Sunday, March 27, 2011

Heaven on Earth: Bike Transport in Switzerland and Austria

On a recent ski trip to Switzerland and Austria, I decided to devote a little time to sampling the bike transport experiences there. I managed to get out for a look in Basel, Switzerland and Innsbruck, Austria.

High Expectations
Having been to Europe before, my expectations were high. Denmark and the Netherlands are not the only European countries that take bicycle transport very seriously. On previous visits, I had seen the dedicated bike lanes in places like Munich, Germany.

However, this time I wasn't going to any large metropolis with miles of dense population. Those typically have major traffic congestion problems. Increasingly, even in the U.S., large city governments support bicycle transport as one of their traffic congestion solutions and there's already a decent amount of adoption.

Are Small Cities Any Less Committed?
Smaller cities can be a different story. With less population density, small cities can be less desperate for alternative transport solutions. Back home at least, this can mean support for bike transport is very limited, merely tolerated, or even subject to hostility. The town of Black Hawk, Colorado is now infamous/famous (depending on your perspective) for banning bikes in that small town.

Since Basel and Innsbruck are relatively small, I was not expecting much more than the limited bike support I've experienced in U.S. small cities. I didn't expect the local governments to be as focused on bike transport. I also thought the time of year might limit the cycling activity I would see.

Exceeded Expections
Nevertheless, what I found far exceeded my high expectations for bike transport in any sized town at any time of year. Basel and Innsbruck transport infrastructures not only tolerate but promote cycling as a serious transport alternative by providing comprehensive bike lanes that are not always but frequently separated from BOTH cars and pedestrians.

They also provide facilities that address common challenges with bike transport. The goal is clearly to make bike transport very practical and often more convenient than driving or even riding the train. What's more, all these facilities and services are put to good use year-round at all hours of the day and night by surprisingly active cyclists.

Serious Bike Parking
The first thing that blew my mind was Basel's bike garages. Under their central train station (Hauptbahnhof SBB), is a veritable wonderland for bike commuting enthusiasts. My local friend took me down there and what I saw was a spotless, well-lighted, well-attended, and massive space for intracity and intercity travelers to safely park their bikes at any hour of the day (not just commuter hours).

These garages are found at most train stations including the airport in Zurich. They also rent bicycles there. I was able to rent a bike there for less than 20 CHF/day. In Zurich, I found a sporting goods store willing to rent for much less: 60 CHF/week.

Especially deluxe were the dedicated entry and exit ramps for bikes. I can't describe how riding in and out of the dedicated bike garage ramps instills this bike commuter with a sense of legitimacy. It was truly a profound experience, especially, when contrasted with the cycling experience back home that leaves one feeling like a second-class or even illegitimate member of the transport community.

In the U.S., bike parking is sometimes not available at all. It is an ad hoc affair where you bring your own security in the form of pounds of bike locks. Then you might have to walk great distances looking for somewhere to use it. When bike parking is available it is likely to be sparse, outdoor, unattended, and designed to maximize damage to your bike.

How often would people drive if they had to carry a lock with them and drape that lock around a filthy rack at every location they visited? That is precisely the question that many European cities have answered for bikes. The result is a comprehensive set of facilities that make cycling very practical, clean, and therefore easy and attractive.

Bike parking in Innsbruck wasn't quite as deluxe as Basel but it was still great. Lots of racks all over. Some were outside and unattended but they were still covered and engineered to ensure one bicycle did not damage another. So refreshing. All this and I wasn't even riding the bike yet.

Serious Bike Infrastructure
Once you are out of the garage or off the rack, the support continues in the form of dedicated bike lanes, bike traffic lights, and even bike service stations. All work together to reinforce the idea that bikes aren't just toys that sometimes sneak onto the road to inconvenience cars. They are serious vehicles.

Serious Bike Services
Along those lines, service stations like this one in Basel were a welcome sign. The more ubiquitous bikes become, the more they need ubiquitous services and resources like the ones that autos enjoy.

Serious Bike Usage
The infrastructure certainly did its part to ensure cycling is serious transport. However, that wouldn't matter if people didn't use it. My expectations were exceeded here as well. Day or night, warm or cold, rain or shine, male or female, young or old,  folks were using bikes to go on dates, get groceries, and of course go to work and school.

I was pleasantly surprised to see all ages and genders well represented on bikes late at night in freezing temperatures. Back home, just one of these factors is frequently cited as an excuse for not cycling. Here none are. Couples think nothing of going out to dinner on bikes at night, even in winter.

The fashionable folks I spied on bikes knocked down two more excuses for not cycling: that it trashes hairdos and clothes. This gal was having none of that. I found her chatting with these two gentleman at about 10 p.m. at night in about 30 degree weather with a handsome ensemble and a sweet looking bike.

Even during a day trip to Colmar, France, I found these two in the train station running errands on their bikes. I didn't see enough of France this trip to comment on their bike transport experience but some of the same commitment to bike transport obviously bleeds over the border from Basel.

