How Freiburg does it – Part 1

Freiburg-im-Breisgau, Germany

It’s difficult not to feel a bit of an alien when even the regional paper, the Badische Zeitung, runs an article pointing out that England has exited both the Euro football competition as well as the EU.  On the plus side, everyone I’ve dealt with has responded in German, not English, to my attempts at speaking German, which puts Freiburg in a politeness class of its own as far I’m concerned.  Or perhaps my German’s getting a bit better – who knows?

There are many more plusses to Freiburg than that.  It’s acknowledged as Germany’s Green City [1] and, as such, should have much to teach those places in England and elsewhere – such as Exeter – who aspire to such a status.

This post is essentially first impressions at the end of day 2 of a 3-day visit.  There’s a mountain of information on the internet about the city council’s development plans, some of which I’ll need to digest to put it all in context.  But meanwhile, some notes on transport.

Paying for transport is easy.  I bought a Welcome Card at 25 euros, valid for 3 days across the whole transport region – up to 30km from Freiburg – and which includes much of the Black Forest.  It’s valid on trains, trams and buses – and even a cable car.  And the card comes with a really good map.  Locals can buy similarly flexible tickets.  Trams have self-service ticket machines on board.

The city’s bus and tram network carries about 211,000 journeys each day.  The annual number of journeys on the network rose from 29 million in 1984 to 77 million in 2013 [2].  Work is in hand to build a new tram track along a major road, which will bring more people in the central area closer to a tram stop.

Trams run on time.  The city is served by 5 tram routes, criss-crossing the city and linking to feeder buses for those areas not on the tram routes.  The more modern vehicles include information screens which not only show the next three stops but also show real-time connections to other bus and tram services at particular stops.

That said, helpfulness is inconsistent.  At Freiburg’s main railway station, the trams stop on an overbridge above the tracks with stairs and lifts down to each platform.  But it’s very difficult to find information telling you which platform your train leaves from.

Conversely, at a nearby country station, Hinterzarten, one platform can only be reached by an underpass with steps.  To help passengers with luggage, a moving conveyor belt has been installed on the steps to take the bags up and down.  We could do with that at Polsloe Bridge.

Cycling is positively encouraged.  Some roads have been closed to motor traffic, and others have been narrowed to make space for dedicated cycling and walking lanes.  Shared pavements are rare, and where they exist are broad enough to avoid conflicts between cyclists and pedestrians. Cycle parking spaces are liberally provided around the city centre and near tram stops in the suburbs.  It helps that Freiburg is generally flat.

Except for access to residential areas, cars are kept to main routes away from the old city centre.  Even on these routes, there seems a surprising absence of congestion, but I may be looking in the wrong places.  There is no congestion charge.

The city council claim that their spatial planning and their transport planning are fully integrated.  I haven’t been able to test this, but the claim feels right.  It’s worth noting that a key policy in the city’s development plan is to avoid sprawling outwards onto greenfield sites, and instead to use brownfield within the existing built-up area.  This should in theory lead to savings on new transport infrastructure.

None of this has happened overnight: Freiburg’s transport policies were put in place some 30 years ago.  Moreover, the strong powers available to Germany’s local authorities – guaranteed in the constitution – make it easier to develop integrated and coordinated transport services than is the case in England.

So, many questions to explore if we are to tease out lessons for Exeter.



[1]  I’m particularly grateful to two books that pointed me to Freiburg.  Professor Robin Hambleton’s Leading the Inclusive City (Policy Press, 2015) cites Freiburg as a case study in strong local leadership.  Dr Steve Melia’s Urban Transport without the Hot Air (UIT Cambridge, 2015) includes a section on Freiburg’s transport system.

[2]  Figures from,Lde/622505.html


1 thought on “How Freiburg does it – Part 1

  1. bengouldsmith8

    Great blog Peter. Some of these changes and ideas are so simple such as increased bike storage that could make a big difference to Exeter. Interesting to hear a comparison between a British and a German town but this is exactly how we learn – from the successes and challenges of others.



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