This is a guest post from reader Ella Kay.
I’ve been in the small-medium, quaint city of Göttingen (smack bang in the middle of Germany) for the last six weeks.
It isn’t exactly a bustling metropolis with a bunch of stimulating stuff going on, but it is exceptionally easy to navigate and pleasantly accessible which demonstrates that cities don’t need to be ‘hyped’, ‘smart’ or ‘experiencing growth’ to have a good transport system.
When it comes to mobility, the city is well prioritised in layers. There are cars, buses, bikes, people walking and trains for regional trips – but most importantly, they are in the right types of places.
First layer (above): Right in the centre is a swath of cobbled pedestrian streets, that are really pedestrian streets – no bikes or scooters allowed, only walking.
Second layer (above): The next rung is a network of priority streets – bikes, taxis, buses and delivery vehicles (during certain parts of the day) are allowed.
Third layer: There are a handful of streets in the city centre that effectively enable cars to access the city but limit the ability of cars to use main throughfares. These roads are connected to two-thirds of a ring road (below) around the city centre which is a key arterial that enables effective movement around the city, whether the destination is the city centre, somewhere on the other side or the autobahn (with any onramps being at least 5km away from the city centre – to compare, that would be like Auckland’s most central onramps being at Western Springs or Newmarket or Wellington’s being well past the Westpac stadium).
The wider city is complemented by a decent cycling network and a regional train station – so much that you fall into thinking that you can get anywhere in Europe in a hurry when the reality is that Göttingen is deceptively remote and at least several hours from most bigger places.
The result of this is that it is exceptionally easy to get around the city, wider area and region regardless of mode. If you are driving you get the benefit of clear arterials, if you catch the train you do so via a well located station with decent connections, bike and car parking facilities, if you walk you come across all sorts of encounters and hives of other people as a result of the lovely places and spaces.
All of this seems consistent with Germany as a synonym for leaving no room for anything but practicality, efficiency and what makes sense. At the same time, there is very little here that strikes me as ‘modern’ or ‘cutting edge’, in many ways what is more surprising than what is here is what isn’t here:
- No apps: I haven’t needed to venture far enough to use a bus but in doing a quick search I only came across the Göttingen Busradar app which is under development and looks like a reasonably basic user interface. There are no on demand apps like Uber either, though you can dial up a minicab which has a similar function (just more old school)
- No e bikes: I haven’t seen more than 10 e-bikes in six weeks I’ve been here, despite there being a comprehensive cycling network here.
- No e scooters: Not even one. My assumption is that cycling is so core to mobility here that a disruptive e scooter scheme would probably not get much uptake.
- No e vehicles: I have seen about three in the last six weeks. I don’t know if this goes in hand with being in the middle of nowhere but there doesn’t seem to be much appetite for evs here. I’ve seen one set of e vehicle parks but of the many times I’ve ridden this route they are almost never occupied.
There area a number of e buses though, I was impressed that a city of this size has prioritised e bus infrastructure.
The lack of modern gadgets in hand with the ease of getting around here makes it clear that if the fundamentals are right then they don’t need to be anything exceptional. They just need to be the most movement enabling thing for the type of place prioritised at the right times of a day.