The Zürich Model and the Domestic Audience

The New York Times ran a story last week, essentially detailing the Zürich Model: increase the usage of non-automotive transportation by simultaneously making public transit more attractive (through increased frequency and punctuality though e.g. transit-priority usage of shared corridors) and automotive usage less attractive (via lowering the capacity of throughways via street and lane closure, the “red wave” of worst-case traffic-light timing, traffic calming, lowered speed limits, and so on). It turns out that this latter activity also makes life nicer for bicyclists: some of the reduced lane capacity can be reassigned to bike lanes, and narrow, low-speed throughways are more comfortable and less threatening for cyclists, such as the “Velobahnen” along Ackersteinstrasse and Scheuzerstrasse.

The article focuses on the open hostility to motor vehicles evident in Zürich’s urban design, and the chief traffic planner, Andy Fellmann, was refreshingly honest about his job being the movement of people, not automobiles: “Driving is a stop-and-go experience. That’s what we like! Our goal is to reconquer public space for pedestrians, not to make it easy for drivers.” Another official, Pio Marzolini, summed up what Zürich is like on foot, by comparison with the rest of the world: “When I’m in other cities, I feel like I’m always waiting to cross a street. I can’t get used to the idea that I am worth less than a car.”

Not all Zürchers, especially those who drive, more especially those who drive in from the Grossraum and spend an American amount of their lives stuck in traffic on the wrong side of Gubrist, are not quite as thrilled about the success of the Zürich model, largely because it works, and in working it makes driving in Zürich suck. And Mr. Fellmann apparently forgot that Swiss people read the Grey Lady. In the week since the article appeared, his words have led to a story in the Tages-Anzieger, in which he clarified that the “we don’t hate cars, we search for a balance (between driving and other modes of transportation), for the environment and quality of life.”

Offered as balance? The onetime-hellscape of Pfingstweidstrasse, a tangled mess of cars… that for the past several years has been torn apart in order to add Tram Zürich-West. Even when it puts on the best L.A.-face it can muster, there’s still a tram running through it every seven minutes.

And that’s why I like it here.