I just got back from Alexanderplatz in Berlin at about 5 o’clock in the evening during the evening rush. The trains and trams were full, and the square and it’s Christmas Market was well and truly alive. Through the square there runs a tram line with trams running every 2 minutes or so. The line runs straight through the middle of the square before turning at the main station which adjoins the square. It’s a very large area of (at this time of year) christmas market stalls, and lots of pedestrians milling about and walking through. Through this crowded but broad space the trams glide. They don’t even have to ding their bell. People see the tram tracks, quickly check for a tram, and wait or mozey across depending on whether there is a tram coming or not. Behind the tram, the tide of pedestrians quickly rolls in. There is no signage indicating ‘caution: trams’ or ‘Trams have right of way’ – there is only the tracks and the poles supporting the overhead wires as the only indication of these large vehicles coming through. The simple sight of seeing the tracks causes people to be aware of the vehicles, and out of respect to the service (and probably self-preservation) they don’t walk out in front. It all works remarkably well. The tram doesn’t move more than about 15 to 20 kph through the square.
The tram tracks as they pass through busy Alexanderplatz The point of all this, is trams and pedestrians do mix, and according to this very anecdotal evidence, mix quite well at that. The other applications of this I’ve seen before (pedestrian zones with trams running through them) have been quite limited – eg Bourke St Mall in Melbourne where the tram tracks in the middle of the pedestrian mall are marked out by loud paving stones running down their side). It was impressive to see it work in Berlin as people really did get to the tracks, and then willingly paid attention to the trams coming through, and weaved in and out behind them. It worked very well. Given that Sydney is about to undergo its own city centre transformation with trams running down a pedestrianised George St, it was interesting to see Berlin’s application of this.