Straitened circumstances

 How to get rid of traffic jams and find better life knows Norbert Schott  06/25/2012, 07:03
Straitened circumstances
Photos by Roman Brygin

Norbert Schott, a student from Dresden, came to Novosibirsk on externship 8 years ago. He fell in love here, got married and stayed for good. Every day he travels from home at the center of the city to his work in Akademgorodok. But Norbert Schott knows a little more about traffic jams in Novosibirsk than other citizens because the development of the transport network in the capital of Siberia, was the subject of his graduate studies. What drivers and pedestrians miss for a comfortable living, why in some cases the construction of the great arteries is harmful, rather than beneficial, and what area of the city could become a haven for cyclists, Norbert told the Sib.fm. Correspondent.

We meet Norbert near his car and he drives us from the city’s center to the left bank of the river.

If I go somewhere by car, I always try to have a fellow with me. According to statistics, it’s always less than two people usually travel in one car. I always try to make this value more. And as for, me this figure is always more — he explains.

How did you come with such topic for your graduate studies?

At the beginning I wanted to become a journalist and I tried to choose the most popular specialization in this profession. Finally I settled my topic on transport: a lot of people write about it now, but no one really understands what they talk about. I wanted to study abroad and that was really interesting for me. So I went to Moscow on externship and began to choose a topic for my graduate studies not only related to Russia, but also interesting for my professorial chair in Dresden.

About a million cars are registered in the Novosibirsk Region

Novosibirsk now is Dresden 15 years ago. At that time people in East Germany had money, they started rapidly buying cars, while there was no any infrastructure for it. The result was the same as here: terrible traffic jams. When I studied in Novosibirsk, there were about 200,000 cars registered. Their number increased in five times for eight years, and this is not the limit so far.

And yet you say that if you widen the roads, traffic jams will not disappear. Why is that?

Just remember what happened to Berd shosse. The authorities thought that if you build pedestrian bridges, expand the roadway and remove left turns, everything will be fine. In fact traffic has not disappeared, but only moved closer to Academgorodok and Berdsk. People look at good road condition and think that more cars at once will be able to drive here.

As a result, everybody goes to the Ob Sea in summer, people buy apartments away from the city’s center, because they think it will be easier to drive to work and back on the wide road. And now there are even more cars in this place than before the renovation.

There is a law of constant travel time: a person is willing to spend two hours a day for travel. It means, that if a person can get to work faster, he or she will still be going somewhere else: to the gym, for example, or they might buy a flat further from the downtown. If we only develop opportunities for car owners, congestion problem will not be solved. Especially since the majority of the people in Novosibirsk are pedestrians.

And what is the situation with public transportation in this case then?

I’d say that metro is well developed. There is everything you need: frequent intervals between trains, it’s clean, the working hours are from early morning to midnight, convenient stations location. The rest types of public transport are equally bad developed, no matter which. You have no idea of what goes where and how often.

There is a traffic pattern of three different trolley bus routes hanging in the trolleybus. It’s because they have been served by the same depot.

There is no way to find out in a trolley bus where it is better for me to switch to another type of public transport, whereas there is a unified scheme of urban transport all over the world. It is a global standard. Private carriers operate as they like: they never fix the time when they have dinner and what time they finish work. On the paper, the route is operated until 11 pm, in fact it can be a problem even at 7pm to get the transport you need.

20 «Express-Suburban» transports is annually used by 20 million passengers

Urban Trains — is a separate issue. I need to be in Akademgorodok by 9 am. There is a train only at 6am and 10am on the schedule, so the rush hour is not covered by that mean of transport. For whom have they done this schedule? 12:35pm, 2:57pm... You just cannot memories this time! Why couldn’t they do the same intervals between trains? If I’m late for the urban train in Dresden, I don’t worry a lot, because there is a next train coming in a half an hour or so. But here I have no idea when the next train is coming. It can be in 10 minutes, or in 2 hours. And their speed is funny too: I found, that the average speed of urban trains in the center is 26 km / h. You will ride faster on the bike.

High-speed urban train is another funny thing. It is called «high-speed» due to the fact that some stops have been removed, and not because it has higher speed. Then, again, transport junctions are just horrible. I have to walk three km if I came to Rechnoy Vokzal station by trolley #8 and need to change to the bus #8. I will have to get through three traffic lights, four stairs, and twice walk down and up. It’s really inconvenient, not to say that it is really dirty there along the way. To make public transport more attractive then personal cars, it should be, first of all, more comfortable and convenient. Not a single driver will say these days: yes, it’s more comfortable to go by bus, rather than stay in traffic and waste the fuel, because public transport seems to be operating not for people.

What is our main problem, in your opinion?

A completely automated public transport appeared at Heathrow Airport in London. First transport capsules ULTra transport passengers between the terminals and parking

The main problem is the lack of a unified system. I’m a transport engineer and during my years at University I studied the system of all modes of transport: cars, trams, trains, trolleys, subways and buses. These are all parts of one science in Germany. Here, no one sees these things as the common infrastructure: there is a Railroad University in Novosibirsk, Automobile and Highway Academy in Omsk, and there is no place to study trams. As a result, everyone minds his own business, ignoring others. And this is a reason why we have confusion and inconvenience. Urban trains, underground trains and buses are interconnected in any developed city in the world. It means, that if I get out of the subway I know that there will be transport I need very soon. Connections in Russia still have to be organized.

You have been living in Russia for a long time and you know our life here. In your opinion, what would be the most difficult thing to do to improve the situation?

