A week for ‘Walking and Cycling’

It has been an exciting week! From last Monday to Friday, I led the ‘Walking and Cycling’ module of the Urban Transport Weeks. Nine participants and two one-day visitors attended this intensive five-day course about facilitating walking and cycling.

Although especially cycling has achieved to become a mainstream topic in urban traffic planning and is being discussed frequently in the media, cycling infrastructure and policy often fall short of expectations. Many cities around the globe, and quite a few in Germany, aspire to the title ‘Cycling City’. Nevertheless, the dominance of individual motorised transport often seems insurmountable.

Walking and Cycling are still underrepresented in the curricula of higher education. The Urban Transport Weeks were not only supposed to add this highly needed expertise, but also to open up a social science perspective, focus on the political conflicts, the bureaucratic struggles, and also on the people who use bicycles. While good engineering is the basis of good infrastructure, current failures might be better explained by looking beyond the engineering challenge.

After a successful first round of the Urban Transport Weeks in March, two one-week modules ‘Urban Accessibility’ and ‘Walking and Cycling’ were repeated from the 14th to the 25th September. The Urban Transport Weeks were organised by the European Institute for Sustainable Transport in cooperation with the Hamburg University of Technology (TUHH) and the TUHH Startup Dock and were funded by the German Federal Environment Agency.

Over five days, internationally renowed experts came to Hamburg to share their thoughts with the participants and discuss strategies to increase walking and cycling. Over the course of the week as the knowledge of the participants grew, more and more critical questions were asked and inspiring discussions followed the talks of the experts.

On Wednesday, a cycle tour through the inner city on the Hamburg public bicycles allowed the participants to experience cycling in Hamburg. During the cycle tour, advantages and disadvantages of different infrastructure designs were pointed out and discussed with the participants. We also critically reflected on the distribution of public space and the prioritisation of transport modes. Additionally, the participants learnt about safe cycling strategies in urban traffic.

Urban Transport Weeks, Walking and Cycling, Excursion

Group photo during the cycle excursion
Hamburg, 23/09/2015
Photo courtesy of Maximilian Heinrich

In order to complete the ‘Walking and Cycling’ module, the participants were asked to develop a project to increase bicycle commuting in Hamburg as part of a ‘Campus Competition’. Four groups each with two participants took part in the competition. On the last day of the module, the participants presented their ideas to a jury. The projects were supposed to go beyond mere infrastructure solutions and build on the lessons from the week. All four ideas were creative and showed much potential. Congratulations to the winners, whose project reminded us all that besides quick and convenient and cheap and healthy, cycling can be a lot of fun!

I send a big ‘Thank You!’ to all the participants of the ‘Walking and Cycling’ week. It has been a real pleasure to work with you.

Knowledge Transfer: A sustainable transport study tour in Hamburg

It is always a good thing when students don’t only study from books, but also get the opportunity to see and experience what they study. Dr. Maha Maleika, Head of the Engineering Planning Department at Duhok University in Northern Iraq, had the vision to develop a study programme that would allow her students to see and learn from foreign experiences. Today, Duhok University offers a Bachelor of Science degree in Spatial Planning in cooperation with the Faculty of Spatial Planning at the TU Dortmund that makes exactly that possible: a four-week study tour including study stays in Dortmund, Berlin and Hamburg.

Last week, the first group of students accompanied by lecturers from Duhok University and the TU Dortmund came to Hamburg for a four-day programme of lectures and excursions on sustainable transport which I had co-developed for the hosting organisation, the European Institute for Sustainable Transport.

With sustainable transport being such a vast topic, what do you cover in four days? Different scales of transport planning, different modes of transport, financial aspects, demand and supply management, public engagement, people or freight? This week was supposed to open the students’ eyes to the interconnectedness of transport planning, the relationships between urban development and traffic, between the provision of transport infrastructure and people’s behaviour and between research, planning practice and live traffic management.

My special thanks go to the Hamburg Institute of International Economics (HWWI), who hosted us for two days and provided lectures on infrastructure development, transport planning at the city-region scale and financial aspects of transport planning, thereby giving the students a sense of current research topics in sustainable transport.

Group photo in front of HWWI

Group photo in front of HWWI
Hamburg, 09/06/2015

Our first excursion was to take us to IKEA in Altona. ‘Really?’ you might ask. In order to limit the impact of new traffic on the neighbourhood, the development of this first inner-city IKEA required an innovative transport and logistics concept, which was explained to us by one of the developers from ARGUS Stadt- und Verkehrsplanung. The small distance to the public transport hub Altona as well as a whole range of possibilities to transport purchases home, including cargo bicycles for hire, has successfully desincentivised the use of the private car for a trip to this IKEA. Infrastructure that was cleverly adapted to people’s needs was able to reduce traffic impact and allow the development of such a huge operation in the inner city.

New city developments always impact on traffic and, therefore, transport demand and supply need careful consideration from the start. This lesson was further demonstrated to the students through guided tours in the newly developed Hafencity area and the International Building Exhibition (IBA). Additionally, a visit to the local citizen initiative ‘Die Motte’ in Ottensen demonstrated that urban interventions are not just an engineering challenge, but ultimately affect people who might want to have a say in the development of their neighbourhood. Finally, with a tour of the Hamburger Hochbahn company, which runs the public underground trains (U-Bahn) as well as the entire public bus system in Hamburg, the students could witness live traffic management and could grasp the challenge of managing a flow of 438 million people per year across the city.

Sustainable transport and traffic planning is more than an engineering challenge. It is integrally linked to urban development, access and social mobility, life quality and wellbeing. People are right at the centre of transport and traffic planning. The students left with impressions of a city, with its administration, its private companies and voluntary sector, with its city-region transport modelling as well as its local citizen initiatives, where a lot works well and a lot still needs to be improved. Hamburg is work in progress – like any real city – and this you can’t study only from books.