Tuesday, October 12, 2004

The Strasbourg Model

Whenever I try to convince people of how wonderful Strasbourg is, I always mention the tram. It is a beautiful, futuristic dome that glides through the city effortlessly through intersections and pedestrians. I am no longer alone in my admiration: Brussels is looking at the Strasbourg tram as a model for reforming its own urban transportation.

If I gush about the Strasbourg tram, the Brussels tram was one of the most horrible experiences of my life. The cars are old and make lots of noise. The underground stops are caving in. Yesterday a tram rear-ended another in an accident that wounded 21 people, 3 seriously.

So far, the Brussels officials are not convinced that the Strasbourg model can be adopted as a whole. In 1990 mayor Catherine Trautmann convinced business owners, despite their reserve, that they would benefit from expelling car traffic from the center of the city. In combination with the attract design of the cars themselves (by Belgian designer Phillippe Neerman) the inner city opened up to foot traffic, leading to a commercial revival. Alain Flausch, however, notes that the existing rail lines in Brussels cannot be reformed (my sense is that they go around the center of town rather than through it). The best that they might learn, other than the industrial design lessons, is how to bring together the political and commercial will to undertake an ambitious reform of transportation.


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