Livable cities story: Berlin
of cycle paths
Germany is well-known as a car-loving country. But the car’s status as a sacred cow appears no longer invincible among the many environmentally conscious Germans. This is particularly the case in cities. By contrast, the bicycle is growing in popularity, when it never really had a large fan-base in Germany. The cycling infrastructure plan launched by Berlin city council end-2021 illustrates this rise of des Fahrrads.
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“With this network, we are setting the standard for the development of Berlin as a cycling capital. We are making the city more environmentally and climate-friendly by making cycling more attractive and safer, also for long distances.” Grünen-Politikeren Senator Regine Günther, responsible for Environment, Transport and Climate Protection in Berlin.
The cycling plan provides a network which replaces routes from the 1990s. The focus lies on expanding and improving the cycling infrastructure. The number of kilometres of cycle paths will double to around 3,000 km, with significantly higher quality and safety standards than in the past.
Traffic surveys taken in June 2020 showed an increase in bicycle traffic of 26.5% compared with the previous year
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This includes around 100 km of high-speed cycling superhighways linking Berlin’s suburbs with the city centre. The cycling traffic plan also promotes the combined use of bikes and public transport, including extra bicycle parking facilities at metro stations. The city is also making it easier for cyclists by providing a standardized booking, access and billing system. Berlin aims to increase the share of cycling traffic with this plan to at least 23% (from 18%) of all journeys made in the city by 2030.
Cyclists literally get more room in these new plans. To protect them from motorized traffic, the bike paths will be between 2.3 and 3 metres wide. Research shows that it is primarily the fear of accidents which prevent Berliners from cycling.
Coincidence or not, the cycling plan captures today’s zeitgeist. The pandemic was a game changer for Berlin, as it was for many other European cities. In 2020, people who wanted to avoid infection on public transport collectively jumped on their bikes. Traffic surveys taken in June 2020 at 16 urban locations showed an increase in bicycle traffic of 26.5% compared with the previous year. Bike shops saw their diaries crammed with repair appointments and delivery times for new bikes increased sharply. A health crisis managed in just a couple of days to achieve something which Berlin’s cycling lobbyists had failed to accomplish through years of activism: car lanes were partially converted to cycle paths. If cyclists will retain this newly conquered tarmac remains to be seen, but they certainly have a tailwind.
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Cycling referendum unnecessary
In 2016, a group of Berlin residents decided to organize a referendum due to their dissatisfaction with the city council’s traffic policy and cycling infrastructure. Within only a couple of weeks, the Volksentscheid Fahrrad had collected the required 100,000 signatures. The initiative clearly had a lot of support. But in the end, there was no referendum: Berlin city council elections resulted in a coalition of SPD, Die Linke and Die Grünen which immediately adopted many of the group’s recommendations in their coalition agreement. With an extra budget of € 200 million, the council promised to create more bicycle paths, improve junctions and build bike parking facilities. In addition, the Berlin Mobility Act was introduced in 2018, which states that future urban traffic plans must give higher priority to public transport and the bicycle, than to cars.