Copenhagenize.com – Bicycle Culture by Design)
28 MARCH 2017
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.
As if that weren’t enough, the city agreed on another prestige project to show their change in traffic planning paradigm. From 2019 cars will be banned from Berlin’s 60 metre wide boulevard Unter den Linden and it’ll be transformed into a large space for flaneurs and cyclists. The only vehicles that will be allowed are buses, taxis and diplomatic cars. It is open for discussion whether this boulevard is the right one for a pedestrian friendly transformation and it remains to be seen how the space will be designed and used or what effects it’ll have on the surrounding streets, but the symbolic significance is undeniable. Further, the extension of the Autobahn 100 will be stopped at Treptower Park and won’t continue under the river Spree. The insanity of a ring road Autobahn is, for now, on ice.