The First 3 Miles Of A 60-Mile Bicycle Superhighway Opens In Germany
It's every cyclist's dream: no red lights, no trucks, just a clear, smooth lane to zoom down with the wind in your face. Welcome to Germany's first bicycle Autobahn. Fans hail the smooth new velo routes as the answer to urban traffic jams and air pollution, and a way to safely get nine-to-fivers outdoors. As a glimpse of a greener urban transport future, Germany has just opened the first five-kilometre (three-mile) stretch of a bicycle highway that is set to span over 100 kilometres. It will connect 10 western cities including Duisburg, Bochum and Hamm and four universities, running largely along disused railroad tracks in the crumbling Ruhr industrial region.
Germany’s bicycle highway is just getting started. The existing three-mile stretch will be expanded to provide over 60 miles of car-free bike travel. The bicycle highway is intended mostly as a benefit to commuting cyclists, so the route will connect 10 western cities including Duisburg, Bochum, and Hamm as well as four universities. Disused railroad tracks will be transformed into wide bike-only roadways in the Ruhr industrial region, making the most of existing infrastructure. A regional development group working on the project, RVR, conducted a use study and determined the new bike highway should take 50,000 cars off the road each day, since nearly two million people live within two kilometers (1.24 miles) of the route.
Europe’s first bicycle highway was approved in London earlier this year, and others are in the works in the Netherlands and Denmark. Bicycle highways are typically around four meters (13 feet) wide, with passing lanes, and overpasses and underpasses for crossroads. Just like roads intended for car traffic, the bike highway has its own streetlights and will be cleared of snow in the wintertime. The additional roadway in Germany has faced a number of hurdles, particularly when it comes to financing, but the reasoning for the trouble is unique. While the federal government is typically responsible for roadworks and waterways, cycling infrastructure falls under the management of local officials.
“Without (state) support, the project would have no chance,” said Martin Toennes of the development group RVR. He says many local governments would have difficulty paying for maintenance, lighting, and snow removal. Lucky, then, that a proposal is in the works to get 180 million euros ($196 million) from the federal government to fund the entire 100-kilometer route.
The new velo routes are a luxury upgrade from the ageing single-lane bike paths common in many German cities, where tree roots below can create irregular speed bumps and a mellow cycling lane can suddenly end or, more alarmingly, merge into a bus lane. The new type of bike routes are around four metres (13 feet) wide, have overtaking lanes and usually cross roads via overpasses and underpasses. The paths are lit and cleared of snow in winter.
For the Ruhr region's initial five-kilometre rapid track, the cost was shared, with the European Union funding half, North Rhine-Westphalia state coughing up 30 percent, and the RVR investing 20 percent. Toennes said talks are ongoing to rustle up 180 million euros ($196 million) for the entire 100-kilometre route, with the state government, run by centre-left Social Democrats and the Greens party, planning legislation to take the burden off municipalities.
"Without (state) support, the project would have no chance," said Toennes, pointing to the financial difficulties many local governments would have in paying for maintenance, lighting and snow clearance. In Berlin, a heavily indebted city-state, the conservative CDU party has proposed a private financing model based in part on advertising along the route.
"The bike highways are new in Germany," said Birgit Kastrup, in charge of the Munich project. "We must find a new concept for funding them."
The German Bicycle Club ADFC argues that, since about 10 percent of trips in the country are now done by bicycle, cycling infrastructure should get at least 10 percent of federal transport funding. "Building highways in cities is a life-threatening recipe from the 1960s," said its manager Burkhard Stork. "No one wants more cars in cities."