Today Germany celebrates its 1990 reunification with a national holiday: the Day of German Unity (Tag der deutschen Einheit). For some mysterious reason Germany is (and has always been) very dear to me. I speak German fluently and unlike in English I don’t have a Dutch accent in German. I have fond memories of living in Berlin for some months during the Summer of 1992 and I cycled there every day. Even then Berlin felt great for cycling. Although the bumpy cobble stone paving, particularly in the former East part where I lived, was eventually too much for my Dutch bike’s spokes. They broke and in all of Berlin there wasn’t a bike shop that sold spokes as thick as the Dutch spokes normally are. So my mother had to send me some spokes from the Netherlands. These spokes got the Berlin bike mechanic all excited when he had to put them in the wheel!
I still visit Berlin several times a year and since Germany is only 60 kilometres from my home, I am in the country very often. Sometimes unintentionally: when I was cycling around Nijmegen recently, I took a wrong turn. When suddenly the houses looked a bit different and when I saw the car number plates were white, I knew I was in Germany. On the smaller roads the border is not always marked.
Some cycling impressions of Germany
When you look at cycling from a Dutch perspective some things stand out.
- The demographic of people cycling seems to be a healthy mix of men and woman of different ages and backgrounds. The number of children is a bit on the lower side.
- There is a lot of cycling infrastructure although sometimes it is a bit narrow and it is not always maintained well enough.
- The volume of motor traffic is very high and speeds are also very high.
- Many people choose to cycle on the side-walk, sometimes because the cycle track is narrow and there is hardly any marked difference between the two.
- In some shared spaces there are far too many pedestrians to make cycling there possible in a normal way. (As visible in the video in Cologne along the river Rhine.) The high number of shared spaces (bike/pedestrians) make that people cycle on the side-walk more too (also where it is not allowed).
- There are specific bicycle traffic lights (sometimes combined with pedestrian lights) and sometimes cyclists get an advanced green light (but only a second which is a bit too short).
- There is a lot of filtered permeability in residential streets. These streets are 30km/h zones, they are closed to through traffic and there are shortcuts for cycling. That makes cycling there very convenient.
Germany has a national cycle plan, something the Dutch Cyclist’s Union would really like for the Netherlands as well. So even the Netherlands can learn from Germany.
Berlin also has a city cycling strategy. It reveals how the city sees cycling:
“Cycling is part of a transport system that links all means of transport and guarantees mobility in the city.”
Berlin’s modal share of cycling for all trips was 13% in 2008. Every day Berliners make 1.5 million cycle journeys. The city wants to get the share to 18-20% by 2025. For that the share would have to increase by 3-4% per year. Traffic counts show that this is a realistic growth rate. Also because almost half of Berlin’s journeys are under 5 kilometres: a distance that could easily be cycled.
Berlin has 1000 kilometres of cycle paths. But a lot of it has aged and is not up to the latest standards regarding width, safe distances (from road, side-walk or parked cars) and the quality of the surface. Visibility of cyclists from motor traffic is also a problem. So investments in updating the network are necessary.
But there are more than enough reasons to do that as the Berlin Cycle Plan states:
SEVEN ARGUMENTS FOR MORE CYCLING IN BERLIN
- creates mobility. Citizens of (almost) any age can travel short and medium-length distances by bike quickly and inexpensively. In combination with public transport the bicycle can also compete with the car on longer journeys.
- improves the quality of life in a city. It is quiet; it doesn’t create air pollution and other gases which harm the climate; and it doesn’t take up much space.
- can replace part of motorised transport. Almost half of the journeys undertaken in Berlin are less than 5 km. long, but a third of these journeys are undertaken by car. Many of these motorised journeys could also be undertaken by bicycle.
- is fun and healthy. It has been shown that just half an hour’s cycling a day is good for one’s health.
- contributes to traffic safety. The more that bicycles are visible on the roads, the more all road users adjust to this.
- is easy on the public purse. Cycling infrastructure is comparatively inexpensive and investments in this infrastructure are quickly repaid by intensive use.
- Supports the economic development of Berlin. A city with a good quality of life and with an attractive public road design is attractive for established and new inhabitants, for tourists and for business people.
For these reasons, support for cycling is a strategic part of the urban development plan for transport in Berlin.