A Tale of Three Cities – Brussels: Biking because I could

As I mentioned in my previous post, I vacationed in Europe this past March. My friend and I visited Paris, Brussels, and Amsterdam. While I was there for vacation, most of my photos are of transportation. In the first part of this series, I discussed meeting my daily step goals walking around Paris. In this post, I reflect on traveling around Brussels by walking, biking, and riding public transportation.

We took the train from Paris to Brussels. While I love Amtrak, riding the Thayls in Europe was the next level of train experiences. I liked that my seat was assigned, which meant not having to walk up and down the aisles of the train to find a seat. They also screened all bags and passengers before boarding the train. After an hour train ride, we arrived in Brussels. To get to our accommodations in Brussel’s city center, we took a subway train to the neighborhood and walked the rest of the way.

My transportation takeaways are:

Most streets are for People

Brussels was a nice change of pace. In Paris, people walking and biking were a priority only on the streets for biking and walking. On streets with cars, people were walking and biking at their own risks. However, in Brussels it seemed like people walking and biking were a priority even on streets with cars. Most of the secondary streets in Brussels are for walking and biking only or walking and biking priority. I could walk from where we were staying to other places around Brussels without ever interacting with a motor vehicle. Even on the main roads, people drive slow and give priority to people walking and biking.

The density and street layout of Brussels encourages a walking and biking lifestyle. Brussels was design prior to the invention of cars, so most of the buildings have retail on the bottom and residential or office on the top. Most streets are narrow and/or are cobblestoned.

I couldn’t NOT Bike

In Brussels, I couldn’t get on a bike fast enough. The bike infrastructure and the friendly behavior of people driving was all the temptation I needed to get on a bike. Brussels has a bikeshare system with stations every few blocks along the main roads. There were a few streets where the bike lane has a painted buffer. For other streets, they have wide lane with a dashed bike lane in the center to keep people biking out of the parked car door zone on the right and have 3 feet of clearance from moving vehicles on the left. Many of the one-way streets are signed two-way for bicycles.

The bikeshare system was easy to use. It took me about two minutes from start to finish to rent a bike. For a 24-hour pass, the price was only $1.71 (USD) and a $150 hold on my credit card. I biked around for about 20 minutes. For my first ride, I identified the bike number I wanted to use and the system released that bike for me. I received a code to use from 24-hours for any other rides.

The signage for bicycles was at an appropriate eye level for people biking. Even without knowing the language, the bicycle signage used a clever system of arrows and pictures to clearly show which streets I could bike on and the best routes for me to travel. The most amazing part about biking was no one parks or stops their car in the bike lane. For example, while biking I encountered a truck that was unloading in a car travel lane and not in the bike lane.

More Information is Better

The public transit system was easy to use and generally intuitive. My favorite feature of Brussel’s system was the next train arrival information displayed outside the train station on the street. In the DC region, if you want to know next train arrivals you either need an app on your phone or you must walk into the station. I wish WMATA would adopt a similar display system outside their metro stations, especially at locations where I have an option between bus and rail.

In the next post, I will discuss Amsterdam, one of the world capitals of biking. Did I bike or not? Find out in a few weeks!

Veronica O. Davis, PE is a transportation guru who uses her knowledge to spark progressive social change. As Co-owner and Principal of Nspiregreen, she is also responsible for the management of the major urban planning functions such as transportation planning, policy development, master planning, sustainability analysis, and long range planning. In July 2012, Veronica was recognized as a Champion of Change by the White House for her professional accomplishments and community advocacy, which includes co-founding Black Women Bike.

Picture8

Interesting Rail Fact in Chongqing, China

For those who don’t know, I had my undergraduate studies at a mountainous city called Chongqing. It is one of the municipalities city in China (Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, Chongqing), meaning the city is directly controlled by the Chinese government. Metro Chongqing has a large population of 18.4 million people.[i] Chongqing is located at the Midwest of China, four major parallel mountains across the whole province, and 2 major rivers (Yangtze River and Jialing River) run through the area.

Above is just a little background of Chongqing, the city’s topography is a typical mountainous city in China. Like other metropolitans, Chongqing has many modern skyscraper, and modern public transportation is convenient to get around each of the districts. Monorail is one of the most used way to get around in the city. Remember that the city is built on the mountainous topography, which means the rail can’t always run underground, it kind of look like the trains run from tunnel to tunnel.

 

Picture1

City Skyline

(Source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/3/39/SkylineOfChongqing.jpg/842px-SkylineOfChongqing.jpg)

I would like to share some interesting stories when I lived in this city.

  1. Underground construction going on everywhere. Our campus in located in the middle of downtown. Same as regular campus, we have football field, library and classroom buildings. Regardless what’s on the surface, the underground level is all retails stores. Basically, the whole underground of the campus was under construction. The first year when I was there, my classmates and I could hear the “bomb” sounds when they were building the underground railway.
  2. The only flat area in this city is used for the airport.

