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.

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29 comments

    1. Gött is a lovely place, my better half’s hometown.

      This is due in part to the fact the old town escaped bombing in the war (only the rail yards to the west of town were hit), which means it escaped the first wave of direct destruction, and the second wave of rubble clearance for ring roads, modernist rebuilding of main streets, arterial road widening, open lot parking, etc.

      The town still has its medieval embankment wall intact, which is not only a nice and compacting town belt, its also a circular linear park with greenery, walking tracks, botanical gardens etc.

      It has several features that present a microcosm for what auckland can achieve. As Ella mentions the inner cross of main streets is entirely pedestrian, with the next block or two around being what we might call shared spaces. You can drive down them if you need to, but there is no point unless you really need to as there is practically no parking or through routes on those streets. The main parking is contained in a few consolidated parking buildings (one underground) dotted around the periphery of the town centre. You simply drive to the one on your side and walk the last block or two to your destination.

      There is a new shopping mall in Gottingen, but it is deftly located between one of the edge parking buildings and the pedestrian precinct, and properly stitched into the lanes and access ways.
      The buses all run on a single bus priority road around the core, effectively one corridor with four main stops that all buses serve. Oh, And a major university in the town centre keeps a lot of foot traffic on the streets, more than you would expect from the population.

      All up, a good shopping list for auckland to borrow.

  1. Have you been to Heidelberg yet? Also a very beautiful wee city, saved from WWII bombing due to the University and so consequently mostly very old. It is also very hilly – from memory – would be interested to know if they have also managed to have a cycle-centric transport system despite the hills.

  2. Peter H – good to see that Gottingen also has mad psycho nutters who hate cyclists (1:50 in the clip above). Except that in this case the nutter is also on a bike himself. Can anyone offer a translation of his/her vile invective? Meine Deutsche ist nicht su gut.

    1. He is saying “Call yourself a cyclist? You are not even quarter-ways angry/insane (no direct English translation) enough to be a proper cyclist”

      1. Ach ja, natürlich ! Danke, Herr mifwic… I think he actually spits at them, which seems a little excessive. Were they cycling the wrong way down an exclusively one-way cycle-strasse? Or perhaps they had the wrong coloured shirt on and were supporting Bayern Munich instead of the Gottingen Gooners?

    2. He’s just raging. What I can hear:

      Scheißwichser! Fucking wankers
      Spastis! Retards
      Du Dreckschwein! You filthy pig

      The cyclist responds: Gibt sowas hier öfter? Does stuff like that happen here often?

      Germany is full of people like this unfortunately. Heroin addicts on the come down are not exactly pleasant.

  3. I wonder if they’ve had to actively resist the “smart cities” hype or if Germany isn’t a target for it the way NZ is.

    I’m wondering how many good basic design decisions are being ignored in Auckland because those with a mobile phone don’t see the need. On Sunday we had dinner at Mt Albert where we needed to transfer between buses so it seemed a good opportunity.

    But instead of being able to go to the obvious bus stop location right outside the train station on Carrington Rd (which would serve the Outer Link and the 66 both heading to Pt Chev) we had to choose between standing at the bus stop on NNR (which I already knew from earlier in the day had a display board for the opposite direction so was giving info for buses heading to Mt Eden and the city centre) or the bus stop on Mt Albert Rd.

    Relying on your mobile phone is all well and good until you break it or lose it or it stops working… and then, the fall back position should be basic good city design.

    1. Smart Cities rhetoric is just a magic wand attempt to try and get better outcomes without actually doing anything, changing anything or prioritizing anything other than the status quo.

      You don’t need an IT app to help you catch a bus if the service is frequent and reliable and the bus stop is in the right place. You only need extra information if things aren’t where and when they should be already.

    2. Yes I wonder about this too Heidi, some years ago I asked if a simple train timetable could be placed on ground level at Henderson so people at the bus stops didnt have to go up the escalator, down an escalator and half way down the platform to see when the next train would be coming- the answer I recieved was ” no everyone uses smart phones now so no need” ( this was before improved frequencies I might add). The electronic timetable is still the only indicator of the next trains and you have to go through the barriers to see this.

      1. Yet they tell us to take our eyes off our phones etc when around rail & road crossings etc for safety reasons. Also many people are getting sore necks, spinal problems due to all our smart phone usage. As an IT person I like using apps but sometimes I’m just sick of looking down at the damn things and want to look around and not trip over people etc. It’s also faster often to just look at a well designed display board & the old or young etc don’t always have a smart (or decent) smart phone.

