Sunday, August 15, 2010

Cycling in Freiburg, Madison, Münster and Washington

When Freiburgers think that their city is the capital of bicycling in Germany they are all wrong. The place to visit is Münster in Westphalia. Together with my high school classmates I cycled the city and the region in 2006. My parked bicycle on the Privatparkplatz of Der Tolle Bomberg Inn bears witness.

My bicycle in Westphalia
In 2008 Madison's Mayor David Cieslewicz came to Freiburg on the occasion of the 3rd Meeting of Freiburg's Partner Cities. As he had expressed the wish to bicycle in the Black Forest the Freiburg-Madison Gesellschaft organized a cycling tour around the Schluchsee.

Starting the tour around the Schluchsee
In the spring of 2010 Mayor Dave visited the cycling strongholds of Amsterdam and Münster. What happened afterwards Mayor Dave wrote about in an article in the Isthmus Weekly of August 12, entitled In Defense of Madison: Mr. Steve Nass, Republican of Whitewater a Madison-basher, as Mayor Dave calls him, has spent a full two decades in the Legislature. His specialty is to beat up on the University of Wisconsin, but he took time out this spring to issue a press release attacking Madison for installing some pavement markings called a "bike box."

According to Nass, this is just part of the liberal, anti-car agenda. It starts with a little pavement marking and before you can say "euro" we're all sitting in cafes drinking small cups of really strong coffee, wearing berets and talking about Kafka and soccer.

Mayor Dave in Madison with helmet
Dear Mr Nass, what is wrong with that? You should know in a global economy there is lots of competition: We Europeans swallow Big Macs listening to the late Michel Jackson on our iPods and sip hazelnut-flavored mocha at Starbucks while surfing the web with our iPads.

Coming back to bicycling ... in Washington. On August 14, the Badische Zeitung published an article about the US Capital. It was mentioned that Mayor Fenty had lately opened a bike path on Pennsylvania Avenue passing the White House with car drivers protesting vigorously as they lost one traffic lane. The city now has 50 miles of bike paths with 30 more to come. Otherwise bikers in Washington live dangerously as drivers chase them off the streets.

There is this subtle difference between Washington and Freiburg. Here it is the pedestrian who is at the mercy of bikers driving on footpaths. Call yourself lucky if bicyclists come the wrong way as you have a chance to escape jumping to the side. If they come from behind and you happen to hear them then stand still and pray, otherwise as I wrote nine years ago: In Freiburg it is impossible not to be hit by a cyclist.

I would like to comment on a phrase an American friend recently sent me describing his experience of cycling in the States: When I am in one mode I hate all the others.

I must admit I feel similar: When riding a bicycle I am annoyed by cars and pedestrians. Although at my age I am a most defensive driver, I curse cyclists in front of me and pedestrians crossing the street at any moment whereas as a pedestrian I hate any cyclist on my footpath and parked cars blocking it. What kind of atavistic feeling is unleashed here? Does anybody know the answer?

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