All things environmental

Musings about the environment and all it touches, from education to city planning

My daily commute in Germany

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Spatzieren - going for a walk in the Pinneberg neighbourhood, with cows and woodlots.

Spatzieren – going for a walk in the Pinneberg neighbourhood, with cows and woodlots.  Dense?  No.  But transit accessible.

People think that European transit systems work well because the cities are so dense, with short distances and high ridership. It’s easy to form that impression as a tourist, since one is always visiting the denser historic parts of a city. But this can be a wrong impression – and a very unfortunate one, too, since it is often invoked to justify why we cannot have European-style transit. And with it, any hope of developing transit as a means of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Not that the impression is completely false; there is sprawl in Europe, but less than in North America. I’ll take Hamburg, Germany’s second largest city, because I’m more familiar with it; and when I go there I stay in the burbs.

It’s somewhat difficult to compare the two places, so I included two large suburbs around Hamburg (Pinneberg and Stormann) so that we have similar population sizes (2,290,000 for Hamburg, 2,310,000 for Vancouver). This gives a density of about 800 people/km2 for Greater Vancouver, compared to 1050 for the Hamburg-Pinneberg-Stormann. (Why did I pick these two areas? It’s because that’s where I usually stay, either at relatives, in Ahrensburg in the Stromann area, or at friends in Pinneberg.)
But even given the slightly higher density, there is an amazing discrepancy between the two transit systems. The Germans chose to go with rail for moving commuters; not so BC.

The Greater Hamburg commuter train system

The Greater Hamburg commuter train system

 

Vancouver: the Skytrain and West Coast Express

Vancouver: the Skytrain and West Coast Express

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What does that look like on the ground? I took a German class for a couple of weeks there once. Here are pictures of my commute from Uncle Detlev’s house to my school in Altona, about 25 kms. Door to door, including a twenty minute walk by the horse pastures, that’s a bit over one hour by rail.

In terms of neighbourhoods and distance, that’s the equivalent of going from, say, North-East Surrey to Kitsilano: from semi-rural hobby farms to trendy. But I couldn’t replicate that commute here. Is it really so much to ask? Why can’t we have enticing transit?

The fields in front of Detlev's house.  A low density, garden-city style development

The fields in front of Detlev’s house. A low density, garden-city style development

Detlev's house (left), in Ahrensburg.

Detlev’s house (left), in Ahrensburg.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The path along the Lottbeck, a little creek on the way to the station

The path along the Lottbeck, a little creek on the way to the station

 

The horse pasture down the street on my walk to the train

The horse pasture down the street on my walk to the train

 

 

 

 

 

...and then to the station.  Note the clock: the trains are on time.

…and then to the station. Note the clock: the trains are on time.

The little bakery where I'd get a choco-croissant to much on during class

The little bakery where I’d get a choco-croissant to much on during class

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Note the bike/ hiking path parallel to the train tracks (from Ahrensburg to Volksdorf, on the way to downtown)

Note the bike/ hiking path parallel to the train tracks (from Ahrensburg to Volksdorf, on the way to downtown)

 

 

 

 

 

 

at one of the trandy outdoor cafes near Altona, after my German class

At one of the trendy outdoor cafes near Altona, after my German class

...and just like in Kits, there's a beach nearby

…and just like in Kits, there’s a beach nearby!

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Written by enviropaul

November 3, 2014 at 7:18 pm

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