Wiki Wednesday: Zürich, Where Transit Gets Priority on the Street

Ready for some transit system envy? This week’s StreetsWiki entry comes from Livable Streets member Andrew Nash, who fills us in on how surface transit became the mode of choice in Zürich, Switzerland:

The first thing one notices about Zürich is that trams are ubiquitous downtown. The city considered
changing its tram network several times (either placing the trams
underground or replacing the trams with a metro system), but voters
rejected spending money on these ideas. However, in 1977, Zürich voters
did approve an initiative to make the existing surface transit system
work better by providing transit priority for trams and buses.

Transit priority means that public transit vehicles are
given priority over other forms of transportation through such measures
as traffic signal control, transit-only lanes, and traffic regulations.
Watch carefully as a traffic signal changes from red to green just when
a tram arrives at the intersection. Transit priority was not a new
idea, but Zürich has succeeded in implementing it to a greater degree
than almost any other city in the world. Zürich’s public transit
priority program is described in Implementing Zurich’s Transit Priority Program.

Combined with Zürich’s regional rail network, the extensive implementation of transit priority techniques enables the city to provide subway-like service without a subway, Nash explains. If the Zürich article interests you, check out Nash’s entry on optimizing traffic signals for surface transit — he’s looking to add information about other cities that have implemented such systems.

  • In his book Status Anxiety, Alain de Botton (a native of Zurich who lives in London) writes of communities “whose public realms exude respect in their principles and architecture, and whose citizens are therefore under less compulsion to retreat into a private domain. Indeed, we may find that some of our ambitions for personal glory fade when the public spaces and facilities to which we enjoy access are themselves glorious to behold; in such context, ordinary citizenship may come to seem an adequate goal. In Switzerland’s largest city, for instance, the need to own a car in order to avoid sharing a bus or train with strangers loses some of the urgency it has in Los Angeles or London, thanks to Zurich’s superlative tram network, which is clean, safe, warm and edifying in its punctuality and technical prowess. There is little reason to travel in an automotive cocoon when, for a fare of only a few francs, an efficient, stately tramway will provide transportation from point A to point B at a level of comfort an emperor might have envied.”

  • Thanks for selecting this for wiki Wednesday. Anyone interested in sharing information and ideas for public transport priority, please consider joining the LinkedIn group: Public Transport Priority.

  • Here are a couple of episodes of Perils For Pedestrians that deal with Zurich:

    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-8786185477280063971

    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=2612031651082749800

    The first one includes an interview with a pedestrian advocate that includes a discussion of the history of trams in Zurich in recent decades.

  • John Z Wetmore

    Google Video is being shut down. Perils For Pedestrians 113 is now available on blip tv at http://www.blip.tv/file/3934701

  • John Z Wetmore

    Google Video is being shut down. Perils For Pedestrians 113 is now available on blip tv at http://www.blip.tv/file/3934701

  • “Perils For Pedestrians” is moving again, this time to YouTube. Here is Episode 113: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9n6eQyWerrg

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