Zurich’s Transportation

Those who follow my blog know that I’m a transit traveller. What does that mean? That means I ride transit in whatever destination I arrive. I must admit Zurich was not high on my list of transit travels. However, I am impressed by what I saw on this Streetfilms video.

I first saw the video on my WordPress Reader feed thanks to Stephen Rees. He asks the question: why should transit be grade-separated as subways or elevated rails?

The bit of history that I think is important that is not mentioned in this video is about the trams. It is part of a European awakening. Cities like Amsterdam seriously considered replacing their trams (streetcars) with a subways. Others used a technique they called “pre-metro” to put the trams underground in city centres. And of course what happened in every case was the traffic expanded to fill the space available. So they stopped doing that. Places like Strasbourg designed the trams to be a desirable part of the city, not just a regrettable necessity. There is a lot about public transport in North America that reminds me of other public conveniences.

The same thing also happened in Toronto. When the Yonge Street subway opened, traffic in the City Centre increased because there were no longer streetcars on Yonge getting in the way of the cars. It might be significant that Toronto still has streetcars. It is also very significant that while the planners (transportation, urban and regional) all now think in terms of surface LRT, Rob Ford wanted a subway.

I still lean towards SkyTrain for some places and an underground Broadway extension. However, LRT is perfect for Surrey because of all the space, especially along the very wide King George Boulevard and Fraser Highway.

I think streetcars and LRT get a rough ride in Canada because our examples of LRT are only in Calgary and Edmonton. The big example of streetcars is found in Toronto. I think the implementation of these technologies could have been better. Better separation from traffic and better traffic priority would improve the situations in Calgary, Edmonton, and Toronto.

However, we can always learn from other cities and their unique solutions and experiences to transportation planning. Zurich is a good example. Enjoy the video and let the thoughts percolate.

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2 comments

  1. Zurich is an interesting case study as various U-Bahn (subway) projects were rejected through referendums in favour of the tram network remaining the spine of Zurich’s public transit system within the City of Zurich with S-Bahn Zurich (commuter rail) performing a similar function for the wider metropolitan area. One curiosity of the rejection of the U-Bahn was that the 2.5km Milchbuck–Schwamendingen Tunnel had already been built for the U-Bahn but was converted to tram use.

    There are certain positive characteristics of the tram network that I observed when I was in Zurich:
    – dedicated rights of way in the centre of streets
    – absolute signal pre-emption meaning trams only wait a few seconds at traffic signals before getting a green
    – an emphasis on smooth rather than fast tram progression (but still quick overall travel times due to off-board ticketing and signal progression)
    – real-time information at tram stops
    – frequent, highly reliable service
    – visibility – the fact that it was on-street and not buried gives public transit a central presence in public life.

    Zurich’s trams carried 205.6 million passengers in 2013, of 63% of all public transit trips in a city of just 404,783 people (Note: Bits of the tram network extend beyond city limits, including a tram line all the way to the airport).

    The most striking thing for me in Zurich was just how calm and quiet is was with very little car traffic in the streets and most people getting around by public transit, walking and cycling. Coming from a city (Auckland) where traffic noise is omnipresent, this quiet was extremely noticeable.

    1. Thanks for sharing all that info on Zurich. I have never been to Zurich. So it’s great to get your personal perspective.

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