Healthy Transit

As mentioned in the Editor’s Notebook in this issue, Fred and I spent several weeks in Europe in September. We were never far from desirable transportation options, yet interestingly, farthest down the list was automobiles. It’s not that they weren’t available; they typically just weren’t our best choice for speed, cost or pleasure of the journey.

Upon arrival at Charles de Gaulle airport we declined the numerous offers of a taxi ride into the heart of Paris — for 70 Euros — and opted to take the express shuttle bus for a third of the taxi rate, arriving promptly one block from our hotel. The one block walk afforded a welcoming view of the Eiffel Tower, an experience I wouldn’t have had if we emerged from a taxi in front of the hotel.

A walk to the train station the next morning provided our group with a chance to stretch our legs, converse, take in the city sights and, of course, get to a subway that would whisk us part way across the city for just €1.35. A convenient espresso and croissant at the station braced us for the morning’s activities.

Headways of three minutes meant no drama in catching a train. Once in the train we were impressed with the smooth ride and the cars’ openness. The subway route map was a linear compilation of historic and artistic destinations, all just a few blocks’ walk from a station. This was a terrific way to navigate Paris, with no parking to contend with either. Apparently many others thought so, too.

In day trips across France, England and Germany, we boarded and disembarked trains in city centers, then traveled at more than 200 mph in astonishingly smooth comfort. Not once did we have to remove our shoes and belts for security.

After Paris we headed to InnoTrans in Berlin, by overnight train of course, for the largest public transportation exhibition in the world. As I walked several blocks to and from the subway station every day, I thought what a civilized and healthy way this is to commute. Sidewalks, the adjacent bike paths and bus lanes were a terrific mix of motive options. All involve some degree of exertion, including plenty of stairs at the subway stations. At my hotel many people chose to forego the elevator and instead took the stairs, which were not hidden in the back of the building in semi-finished condition, but rather intended for daily use, a sure way to elevate your heart rate as part of a regular routine.

The big takeaway from our trip was how well public transit can work, both locally and cross-country, when adequate resources are devoted to designing, building and operating the systems. Recent strikes in France may point out the potential for disruption in travel plans, but on balance, transit was typically our best option and the first choice of millions daily.