Play Streets and Traffic Calming in Gelnhausen

Gelnhausen as I remember it from the 1970s was an automotive nightmare, with huge creeping traffic jams extending the entire length of the city and then coming together in front of the U.S. Army caserne at an intersection where left turns were necessary but practically impossible.

So we all breathed a sigh of relief when the A-66 motorway (Autobahn) was opened. Of course the A-66, like most motorways, soon generated enough additional traffic to create new and larger traffic jams, but at least these are now out on the motorway itself and no longer in the center of town, so Gelnhausen has definitely profited.

Today Gelnhausen is still a rather car-infested city, but they have made some tentative progress in traffic calming and have even declared a few of their streets to be play streets (with the square blue signs), which means:

  • Walking speed must not be exceeded.
  • Pedestrians are allowed to use the entire width of the street.
  • Children are allowed to play everywhere.
  • Parking only in designated areas.
  • A high degree of mutual consideration on the part of all road users is necessary.

Even the Schmidtgasse in the center of Gelnhausen has been declared a play street (first photo), but here it doesn’t work because the street is rather steep. Cars going up the hill tend to go much faster than walking speed so they won’t stall. This means that no sensible child would ever play here, but at least pedestrians do feel free to walk on the street sometimes.

Actually playing on a play street

This is the one place in Gelnhausen where I saw some people actually playing on a play street. Three children and one adult were throwing a ball around and shooting some baskets in this very short and narrow play street (a short section of Herlengasse, I believe), despite the illegally parked car that effectively made the “play street” even shorter and narrower than it already is. (The square blue sign with the diagonal red line indicates the end of the play street.)

(I hope they didn’t put any dents or scratches on the car, as that would be a sacrilege in car-worshiping Germany.)

Cigarette machine in Gelnhausen

Sorry to keep harping on this, but I am always outraged to see that every German city and town still has vending machines right out in the open that sell cigarettes day and night. In earlier decades these machines were typically mounted close to the ground, so even the smallest child could get addicted without having to stand on tiptoes.

The only slight improvement is that since 2007 buyers are required to insert a card proving they are at least eighteen before they are allowed to buy cigarettes. This new law does seem to have had some effect, even though the tobacco industry is still doing everything in its power to get children and teenagers addicted. Statistics from the German Cancer Society show that people who have not started smoking by age 20 have a good chance of remaining non-smokers for the rest of their lives, and of course living longer than those who smoke. They say that the age group 70+ has the fewest smokers, because most smokers die before reaching that age.

Bicycle route R3 near Gelnhausen

On a happier note, Gelnhausen is conveniently located on the regional bicycle route R3, which goes along the Main River via Frankfurt to Hanau, from there up the Kinzig Valley to Fulda and then on to Tann in the Rhön.

The R3 in the woods upstream from Gelnhausen

The R3 is well-signposted and is mostly car-free, since it uses small access roads that were originally made for farmers or for the forest service. The downside of this is that the route tends to zigzag a bit, to follow these small roads along property lines or to take advantage of existing bridges and underpasses. This means that the bicycle route is slightly longer than the roads made for cars, which tend to go in a straight line with little regard for anything that used to be in the way.

ADFC hotline and website

A welcome improvement is that the General German Bicycle Club (ADFC), of which I am proud to be a member, has now posted notices all along the route listing a telephone number and website that cyclists can contact for information or to report any damage to the route or the signage.

My photos in this post are from 2005 and 2010. I revised the text in 2018.

See more posts on the town of Gelnhausen, Germany. 

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