Bike paths to improve environmental conditions in cities and urban areas

The situation in Germany

The new National Cycleways System shows the increasing attention on cycling mobility and cycle tourism in Italy. The article below describes the German context, focusing on significant projects and highlighting problems and best practices.

Germany is a very interesting country from the cycling mobility point of view, not only for tourists but also for urban mobility. Today, interesting developments in new ways of managing cycling are being implemented in cities and urban areas in Germany.

Tourist use of bike paths in Germany
Germany offers several examples of successful use of bikes for tourists. For example, the Deutsche Einheit (German Unity Cycle Path) is over 1000 km long and runs through seven federal states touching more than 100 representative historic sites of the extraordinary history of reunification.

Another example is the Ruhr Valley Cycle Path. It is about 200 km long, all marked with special signs; 50% runs on separate cycle paths, 30% on forest service roads and local side roads, and about 15% bike lanes along main roads. Only the remaining 5% is on roads without special bike lanes or cycle paths. The Bed+Bike organisation has certified all the accommodation on the path, clearly promoting the infrastructure for cycle tourism. Other service companies have also targeted cycle tourism, enormously improving the quality and attraction of the path.

Cycling in German cities
These days, no one would call the home of Mercedes Benz, BMW and Volkswagen a cycling nation. However, the daily problems linked to city traffic – almost continuous congestion, accidents, pollution and endless search for parking places, are slowly causing people to change their minds and use bicycles more often.

More and more city centres are battling with high levels of particulate air pollution. The solutions to date include restricted traffic areas where especially harmful vehicles are excluded and incentives for alternative means of transport through the extension of the bike path network.
The case of Essen is symbolic – it has started a transformation of its modal split through the introduction of special bike paths.

The aim of Essen is to achieve an even distribution of travel options by 2035 – 25% for public transport, 25% for individual vehicle traffic, 25% for bicycles and 25% on foot. The situation at the start, in 2011, was 19% for public transport, 54% for individual vehicle traffic, 5% for bicycles and 22% on foot). Bike mobility has been strongly incentivised so that this ambitious goal can be achieved. Essen’s cycling network, already well-developed, has been further extended through the redevelopment of disused railway lines for a total length of over 200 km.

Bike ‘motorways’ as an alternative to daily traffic jams
Another futuristic trend comes from some regions that are assessing the introduction of ‘bike motorways’ for commuter mobility over the medium distance as a real alternative to congested highways. The bike motorways will either be on disused railway lines or built completely new with the aim of covering great distances without significant hills or coming into contact with other traffic.

Interaction with city transport systems must be increased to increase this kind of mobility, for example, through Park & Ride schemes in city suburbs, integrated into well-developed public transport networks at affordable prices so that the choice of the bike is not only economically advantageous but also a time-saver.

Political support and financial backing
Responsibility for the promotion of cycling is shared by federal, state and local authorities. In 2012, the federal government established the National Cycling Plan (NCP) 2020 which laid the foundation for cycling policy in Germany and defined the conditions for incentivising bike transport as an overall system. Nevertheless, private companies, associations, health insurance companies, the media and committed citizens are also taking action to support cycling in Germany. Powerful stakeholders in tourism and cycling are partners in the transformation process, supporting co-operation across the federal states – the Allgemeiner Deutscher Fahrrad-Club e.V. (German Cyclists‘ Federation) has more than 150,000 members, the Deutscher Tourismusverband e.V. (German Tourism Association) has about 100 associated organisations and the tourism marketing organisation Deutsche Zentrale für Tourismus e.V. (German Tourist Centre).

In 2016, the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI) allocated over € 100 million to promote cycling, also implementing a joint project with the seven Länder (federal states).

Horizontal signs on German bike paths

Legal framework and accompanying measures
In addition to financing cycling infrastructure and supporting pilot projects, the BMVI has the important task of further developing the legal framework. Despite this, at present Germany has no generally applicable recommendations for designing and setting up cycle roads.

There are many differences in the minimum size of the carriageway, rules on separation and horizontal and vertical signs on German bike paths. The priority is given to horizontal signs to increase the safety of the bike paths.

The Highway Code and Recommendations for Bike Paths provide few guidelines, usually integrated by rules or design practices in each Land. For example, in 2010, the application of the Recommendations was only compulsory to obtain financial support in Baden-Württemberg and North Rhine-Westphalia. Brandenburg, Upper Saxony, Berlin and Hamburg have subsequently introduced (in some cases, are still introducing) the Recommendations for Bike Paths as rules for the design and construction of cycle paths.

Johannes Grote

Project engineer for railway infrastructure and cycling mobility expert at Spiekermann GmbH Consulting Engineers