        1. Yes! It’s so basic. Every station I went to in Germany had a printed timetable. I had the train app for tickets, but the stations were designed so well I didn’t need it for anything else. Printed timetables where you’d expect them, kiosks for snacks, great signage. We need to do the basics right.

  4. I was in Cambridge, UK for a few months recently and like Ella it was interesting to see how different cities work. Cambridge is the same size as Gottingen (120,000) but serves a much greater catchment, probably closer to 1 million, with a lot of commuters to London and also to Cambridge for the IT and biotech industries.

    The cycling mode share is something like 60% and they have every kind of cycling provision ever thought of, from dirt tracks to 40cm painted strips to cycle superhighways. Every 80 km/h country road has a cycleway, and most of the 65 km/h ones do too. 3000 bike parks at the train station. E-scooters are illegal although I did see a few.

    At the same time the motor traffic is terrible, jammed with Volvo and BMW SUVs and everyone wants to park outside the shops like it’s the 70s. Very few EVs in sight. But part of the reason for the traffic jams is that traffic is forced onto the arterial routes. Local roads are 30 km/h and many are closed to through traffic by bollards.

    Two large cycleways from towns to the NW and SE end at the two train stations. In 1998 a cycle advocacy group suggested linking these two across town, which involved building a new bridge across the river. This was approved in 2015 and construction started in 2019. It will be finished in 2021. So some things are no so different from here.

    1. Gottingen District is more like 325,000. Just looking at the core municipal boundaries can give the wrong impression of surrounding towns and districts that are connected – especially for transport-to central city.
      Stuttgart is another example on a bigger scale. Officially its ‘city’ its around 630,000 people . The Urban area including neighboring cities is more like 2.8 mill, and regional area is 5.8 mill. These places would all be connected for transport purposes to the central city and its suburbs.
      So you are thinking a Sydney sized metropolis, which is the state capital of 11 million people. But instead of a state the size of NSW , Baden Wurrtemburg is around the size of Otago region.

  5. Gottingen also has one of the best town planning rules in the world

    In 1366, Duke Ernst I authorized the citizens of Göttingen “that they can build, set and make their department store and town hall in Göttingen on the street and on the street where and how they want and decide and it is right and convenient for them”.

    How cool would it be if retails/cafes could open on the street and on the street where and how they want and decide and it is right and convenient for them.

    https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Altes_Rathaus_(G%C3%B6ttingen)

    1. Yes, this.

      Something I don’t understand about Auckland is how rare mixed use buildings are. A lot is either residential or commercial but never both. Even the corner dairy is a little commercial enclave in residential land. You can tell where dairies are by looking at the Unitary Plan zoning map. How weird is that?

      I wonder if this de facto makes mum and pop stores illegal.

    2. For the Duke to allow the burgesses to organise their town as they wish is not the same as allowing individual decisions by building owners or people who set up stalls.
      (Also, I seriously doubt that in the fourteenth century “kophus” translated as department store. )

      1. Reply to Donald
        The local tourist booklet translates ‘kophus’ as (department store)
        An example of this “on the street where and how they want and decide and it is right and convenient for them”
        I was in Dusseldorf last year and needed some milk, yogurt and bread, just around the corner where we stayed an older lady had converted her front room into a dairy. Very convenient.
        https://goo.gl/maps/DLewso9UmZfpdtFy5

        1. Ganz klar, and today the noun Kaufhaus can be translated as “department store”. But this is over four centuries before the world’s first department store opened.

  6. after checking google map and watching Peter’s video. What I hate in Auckland is the residential footpath grass berms, making the path narrow and only allow 1 or 2 person to walk on. Get rid of the berms, resurface them all then biking would be better and safer.

    1. I think about that every time I go for a walk and have to share the footpath with cyclist especially on station road Papatoetoe where there is cycle lanes either side of the road but the cyclist still ride on the footpath because it is concrete and smooth whereas the cycle lane is asphalt chip and rough making it harder to push. Of course we have to think about the carbon dioxide which is emitted when the cement is for the concrete is manufactured. Still I don’t suppose asphalt manufacture is much better or maybe its worse. The other thing is knobbly tyres on cheap bikes they also increase rolling resistance not to mention carbon emissions in their manufacture. Maybe all that Amazon rain forest which is being burnt up could be planted out in rubber trees to replace the fossil fuel produced synthetic rubber which the world uses for its tyres.

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