23 August 2014

Artificial Obstacles


In my personal life, I feel I’m fairly moderate in most things. While some people are level 5 vegans (a Simpsons reference to eating nothing that casts a shadow) and others eat almost exclusively carnivorous, the Mrs. and I fall somewhere in the middle, having a pescetarian diet. I find that it’s enough of a compromise that leaves me neither stricken with guilt nor feeling like I’m missing out on what the world has to offer.

The same goes with my choice of transportation: I certainly prefer a bicycle to anything else, but I do not shun the almighty automobile and its giant carbon footprint. While I admire those who have completely divorced themselves from car culture, I am not among those numbers; even though I do think that cars are over-utilized, it’s nice to have one when you need one.

So, being both a bicyclist and motorist, I feel like I’ve got a pretty good understanding of where both are coming from. When you’re on a bike, you just want to be given enough clearance to feel safe on the road, and when you’re in a car, you just want the bicyclists to stay far enough over to pass them easily. Simple, right?

Yes, unless you’re in Germany. Why? Odds are that that cyclist is using the bike path alongside the road, making both him or her and yourself happy all at the same time. But while the happiness of the bicyclist continues on, your happiness wanes as you slow to a stop alongside the curb and wait for a car coming from the opposite direction to pass you. This is due to something unique to these parts: artificial obstacles. They are structures, placed right in the middle of the road, to reduce the speed of automotive traffic. They range from zig-zags to outcroppings to hourglasses, but they are in almost every town and they all make the task of driving a car here that much more difficult.

Here is a pretty common example. It’s essentially a two-way bottleneck, where only one car can pass through safely at any given time.


Here is the same concept, but instead of an hourglass, a zig-zag is involved. It can be quite a frustrating ordeal if two cars enter at the same time. Notice however, the bike lanes on either side: sometimes it pays to be on a bicycle.

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Then there is the solitary outcropping, which in addition to slowing down traffic makes you take extremely wide turns. Again, it is designed so only one car can pass through safely at one time.


So, what’s the point of all of these? Wouldn’t a speed bump or two suffice? (There are plenty of those here as well.) I joke that the Germans find driving on regular roads too boring, so they’ve added obstacles to spice things up a bit. But the main idea, I think, is to force drivers to slow down and pay attention. Which on one hand, is a good idea, but on the other, is pretty frustrating when traffic gets heavy and you have to be somewhere. But in the end, at least for me, it’s just another reason to ride a bicycle instead.


- Bicyclist Abroad

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