Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson
Germany is building Europe’s biggest bicycle autobahn to connect 10 cities — and hopefully remove thousands of cars from German roads.
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
German highways, or autobahns, as they’re known, are legendary for having no speed limit. But you can’t go fast when you are stuck in traffic. One state in Germany is building an alternative for frustrated commuters. NPR’s Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson went to check it out.
SORAYA SARDHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: To get to this alternative, you have to trade your gas pedal for bike pedals. That’s right. This new autobahn is for bicycles, not cars. But it’s a bit of an obstacle course here in the city of Essen to get to what will be the longest bicycle highway in Europe. Parked cars often block designated cycling lanes, and drivers don’t always stay on their side of the road. It isn’t much better in the car-free shopping zone, where you have to weave to avoid pedestrians.
But with patience and perseverance, cyclists soon reach the autobahn designed exclusively for them. This highway that is 13 feet wide follows abandoned rail routes and other flat expanses in Germany’s Rust Belt. A 6-and-a-half-foot-wide pedestrian path runs alongside but is separated by a grassy median to prevent people or their dogs from straying into the bicycle lane. Planners say this part of Germany is ideal for a bicycle highway because cities in the Rust Belt are very close together.