Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Cycling in Zurich

While cycling in most other large cities is usually a mixture of teeth gritting and bell ringing frustration, Zurich seems to be a much more calm counterpoint to the usual fist shaking and shouting.

Politeness seems to be the key factor involved in getting around the City, whether that is by public transport, car, bicycle or foot.
I am consistently surprised at how polite car drivers are in Zurich, for example; very few pedestrian crossings actually have pedestrian lights. So how does it work then? Well the method is surprisingly simple, the pedestrian had automatic priority and all cars stop at zebra crossings at the slightest hint that someone might intend crossing. The result is that people crossing the road only hesitate a quick glance at oncoming traffic before marching straight out  in front of politely waiting cars.

While you would think this system would be the bane of most car drivers in Zurich it is not, the result is surprisingly stress free flowing traffic, probably because the cars don't spend their time waiting in front of red lights at pedestrian crossings where no one is crossing.

Indeed even the cars don't need lights at Zurich's most busy junction - central and use this polite waiting system to alternate between who has priority. Only at peak traffic times will you see a semi-formal traffic stopping system in place and this literally takes the form of a human Traffic Warden being stationed in what looks like an over-sized bin right in the centre of the junction.

This traffic version of an orange Oscar the Grouch is an efficient version of traffic lights as they are more accurately able to judge the needs of the waiting traffic, and appropriately assign priority.

However the frequency of bicycle lanes can be very inconsistent, resulting in sometimes frustrated drivers waving at me while I weave in and out of traffic in a confused manner. Contrary to usual though I don't feel angry at these drivers for questioning my rights on the road, but more embarrassed for my lack of cycling skills.

Perhaps one of the biggest advantages of having fewer traffic lights is that I now politely stop at all of them because I know they are important or dangerous junctions rather than a near pointless impediment along my route. I also inexplicably find myself stopping for pedestrians at crossings and even venturing a polite nod in their direction, perhaps because I know they would do the same for me.

Also a large departure from my normal bicycle etiquette is the concept of leaving my bicycle locked, but not locked to anything. Yes leaving your bicycle in full public view, at a busy junction in central Zurich overnight, while only locked to itself is not going to result in instant theft. Weird huh?
Another new and funny thing I witnessed is people actually complaining about poor bicycle parking skills.
I spotted this bicycle near Bellevue, and apparently the owner had parked it inappropriately, resulting in messages from frustrated people who actually took a great amount of time and effort to personalise the messages of warning on the tape after wrapping it up.

The fact that Zurich is nestled in between 2 mountains doesn't make it the most terrain friendly for casual cyclists, but if you can brave the cold slopes the traffic itself is far less worrying.

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