Public Transportation

I think all our students are native Texans. Some of them have experience with public transit in Austin and Dallas, and I am fairly confident about getting around on city buses in Portland, ME and on Boston’s T. Since arriving in Poland, we have traveled by trolley, city bus, and train. We have been fortunate to have a student with us who speaks and reads Polish. I do not know if we would have been as successful if not for her. I must admit, the idea of trying to get somewhere specific at a certain time terrifies me, as the chance exists of becoming lost in an unfamiliar place too far to walk back, with no way to read signs or ask for directions. I was especially terrified of the train- get on the wrong one and you are going to another town! I will say that I prefer public transport to trying to drive, though. After observing Polish cars, traffic patterns, signs, streets, and pedestrian/cyclist behavior, I have a newfound respect for people that learn to drive in a new country.

I can only imagine how difficult it would be for a foreign student having little English to use public transit in the States. The system in Poland is amazing- there is plenty of information if you read Polish, one can get anywhere efficiently, and waits at the stops are never long. In comparison, my bus ride to work in Portland took three times as long as it would have by car, and service is infrequent and unreliable. I don’t think Polish people would have much patience for a bus that only runs every half hour. It is easy to see that in the States, things are set up so it is very difficult to function without a car. Here, walking, cycling, and using the bus are the norm, and downtown streets are largely traffic-free, even in the commuting hours.

Other observations: pedestrians obey the crossing signals here. There is very little jaywalking or crossing against the signal, even when there are no cars coming. I wonder if the policja would come and get us if we tried. Preventing mayhem must be a different task when there are more pedestrians and few cars. I was surprised to see that cyclists do not use the street. They are in the (sometimes very narrow) sidewalks, ringing their bells. Cars park on the curb, half in the sidewalk. Imagine trying to get away with that in an American city! Here, they paint lines right on the sidewalk to guide cars parking there.

Also, my Texan colleagues observed the lack of large cars, SUVs, and pickups. I have yet to see a pickup here. I didn’t notice it myself- I think it’s because I’m from New England. Texans love their trucks. Now that I am noticing it, it is strange that there are no pickups at all. Surely they must be used for work? On the other hand, there are tight turns and tight squeezes. Such areas in American cities would be closed to vehicular traffic, but here the cars drive right in.

I am much more confident about getting around Bydgoszcz on public transit now that I have walked around and familiarized myself with the area. Not reading Polish is still a source of trepidation, but there is always Google Maps and Google Translate.
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