Friday, 3 August 2012


So as planned we take the train to Schwerin, along with 14 other bicycles. Here we are in the cycle wagon, somewhat full and, contrary to German stereotypes, most bikes have been placed in the wrong space. You book a space for your bike on inter-city trains in Germany, but we found ours were already occupied when we got on the train, so had to take someone else's.
Once in Schwerin we decided on an afternoon ride around the large lake; very pretty, and a rather famous grand castle at the start. After 30 kms the rain closed in, so we had a fast peddle back to the hotel.
As for cycling infrastructure, cyclists are fairly well catered for on the tourist circuit. Once in Schwerin, things are a bit less so. But in both cases an obvious strategy has been developed. Bearing in mind that the town was until 25 years ago part of the GDR, in that short time a fair amount has been done for cyclists, but based on this expedient of simply converting pavements to shared use cycle/pedestrian routes. The main road into Schwerin has this all the way down into town. As does much of the lake circuit, for example when passing through villages.
But the expedient works for two reasons. First, pedestrians expect cyclists. And second, motorists are trained to give way to both pedestrians and cyclists at junctions. It's not perfect. There was a strategy in place for developing cycling in Schwerin, but it seems the town council have ditched it in May. The German link suggests a familiar experience - politicians apparently listening to local cycling representatives, then suddenly ditching the whole discussion.
Be that as it may, Schwerin has its positive points. There is certainly a strong cycling culture here, there are still trams running as I write this after midnight, and the town centre's pedestrian heart is more fully pedestrian than Darlington. Yes, there are cyclists (though not during peak hours, sadly), but perhaps more interesting is the way in which buses travel through the pedestrian area.

Buses travelling at this kind of speed reinforce the idea that this part of the town belongs to the pedestrian, and others are invited. Intriguingly, we watched taxi drivers and a security car driver ignore this concept, suggesting that there is a clear political attempt, via the local bus company, to develop a culture of slow traffic in the town centre.

These phenomena - motorists giving way and slow buses- are no god-given behaviours. They are deliberately fostered by political will. The other side of the coin? I leave that to you, the reader, to describe.

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