After my time in Munich, I spent a brief few days in the Swiss city of Zürich, a city of about 400,000 people (although there are about 1.5 million in the greater urban area). Unlike the afore-mentioned German city, Zürich has a relatively low cycling share of only ~5%.
This might not seem surprising, given how hilly the city area is, draped over the hills surrounding Lake Zürich and the Limmat river valley. But in fact the biggest challenge is the competition provided by an extensive and well-used public transport system. At least one third of trips are made by the combination of rail, bus and trams provided in the city. And when it comes to prioritising (the often limited) space, everyone else (even the motor car) gives precedence to public transport.
All that has made it relatively hard for cycling to get good traction in Zürich. But that hasn’t stopped the city from providing quite a useful range of cycle-friendly facilities around the place. There is a mix of on-road cycle-lanes and separated facilities, as well as plenty of shared quiet streets.
Like most European places, Zürich has a lot of lower speed zones in its residential and central urban areas. In addition, many are restricted for general motor traffic.
One controversial intervention was the removal in 2004 of a main traffic route alongside the Limmat River in the middle of town and designating it as a space for pedestrians, bikes and public transport only (goods vehicles are allowed to provide deliveries). The result has been a very popular riverfront promenade.
Another thing that has been widely done around the city is to allow contra-flow cycling on many one-way quiet streets. Sometimes, this is simply by means of signs; sometimes there might be a lane marking to help out.
Other ways to improve the “permeability” of cycling compared with driving include blocking off streets to through-traffic, whilst still allowing bikes to get through.
Zürich has also been happy to experiment with other things too; for example, providing a very narrow two-way traffic space in conjunction with cycle lanes. This “2 minus 1” arrangement is fairly common in urban and rural Netherlands; a pity that a recent trial of it here in NZ was too hard for locals to comprehend…
Here are a few more photos of interesting features around Zürich:
At the moment there is a bit of momentum in Zürich to pay attention to cycling more than they have done in the past. The Zürich regional council has set up a bike promotion team and committed to spending 20 million Swiss Francs (~NZ$30m) between 2010-20 to improve the lot for cycling (i.e. about a fifth of what Christchurch is planning). They’re even tackling the hills by introducing some electric bicycles (e-bikes) for their staff to use.
It will probably never reach the highs of their public transport use, but certainly there is a lot of potential for more cycling around Zürich.
What cycle-friendly features from Zürich do you like?