe the reason they’re so popular is the proper infrastructure is in place to support it. Dedicated bike lanes are placed next to sidewalks, separating cars from bikes from people in many instances. Bike parking decks rise several stories next to the central train station. City-supported rental bikes schemes let tourists live like the locals while giving the locals a cheap way to grab a bike and go.
A friend in Antwerp said the local bike scheme is 40 Euro a year for 30 minutes’ bike use at a time. That’s enough time to check a bike out, pedal to the store, check it back in, shop, then rent another bike for the return trip.
I also think it helps that driver education is a much bigger deal in Europe than in the US. Getting one’s license is difficult and takes considerable practice. Many young drivers take the test two times or more before passing. Because those skills are taught for a longer period of time, I think they become more ingrained.
You will find the occasional asshat tearing down our street in Belfast, but for the most part, I see drivers using their turn signals, letting other cars in and observing the pedestrian crossing signs. I was amazed to see rush hour traffic on a motorway in Amsterdam evenly spaced, instead of cars sniffing up the tailpipe of the cars in front.
Getting out of our cars
Governments that truly want to serve constituents should make the necessary investments in transportation infrastructure beyond the car. Bike ridership might be low in your city, but rather than use it as an excuse to build more roads, leaders should explore why it’s low and ways to get people out of their cars.
Atlanta has MARTA, but its track configuration was designed to appease politicians rather than move people from where they live to where they work. Attempts are being made to address this, but those infrastructure improvements will take decades. In the meantime trains run barely frequently enough during rush hour and not nearly often enough otherwise.
Unfortunately, I don’t think America will suddenly lose its love of the passenger car and embrace the train, the bus or the subway anytime soon. But savvy leaders in certain areas are recognizing the importance of transportation infrastructure beyond the car to attract younger workers who increasingly are learning to drive much later—if at all.
They can look to Berlin, to Amsterdam and to Antwerp for examples of how to successfully marry roads, rails and bike lanes for the betterment of all.