Back home, bike transport is increasingly more mainstream but it still is most popular among young people in major metropolitan areas. Here, the range of ages and backgrounds is very wide, as is the penetration beyond big cities.

All this demonstrates that, with the right attitude and right clothing, bike commuters can experience physical and social warmth no matter when they ride.

Serious Challenge
This trip reinvigorated my resolve to see this level of bike transport infrastructure and adoption in the U.S. It can be done. It will be done, in the U.S. as it is in bike transport heaven: Europe.


  1. I am always impressed by the amount of cycling there is in Innsbruck in the middle of winter, it might be -10 deg C, but there are sill plenty of cyclist out on the streets.

  2. hi there. i'm one of the many bike-enthusiasts in the wonderful town of basel. thanks for your nice article! FWI: even our town major (Stadtpräsident) by the name of guy morin goes to work every day on his bicycle, even rides it to meetings around town! ride on, david.
    (video of critical mass in basel:

  3. I've never been to Austria, but I recently did some travelling with my Montague folding bike in Switzerland, and I could not believe how nice it was to ride there.

  4. Guarantee: Before finalizing any logistic cargo services, you should ask for clarification regarding the warranty that is given by the company. cargo transportation

  5. Security is one of our fundamental concerns and hence only bonded, insured and licensed companies and shipping transporters are enlisted in our directory. So, you've no need to worry about services of these shipping service providers.

  6. And from the world, National Auto shipping is the most popular for people United States, which is a leading company in

  7. Read their offer document carefully before signing it. Make sure the company isn't charging anything as hidden shipping

  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

  9. This is ideal and necessary for people with expensive cars. Although this might not be lucrative to budget conscious people because in this you can transport only 2 to 5 cars and demand huge prices for the same.More hints

  10. water transport incorporates freight ships, vessels, sailboats and ships through channels, waterways and oceans. removalists melbourne

  11. A mode can be used by itself or in conjunction with several other modes; in this case it is referred to 'intermodal' or 'multimodal' transport.move it move it

  12. "It's not what you know, it's who you know". This adage held true in your first job search and still holds true today in business. Building and fostering long-term business relationships not only enable you to be connected to the key decision makers in your community, but also their contacts. From a competitive standpoint, your personal contact list becomes an immensely valuable asset. TCTippers

  13. The strongest deterrent bicycle, motorcycle, moped, and scooter lock that fights back against thieves with noxious vomit inducing chemicals.
    theft proof bike lock

  14. Clients in some cases find that the need to call the transporter with issues while the car is in travel or after it has arrived, and again to have the driver's number is transport services

  15. One of the first things most Canadians ask when buying travel insurance is "What type of travel insurance do I need?" It's a valid question, as choosing between the many different types of insurance can be a bit confusing. This article outlines the main types of travel insurance available to Canadians, including single trip, multi-trip, trip cancellation, trip interruption, accidental death and dismemberment, all inclusive, and top up travel insurance. this link explains

  16. If you move often, moving blankets with woven outer fabric much more durable moving blankets and will serve much longer. Non-quilted moving blankets can be made out of felt or burlap on one side and felt on the other. شركات نقل الاثاث

  17. This comment has been removed by the author.

  18. Search for bundle bargains, fly-drive-remain, or fly-drive, the vast majority of these bundles give incredible limits for rentals, however don't do it with an aircraft, carriers while helpful aren't generally the more prudent approach, their spending vehicle rental costs are not really spending plan, and will in general be higher than those of outside firms. cancun car rental

  19. Say Kuwait national transport company offers the best service for transporting Kuwait Unpacking the installation of packaging of household appliances with the preservation of furniture parts Furniture You are safe with the best transport companies in Kuwait Transporting all areas in Kuwait نقل عفش

  20. Such a very useful article. Very interesting to read this article.I would like to thank you for the efforts you had made for writing this awesome article. äÞá ÚÝÔ

  21. Regular visits listed here are the easiest method to appreciate your energy, which is why why I am going to the website everyday, searching for new, interesting info. Many, thank you  Anti-theft lock

  22. A very excellent blog post. I am thankful for your blog post. I have found a lot of approaches after visiting your post. bike shipping europe

  23. Basel is officially in the German-speaking part of Switzerland and all the street signs there are in German, but the French-speaking part of Switzerland is not far hire Geneva

  24. Great article with excellent idea!Thank you for such a valuable article. I really appreciate for this great information.. nemzetközi szállítmányozás

  25. I was surfing net and fortunately came across this site and found very interesting stuff here. Its really fun to read. I enjoyed a lot. Thanks for sharing this wonderful information. szállítmányozás okosan

  26. In fact your creative writing abilities has inspired me to start my own Blog Engine blog now. Really the blogging is spreading its wings rapidly. Your write up is a fine example of it