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The Picture above shows the typical traditional mountainous building in Chongqing (Daytime view)

(Source: http://www.chineescapade.com/Admin_Manager/uponepic/guide-touristique/images/20141/ancienne-Chongqing-article.jpg)

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The complicated topography makes the night view really stunning. (Night time view)

(Source: http://www.echinacities.com/userfiles/2010-Year/10-Month/9-Day/image004(2).jpg)

Picture4

(Source: http://travel.chinesecio.com/en/image/attachement/jpg/site3/20091010/00235aa6948a0c3a34081b.jpg)

         3. The only flat area in this city is used for the airport.

Picture5

Staircase everywhere (Apple store plaza)

(Source: http://cdn.iphonehacks.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/apple-jiefangbei-store.jpg)

        4. When you get off the monorail, you will be surprised to find that you are at the 8th floor.

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Highest overpass between buildings

(Source: https://i2.wp.com/china-underground.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Highest_overpass.jpg?fit=1000%2C750)

        5. The most astonishing fact is that the rail goes through core of residential flats in the middle.  

Picture7

(Source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/content/dam/news/2017/03/20/JS123737351_Visual-China-Group_Light-Railway-Passes-Through-Residential-Building-In-Chongqing-large_trans_NvBQzQNjv4Bqr1-IQesdsNm9WbsCncdC0h-6hHT5d1My5NPMLxxGU0U.jpg)

        6. Complicated transportation.

Picture9

(Source: http://icaa15.cqu.edu.cn/common/images/night_view2.jpg)

The city still charming to me, it is so special. I love Chongqing, includes the scenery, the people and the Sichuan cuisine.

[i] http://countrydigest.org/chongqing-population/

 

Mei Fang, is an urban planner with a strong passion in urban and landscape design, she also enjoy looking for the variety culture inside of the city.

Streets for walking and biking only

A Tale of Three Cities – Paris: Meeting the Step Goal

In a Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens wrote, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” However, in my Tale of Three Cities, it was only the best of times. In March 2017, I spent a week visiting three cities in Europe thanks to a flight deal to Paris, France. My friend and I flew into Paris and stayed there for a few days. Then we took the train to Brussels, Belgium, followed later by another train to Amsterdam, Netherlands, and eventually made our way back to Paris. As followers of this blog, you know about my passion for transportation even on vacation. In a multiple part series, I will reflect on my experience biking, walking, and using public transit (rail and bus) in each city. For the first post, I will discuss moving around Paris.

During my time in Paris, I mostly walked and used public transit. Although Paris has a bikeshare system with stations every few blocks, I chose not to bike while I was there because walking was more convenient and people drive aggressively. The popular tourist locations are spread around the city in different arrodissements (political districts) and the easiest way to move between the tourist areas was transit. When I wasn’t on public transit, I was walking to get to the museum or tourist location. Each day, I walked over 20,000 steps according to my phone app.

My transportation takeaways from Paris are:

Make it Easy for Visitors

Unlike other tourists’ cities that I have visited or lived including the District of Columbia, Paris makes it easy for visitors to move around.  Prior to arriving I purchased a 48-hour Paris Pass, which included unlimited rides on the transit system. For the time my pass was activated, it made using the transit system seamless. I did not have to worry about loading any money or trying to figure out the cost of my fare. It also encouraged me to use transit over taxis or rideshare to be able to take advantage of my pass.

Despite not speaking French beyond basic greetings, I easily navigated the transit system. Like other transit systems, multiple train lines with different destinations serviced the same platform. In Paris, real time digital transit signs provided information on all the stops on the next train’s route to prevent people from getting on the wrong train. In addition, it gave an actual time of arrival versus a generic 5 minutes as seen in most cities’ transit systems.

Although the wayfinding through the transit stations was overkill, I didn’t get lost, so they met their objective. In all the transit stations, the exits were numbered. Therefore, when GoogleMaps directions told me to use exit 5, all I had to do was look for exit 5. While that seems like a minor detail, when you don’t know the country’s native language it is much easier than trying to match words. When I came out of the transit stations, there was pedestrian scale signage to guide me where to go next, especially in the tourist areas.

Some Streets are for People

For periods of the day, some streets in Paris converted to walking and biking only streets. They were generally narrow, cobblestoned streets with retail and restaurants along the sides. Most of the restaurants had outdoor seating, which made for prime people watching (one of my favorite things to do). Although people could bike on these streets, it was a challenge given the volume of people walking and the cobblestones.

Outside of the walking and biking only streets, Paris had bike infrastructure such as bike lanes and contraflow lanes in roundabouts and one-way streets. However, on multimodal streets, people drive dangerously. With the traffic congestion, no one drove particularly fast, but they make sudden and aggressive movements to get in front of another driver without paying much attention to people biking. Hence, why I did not bike while I was there.

It’s the little things

There were little things about Paris that made for a great environment for moving around. As someone who is always on the search for somewhere to charge my cellphone, having a USB port at the bus stop was a small amenity with big value. Another small thing is that I could easily distinguish which taxis were on duty based on their lights. The taxis with green lights were available and red lights were unavailable. Again, helping the tourist effectively navigate the transportation system without knowing the native language.

In the next post, I’ll discuss moving around Brussels, Belgium.

Veronica O. Davis, PE is a transportation guru who uses her knowledge to spark progressive social change. As Co-owner and Principal of Nspiregreen, she is also responsible for the management of the major urban planning functions such as transportation planning, policy development, master planning, sustainability analysis, and long range planning. In July 2012, Veronica was recognized as a Champion of Change by the White House for her professional accomplishments and community advocacy, which includes co-founding Black Women Bike.





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