After arriving in Prague, I took the opportunity to explore the city within my first week. During that time, many comparisons came into my mind between Prague and Philadelphia, and I caught myself understanding Prague within the context of Philadelphia, the city I am most familiar with. For example, when navigating the tram closest to our housing, I think about the route in terms of “Broad Street,” since that street is the central piece of infrastructure that I can use to locate my destination. At the same time, the comparisons of Philadelphia to Prague also bring about points of contrast. One of the most apparent differences between the cities is the public and governmental investment in public infrastructure. Walking down a street in Prague, you quickly notice the synergy between pedestrians and motor vehicles. In Philadelphia, as with most major U.S. cities, roads and sidewalks almost seem to exist independent of each other—as in, pedestrians and vehicles seem to operate in their own spheres without interaction until a crossing walk or a stop light bridges the spheres. Whereas in Prague, there is a feeling that pedestrians and drivers share the collective space.
I think this attitude also comes from the prevalence of public transportation in the Czech Republic. Prague boasts one of the best public transportation systems in Europe, with the metro, trams and buses reaching almost every corner of the city. In my view, the most curious example of the efficiency of the Czech system is the use of trams. Trams, like trolleys, operate on overground rails and run in both directions on each route. Coming from Philadelphia, I was surprised by the timeliness of each tram and the rate at which they ran. In Prague, if I missed a tram, I would at most wait 10 minutes for the next tram. The reliability of public transportation encourages that sense that the roads belong to non-drivers and commuters as much as they belong to drivers.
Another subtle difference is Prague’s use of space. In order for trams, buses, pedestrians, and other vehicles to coexist in a peaceful manner, there must be an allocation of public space for transportation, which is why I appreciate the wide space available for crossings and roads. On one of my walking trips, I spent 7 hours strolling through Prague 1 and Prague 2 (the numbers distinguish certain zones in Prague, much like zip codes do in the US), which alone speaks to Prague’s reputation as one of the most walkable cities in Europe! Whether I am slipping through narrow streetways or crossing major intersections, I always find myself surrounded by Prague’s history and culture, and I think that walking through Prague has given me the opportunity to appreciate the city in a different way than taking public transportation would. Nevertheless, the availability of public transportation and the walkability of the city bring life into Prague like no other.
Besides Prague, other cities around the world have public infrastructure that encourages walking and usage of public transportation. To find out more about how walking can shape your study abroad experience, check these posts from Eve in Italy and Susannah in Japan!