For weeks, the new bike lane on the Oberbaum Bridge in Berlin caused lively discussions. Cyclists found the brushed path too narrow and too dangerous without physical separation from car traffic. The Senate administration defended its infrastructure - until one of the activists measured it and confirmed that the cycle path did not meet the promised standards of the Mobility Act. It was too narrow. Now the Senate Administration wants to improve.
Berlin has had a mobility law and therefore a cycling law since summer 2018. It was a big step for transport policy in the capital, because since then the following applies: climate-friendly mobility has priority. The change of direction took place under pressure from civil society by referendum. With their demands, people have defined the framework conditions for how safe cycling should look in the future in their city. Now the Senate has to implement the agreements.
Berlin's Mobility Act is much more than a declaration of intent. "It is a clear commitment to the redistribution of the street space," says Sophia Becker, mobility researcher at the Institute for Transformative Sustainability Research in Potsdam. There is still little to be seen on the road, but by 2030 the cycle network should meet the new standards and 100 kilometers of rapid cycle routes should seduce many commuters to change trains. Berlin wants to become a bicycle city.
Investments, political will and planning security are important to get change on the road. "The legal form guarantees the necessary continuity," says Becker. She means: After a change of government, everything will not turn back so quickly. For decades, bicycle traffic planning has been a side issue in the capital. In 2016, just 3.5 places were responsible for cycling. The transport authority had a plan to expand the infrastructure, but it lacked the money and the staff. This changed suddenly with the Mobility Act. The budget was increased to 200 million euros for the legislative period and more than 50 cycling experts were hired by the end of 2019.
Germany-wide more than 30 cycling decisions
In view of the current developments, this is only logical. Bicycle sales are booming, especially with e-bikes. Thanks to the motor support, people travel significantly more and more everyday journeys. However, many potential cyclists in metropolitan areas refuse to drive high-speed cars on the road. You want a clear separation. The bike riders take this seriously and require the construction of wide, safe bike paths. There are already more than 30 cycling decisions in Germany and over 750,000 men and women support the project with their signature.
"Cycling has arrived in the middle of society," says Ute Symanski, one of the initiators of "Aufbruch Fahrrad" in North Rhine-Westphalia, the first cycling decision in a flat country. Last year she and her colleagues submitted around 207,000 signatures to the state government in NRW, and 66,000 were needed for a hearing. The state government could not avoid the great approval for the expansion of the cycling infrastructure. In December the deputies declared that they would implement the demands in a cycling law. It is currently still unclear which of the claims will actually be accepted.
In any case, the goals of the cycling decision would be sporty for the planners and politicians: they plan to increase the country-wide share of bicycles in traffic from 8 to 25 percent by 2025, a largely intersection-free cycle expressway network of at least 1,000 kilometers in length is to be created and 300 kilometers of new cycle paths along every year of federal and state roads, and it should also be free to take bicycles on buses and trains.
"You need ambitious and attractive goals to mobilize everyone to convert the road," says traffic researcher Becker. It is crucial for them that civil society initiated the cycling law. It shows that people are behind the change of direction towards more climate-friendly mobility and support the measures for the conversion of the road.
Investments are particularly important for commuters
NRW will be the first country to receive a cycling law, but the next nationwide referendum is already being prepared. In Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Marie Heidenreich (Greens) also wants to expand bicycle traffic by law. In combination with a good bus and train offer, it should play a key role for more climate-friendly mobility.
"Without legal requirements, it is up to each district and municipality to decide whether and how it strengthens cycling," says Heidenreich. There is also a lack of money and personnel to plan and build cycle paths and good parking facilities at train stations. The investments are essential, especially for commuters.
"For commuting, national cycling planning with clear goals is extremely important," says traffic researcher Becker. Cities have little influence on the design of cycle paths and bicycle parking garages at suburban train stations in the surrounding area. They rely on the exchange and cooperation with the communities to improve the situation for schoolchildren and professionals who want to switch from four to two wheels. That is why Becker sees a nationwide cycling law as an important step in strengthening national cycling.