Take me down to Luxembourg City where the grass is green and the trams are pretty. Yes, I've been on holiday and of course, there was plenty of interesting transport-related stuff to see. This week, Luxembourg City.
Nestled between France, Germany and Belgium, Luxembourg is a small country and Luxembourg City is by far the largest urban area, although with around just under 120,000 citizens, its population and physical size seem small to an Outer London borough resident like me! First, here's my usual health warning that my views should be tempered with the fact that this was a holiday and a few days doesn't allow one to become an expert on how a city works!
We stayed at a campsite right on the edge of the city, some 4.5km from the historic core which is served by a a bus route which runs between one of the city's park and ride sites and the centre. We arrived on a Saturday during the city's Schueberfouer Fair season and which had free weekend bus travel to encourage people into the city. In fact, under 20s have free travel in any case.
So, we got the bus times and wandered to the stop for the 18 route passing the campsite and immediately had a taste of some of what was to come;
We had to wait at a temporary bus stop because of major road works along one of the main routes into the city, but a new pedestrian crossing and accessible bus stops were being built as part of the upgrade. Further north into the city, the works continued, including some bus priority. The 18 route is direct and has fairly well-spaced stops which works well with the high capacity bendy buses being used;
On the buses themselves we were treated to real-time route mapping which shows stops and interchange options (including cycling). Sorry London, this is head and shoulders above London Buses' offering!
The city bus network is extensive and so it is pretty simple to catch a bus from the suburbs to the city centre;
There were also plenty of roadworks going on in the city such as here on Boulevard Royal where the city's new tram line is being extended;
I did have half an idea to rent a cycle and pootle around the city, but the traffic on the main roads and the roadworks did rather put me off, so that might have to be a future visit. There is, however, a popular hire bike scheme operating in the city the Vel'oh with 100 docking stations across the city.
Getting into the city core immediately saw the noise left behind to an area which is largely pedestrianised;
There are some streets which still allow motor traffic and despite the park and ride sites outside the city, there are still city centre car parks which are by no means expensive. Seeing a pop-up beach built on an underground car park at the Place du Théâtre makes me wonder if there is a tussle going on with the car!
For cycling, there are routes through the city core along with contraflow cycling in one way streets. The busiest shopping streets don't allow cycling at peak times which is a bit disappointing, but similar to other cities I have visited - cutting through the city core is far nicer than the main roads of course.
The Place d' Armes is a wonderful square in the middle of the city which not only has extra seating for the resturants flanking it, but space for public events such as markets;
There is also a bandstand at one end which brought some music to the proceedings;
Away from the core, there are some large roads, including Avenue Emile Reuter which cuts through the city's Parc Municipal, although at least there is a half decent walking and cycling crossing to connect the two parts;
One very surprising thing we found was the Pfaffenthal neighbourhood to the northwest of the city centre along the Alzette River which flows within a gorge. An old part of the city is on the floor of the gorge and to connect the neighbourhood with the rest of the city, we found some unusual pieces of public transport. The Ascenseur Panoramique du Pfaffenthal connects the edge of the Parc Municipal to the Rue du Pont;
As well as being a great tourist attraction, the 71m elevator is free and open between 6am and 1am providing a direct and much needed public transport link between the two parts of the city.
On the other side of the gorge, there an another impressive piece of public transport in the form of the Pfaffenthal-Kirchberg Funicular which gets people from the floor of the gorge up to Pfaffenthal-Kirchberg Station which also interchanges with the tram back to the city centre;
It's an impressive piece of engineering and of course another piece of fun to be had by a tourist!
There was more astonishment to be had. As we got out of the elevator, a sign caught our eye for the City Shuttle.
It's a test for autonomous vehicles which sees a 15 seater electric AV bus run between the elevator and the funicular;
Again, it was a but of fun, but on the serious side for me, it does rather suggest how far the technology has to go. The shuttle had a safety attendant who did have to fiddle with the on board computer to get the thing to move properly and the sensors were extremely cautious where other vehicles and people were concerned.
It's certainly interesting to see something running on live streets and not the test tracks and closed systems I have seen so far and potentially this could be a useful innovation to help people move within larger pedestrianised areas who might otherwise struggle, but there is a long way to go.
The tram system is being built and opened in stages and will eventually interchange with the city's central train station;
At the Pfaffenthal-Kirchberg Station stop, there was also a secure cycle park which hints at the efforts the city is making to link transit with cycling as a transport solution;
One thing which I found interesting (not being up on tram technology) is that some parts of the route ran without overhead wires which would great from a streetscape point of view and in some places, the route was almost like a linear park;
Finally, we have the rail system. With buses and the (under construction) tram connecting with Gare Centrale (central station), people making longer journeys can easily join one of the comfortable double-decker trains (modelled here with #TheDoodle);
The station serves as a hub for the rest of the country along with international services which really shows how the county is trying to position itself from a public transport point of view. Of course, the trains also have clearly marked cycling provision;
From a public transport integration point of view, Luxembourg City is fascinating because it is still clearly a place lots of people drive, but the alternatives are being built. I hope in the future there is some car restraint in the centre so space can be given back to the people. Even more astonishingly, public transport will be free across the whole country from next year.
That's not to say the outlook is utopia. There is criticism that the infrastructure is not keeping up with growth and demand and certainly I'm aware that away from the city, public transport is more patchy and the infrastructure old and in need of upgrade. This article from City Metric is probably a fair tempering of my holiday enthusiasm and reminds us of how much of a status symbol cars are for many people.
What Luxembourg City does show, however, is that there is a vision to make things better which is being backed up by civil engineering on the street and I wish them the best of luck with it.