This article is written by Copenhagenize Design Company's former urban planner, Leon Legeland. Originally from the least bicycle friendly city in Germany, Wiesbaden, he has lived, studied and worked in Vienna, Malmö, Copenhagen and currently Berlin. He has a master in Sustainable Urban Management and is recently finished his second masters in Sustainable Cities here in Copenhagen. He now works in Berlin.
Last year we covered the state of cycling in Berlin. It's time for an update. Berlin has a quite ambitious bicycle strategy and the city administration, on some level, understands that urban cycling improves the quality of life and that it needs to be promoted and supported. However, the construction of adequate cycling infrastructure and the redesign of intersections has failed to follow the tremendous increase in cycling rates over the past couple of years. Progress is painfully slow and there is little Best Practice design.
The people of Berlin seem to understand the benefits of cycling, rates are sky rising and people demand more action from the political power through a referendum.
Our blog post from April landed right in the middle of the heated debate around cycling in the German capital. We flattered the group behind the cycling referendum and we annoyed the senate with provocations about their lack of action in making Berlin a more bicycle friendly city. So let us revisit the situation in Berlin.
Thanks to the political pressure and activism of the cycling referendum group Volksentscheid Fahrrad, cycling became a key issue during the election campaigns in past elections in September 2016. Consequently, the political powers had to incorporate the goals of the cycling referendum in their political agendas, due to the unique nature of the Berlin laws. We have to praise the cycling referendum group once again for their activism and dedication to the topic. Their way of communication and organisation can be an example for bicycle activism all over the world. Just remember who to thank when you're riding your bike safely and smoothly in a couple of years. It's this group of ordinary people who fought for their right to space in their city.
But one step at a time, we're not there yet. There is, however, hope! Berlin is moving. The newly-elected coalition of Social Democrats (SPD), Green Party (Bündnis 90/Die Grünen) and the Socialists (Die Linke) agreed in their coalition treaty on the implementation of a mobility law by Spring 2017. This mobility law is expected to be the most progressive mobility concept in all of Germany and it certainly has some promising goals and objectives. Even some of the most pessimistic cycling activists are rubbing their eyes in disbelief that this is actually happening. So what does it say?
First, the cycling law, which was developed by the activists around the cycling referendum Volksentscheid Fahrrad, forms the fundamental basis for the future of mobility planning in Berlin. Meaning a redistribution of road space in favour of cycling and provision of bicycle infrastructure are key issues of the new coalition plan. The following examples are all taken from the new coalition treaty and will be implemented in a mobility law. Take a deep breath and dream of a bright and shiny future.
- The city will invest in bicycle infrastructure along all main roads with a cycle lane width of two metres.
- Additionally, a network of cycling streets where drivers have to yield and cyclists enjoy priority, will be developed on side-streets.
- Dangerous intersections will be redesigned with improved safety for pedestrians and bicycle users. Bicycle highways with a total length of 100km will be constructed.
- The city is already testing green waves for cyclists and is willing to expand the system on more arterial roads.
- Bicycle parking will be improved with more bike racks throughout the city and large bicycle parking garages close to all main train stations.
- Berlin will test and implement green arrows on intersections allowing bicycle riders to turn right on a red light. Something being tested in Copenhagen and already in place in Belgium and France.
This German cycling utopia will be financed with an annual investment of 51 million Euro, starting in 2018. Just remember the current annual budget per person on bicycle infrastructure is 3,5€. This will increase to approximately 15€ per year per person. Five times more. Thus, Berlin is finally getting to the same level as other European cities and their investments in bicycle infrastructure. The difference is that Berlin already has a mainstream bicycle culture and high modal share of 18% compared to cities like Paris, London or the black hole of urban cycling in Europe, Madrid. So if the infrastructure follows up to the rising cycling shares, even more people will start moving around by bike.
All this sounds fantastic and we're wondering if it's just a lot of hot air to please the voters in the beginning of the electoral period. Can the city realise all their proposed plans and actions? If you look at the bicycle strategy from 2012 it is full of ambitious plans and states similar goals as the new mobility law. However, the difference that the goals are implemented in a mobility law increase the likelihood of realisation since it is a binding law for the municipal administration.
Nevertheless, the bicycle activists from the cycling referendum are a little reserved with their enthusiasm about the new mobility law. They see it as a huge step forward, but they will continue fighting for even tighter commitment to cycling. We were lucky to meet the two activists Peter Feldkamp and Tim Birkholz for a brief interview. They explained that the group around the cycling referendum is missing a measurable quantification of the new mobility law. In contrast to their developed Cycling Law, the mobility law does not have a clear time plan and assigned obligations. Further the quality and design of the infrastructure is not defined, which is for us at Copenhagenize Design Co. the key to get people on bikes.
Berlin, and Germany in general, suffers from a strong lobby for vehicular cycling, meaning these people think that cyclist belong on the road in the flow of cars and in accordance with the principles of riding a car. The dominance of painted lanes in Berlin and all over Germany shows this. A clear separation with a curb, parked cars or some sort of other physical protection still faces criticisms and is rarely built. The cycling referendum group claims a design standard for the construction of bicycle infrastructure and they look, no surprise, to Denmark and the Netherlands. In comparison to their developed Cycling law, the mobility law by the senate does not have a design standard for the quality of the bicycle infrastructure.
From the leader of traffic department of Berlin, Burhard Horn, who we met for a brief interview, we heard that painted lanes are considered as bicycle infrastructure, also in the new mobility law. So, they will be implemented, even on main roads with heavy traffic. However, the city is currently planning a pilot project to test physically protected bicycle lanes on one of Berlin's main roads. Thanks to the political pressure of the group Fahrradfreundliches Neukölln it could be Karl-Marx-Straße which is currently a terrible and dangerous ride
In our last blog post we stated that most of the painted bike lanes in Berlin are 80cm wide. We have to correct this, they are wider, 1.5m to 2m. We're sorry for the mistake! But cycling in the dooring zone of parked cars to your right makes them feel like 80cm. You're always a little scared a door might open and the 1.5m width does not help you if a car uses the lane to park in a second row.
The city painted a lot of them over the past decade to give cyclists their much-needed space, but now it's time to move to the next level. Yes... best practice. We're happy that even the vehicular cycling driven ADFC now changed their mind-set and finally get it that protected bike lanes are a crucial and needed infrastructure. Let's hope Berlin is not doing more baby steps in making the city more bicycle friendly.
Another remaining issues is the lack of qualified personnel that can take over the task of transforming Berlin into a bicycle friendly city. The current institutions seem completely overstrained with missing and qualified planners that mediated between all relevant actors. An example for the catastrophic situation in the Berlin administration came up this fall. For 13 years a bicycle lane along Skalitzer Straße has beens planned, approved and more than needed, but the involved actors, the senate, the district, the public transit operator, construction companies and the crucial player who is supposed to steer the traffic planning can't get their shit together and start constructing. In this case it is even only a painted lane.
As a reaction to the chaotic planning status the city wants to start a city owned planning institution that has the overview about current bicycle planning and construction activities. Further, a cycling alliance between the ADFC, the cycling referendum group, the districts and the public transit organisation is formed. However, they still need planners, engineers and designing taking over the task and actually redesign the roads in Berlin and then finally build the infrastructure.
Finally, the newly approved budget for cycling infrastructure will be in place from 2018 and the newly formed administrations and municipal planning departments are reforming after the elections. It'll take some time that things happen but Berlin is moving towards the right direction! For now we look really optimistic in the future.
We'll keep you updated…