Anybody who says that Berlin is great for cycling doesn’t know what they’re talking about

uk alternative dept of transport

Cycling in Berlin *

There’s so much to cover here in Berlin;  I have to tell you about the excellent public transport system, the suffocating dominance of car parking, the superb driving conditions, the less-than-superb cycling conditions, the at times downright hostile footways, the culture and attitudes, the VC-and-helmet-loving local cycle campaign, and so much more.

So this first post is a general overview of conditions for cycling in Berlin as I’ve experienced them these past five months, and I’ll begin with this statement:

Anybody who says that Berlin is great for cycling doesn’t know what they’re talking about.

I can see how this common misconception may come about, though. Berlin is far better for cycling than any British city (and, for that matter, any city in the US, Australia, etc…). It’s easy to visit Berlin and see the higher number and wider demographic of people cycling and think “yes, Berlin is a good example for cities back home to copy.”

I’ve heard it said that Berlin, with a 13% average modal share for cycling, provides a more realistic model that’s easier for British cities to achieve.

The trouble is, to someone who lives in a country where cycling has been actively suppressed for decades, almost any amount of cycling looks impressive. Living in the UK, it’s easy to see the current motor-dominated transport mix as normal or natural, and therefore to think that countries with higher cycling rates have done something special, artificial and unnatural.

But the truth is that road design in the UK effectively bans cycling as a mode of transport for the vast majority of the population. The “natural” level for cycling can be seen in the Netherlands, where car use is not discouraged (on the contrary), but there are generally no barriers to cycling either. The road system there has been designed so that people can feel free to use whichever mode of transport they wish to, and they very often choose to use a bike.

Somewhere in the middle we have places like Berlin, where the authorities pay lip service to cycling infrastructure, and grudgingly provide for a fairly low rate of cycling, but where journeys by motor vehicle are still prioritised pretty much all of the time, and given the lion’s share of road space.

geremany belin cycling path maintenance - Alternative DOT

* This is a short excerpt from a particularly lucid, nicely illustrated  piece commenting cycling conditions in Berlin, which appears in a blog of “The Alternative Department for Transport — in Exile”.  The idea, as I read it is not to savage cycling conditions in that wonderful lively city.  But to put things into perspective and encourage critical thinking, which the author does quite nicely.  You will find the full posting at http://departmentfortransport.wordpress.com/2014/09/23/cycling-in-berlin/

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Eric Britton
9, rue Gabillot, 69003 Lyon France

Bio: Trained as a development economist, Eric Britton is a public entrepreneur specializing in the field of sustainability and social justice. Professor of Sustainable Development, Economy and Democracy at the Institut Supérieur de Gestion (Paris), he is also MD of EcoPlan Association, an independent advisory network providing strategic counsel for government and business on policy and decision issues involving complex systems, social-technical change and sustainable development. Founding editor of World Streets, his latest work focuses on the subject of equity, economy and efficiency in city transport and public space, and helping governments to ask the right questions -- and in the process, find practical solutions to urgent climate, mobility, life quality and job creation issues. More at: http://wp.me/PsKUY-2p7

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2 thoughts on “Anybody who says that Berlin is great for cycling doesn’t know what they’re talking about

  1. From Alex Koenig, Berlin. September 23 at 11:24am

    Yes, I can confirm this. When there was a coalition Government of Social-democrats and Green Party, cycling was discovered as a means to reduce traffic jam, stay healthy and enjoy the city environment. Great! New cycle lanes were built besides the trees and the pedestrian walks, trams, underground trains and long-distance trains took bicycles for free in their newly built cycle compartments…

    Unfortunately it became too popular… and when a new coalition Government of Social-democrats and communists took over the famous, however cheaply built narrow cycle network deteriorated quickly.

    Then fast moving e-bikes came on the market, too fast to run next to pedestrians. Therefore the unfortunate decision to relocate cycles onto the driveway of cars, separated by a white line in the hope car drivers would respect it.

    I regret this and let my 4 bikes at home now. – in Berlin, Germany.

    Reply

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