I’d think of all things connected to big money and trust. There is a practice in Europe, when few families together buy one truck and one car and use it in turns. It is called Car Sharing. For example, I go to work by urban train, because it’s comfortable and fast. But if I want to go to Ikea I need a car. Then I just take one of those which we share with our neighbors. It is much cheaper, because if I use car twice a week, why would I buy it just for myself? I tried to find the same program in Novosibirsk, but, it is hardly possible here: people have no respect for common things, and probably they will not be able to come to an agreement among themselves.

And now I’m driving and I think how stupid I was to invest money in that car! For that amount of money, I could have used taxi service easily!

The thing, that can be done cost-effectively and realistically — is to change the urban trains’ timetable. And it will not harm anyone. And now, look, we are moving on Stansionanaya street and we are stuck in a traffic. You ask why? Because one green traffic signal allows passing to just few cars. To avoid this, you don’t need to make the whole street wider; you just need to make an extra lane before the traffic lights. There are a lot of places like it on the city’s roads. For example, Berdsk Shosse or Ippodromskaya High Way. Pedestrians cannot walk across these streets, because there is either a really dangerous cross-walk or none at all. Cars have also difficulties turning from these streets to other, as distance to the intersection is very big. For example, from Berdsk Shosse and Bolshevik Street you can cross a railroad only in three places. Of course, traffic jams will be there. Why cannot they increase the number of crossings? As a result, some whole areas of the city are sort of cut off.

I also think that high ways in the city’s center are not the best idea. Because it’s impossible to live next to the high way. Did you know that the noise level on Ippodromskay high way is in many times higher than the acceptable noise level in Germany? Especially during night time, when car racing begins...

What was the most difficult thing to get used to?

To the fact that there is no comfort for pedestrians. Here are just few parks, squares and boulevards, and very little greenery. You see just an asphalt and road junctions all around. You just don’t have place to go for a walk. Why is there no walking street in Novosibirsk? There has been a talk during ten years that Lenina Street needs to be converted into the walking street with no cars on it. But government fears that people will strongly oppose. There is a supermarket «Yniversam» on Lenina Street. I think people, who shop there at such ridiculously high prices, are probably very important people, and they may oppose to go to the supermarket on foot. But there is a compromise: we can convert Lenina Street into walking street only during weekend, when there are less cars. Well, I can suggest even bigger compromise: only during summer weekends.

It’s really bad that we don’t have a lot of greens in the city. You get tired from this, even more than from the bureaucracy. Russian people say that you cannot develop business without bribes. But I haven’t bribed anyone during 8 years and I manage a Company’s representative office. Policemen usually get surprised a lot, when they stop me for speeding and I ask for a fine. They tell me: «Do you realize that a revocation of driving license can be here?» And I say: «Yes, I do realize it, but give me a fine». I believe that if I have broken the rules once, I should be punished. Moreover, that you have rather small speeding fines. You pay 300 rubles (7.5 Euro) here for the thing, that would cost you 200 euros in Germany.

There are disputes in Novosibirsk now about what is more important: to construct the subway or tams — light rails. What do you think about it?

Subway is a very convenient kind of transport. But it is very expensive and quite long to build subway line or station.

The cost of 1 km of subway equals to the cost of 50-100 km of light rail. Thus it is a mistake to shut down trams.

Please understand me correctly; I don’t say that that we shouldn’t build subway, but I do say that we need a complex approach. While one metro station is under construction, we can hold the light rail to the remote city area for a lot less money, and everyone will be happy.

And how about bicycles?

I’ve written about bicycles in my research. Now I realize that under no circumstances you can talk somebody into changing the car on a bike in Russia. So I don’t propose it. I ride a bike only if I have to cover the distance less, than 5 km.

Bicycles are very unpopular. There are neither bicycle paths, nor bicycle parking. If you leave your bike somewhere, it will be immediately stolen. And it’s completely useless during winter. Although there is an area in the city where a bike was conceived as one the main modes of the transport. I’m talking about Akademgorodok. There is infrastructure, but it is in a very poor condition. However, it is possible to move there on the bike.

Why do you think there are more car crashes in Russia, though there are a lot of high ways in Germany? Is it due to the bad road condition?

Yes, there are 10 times more of car crashes in Russia than in Germany, comparing the number of vehicles. Roads here, I have to say, have become much better. I think the problem is in the driving discipline, which is really poor due to the law fines. And cops rather «sit on the feeders», than monitor safety on the roads.

I say to myself: if you move through a good and convenient location and if you see a completely illogical road sign, then slow down. Most likely it is the work of cops.

And yes! You can usually find them around the turn! The other problem is that nobody checks the technical condition of the transport. I’ve bought a car not so long ago and I had to pass tech inspection, and you know what? No one from my friend could explain what should be done with the car to pass it legally. To buy a tech inspection here is a norm for the most drivers.

And if we speak about different cities in our country, where do you think is a better situation with transport?

All things I’ve mentioned can be easily applied in any city. You’ll just need to change the name of the streets. Having studied 2GIS for 5 minutes, I can name the places and streets in a town, which suffer from the heaviest traffic. Trams in Omsk have been shut down, even the promising direction. And nobody knows why. As well as some boulevards have been removed, so now it worse there then even in Novosibirsk. Trams have also been shut down in Novokuznetsk. Now trey promise to put trolley buses in motion to reduce and to make the traffic less.

All of these things I’ve shared with you are rather practical, then scientifical. Traffic problems exist in every big city. And I guess it will never be possible to sort them out completely. So the question is, do we want traffic in the center to be along with a green alley or without it?

 This publication has been translated by experts from Uni languages service school.
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