At first glance, anyone who takes stock on the occasion of World Bike Day this Wednesday might think that it is going for the bike community. After years of protests and dozens of petitions, the everyday life of cyclists promises to be a little safer. Since the reform of the Road Traffic Regulations (StVO), cars now have to overtake cyclists with a minimum distance of 1.5 meters. Higher fines should prevent parking and stopping on their way. In the corona pandemic, Berlin shows with temporary cycle paths in lane width that the space on the street can actually be distributed in their favor - even in the short term. Everything seemed to be going well.
However, this is not enough for a turnaround in traffic and more cycling in cities. The actual discussion about future mobility, especially in the metropolitan areas, is still pending. Berlin is an exception. Civil society there fought for the Mobility Act and thus legitimized the construction of modern bike networks with protected bike paths. In the rest of Germany, planners determine what is built. In doing so, they follow the recommendations for bicycle traffic facilities (ERA). The set of rules is something like the Bible of cyclists planning. What is in there is built. The latest edition is ten years old. At that time nobody in Germany discussed protected cycle paths and cycle paths.
"If we want the turnaround in traffic, we need a cycling infrastructure that invites people to get on their bikes," said Burkhard Stork, Federal Managing Director of the General German Bicycle Club (ADFC). In Copenhagen this is already everyday life. There are wide cycle paths on the main roads separated from car traffic. Because cycling is easy, convenient and fast, half of the residents cycle to work or school.
Not enough space for protected bike paths
However, Peter Gwiasda, traffic planner and co-author of the new ERA, often goes too far with the demands of cycling activists. He finds her demand for protected cycle paths to be populist, and the ADFC is thus raising false hopes. Not all over Germany there are multi-lane roads like in Berlin, where you can easily convert a lane into a lane-width lane. He says: "When I get from A to Bwill, I have to deal with all road-related situations and sometimes separate and mix cycling and car traffic." In some regions, the protective strip may not be great, but it is better than nothing.
In Osnabrück, for example. There is little space in the city for separate bike paths. The cycling officer Ulla Bauer is therefore planning with protective strips, the dashed lines on the road. With a width of 2.25 meters, however, it shows it much more generously than the ERA regulations stipulate with 1.25 to 1.5 meters. However, the additional centimeters must be approved by residents and sponsors if they contribute to the construction costs.
The protective strip has been controversial between activists and traffic planners for years. Some support it because cyclists are permanently in the driver's field of vision. But many cyclists don't feel safe there. You are just an arm's length away from the fast traffic. An investigation by the accident insurers of 2019 shows that this feeling is entirely justified. Almost 40 percent of the cyclists observed on protective strips were disabled by incorrect parking and had to switch to fast car traffic. On bicycle lanes, which are marked by a solid line, this only happened at ten percent. In addition, almost every second car falls below the prescribed side distance of 1.5 meters when overtaking.