There ought to be a single aim for a city’s cycle policy: get more people to cycle.
A number of factors can have an impact on this – the actual (statistically provable) safety of cycling, the perceived safety of cycling, the ready availability of places to park bicycles, and the integration of cycling into the rest of the city’s infrastructure.
The debate about cycling in Berlin currently goes like this:
- Measurable safety is of paramount importance
- Accidents per cyclist-kilometre are higher on cycle paths on pavements than they are on cycle paths painted on roads
- As a result put cycle paths on roads instead of on pavements
The debate in the EU’s leading cycling countries – Netherlands and especially Denmark – instead goes like this:
- You boost cycling by making cyclists feel they are safe, as well as actually statistically being safe
- To do this requires the separation of cyclists from motorised traffic, as the marginal cyclist is afraid of being knocked off by a truck on the road
- Build cycle paths that are physically separated from the road
Please note here I am not actually debating the statistics (more about those here), but more actually questioning why Berlin’s cycle paths are so unsafe. My conclusion – as documented along Skalitzer Straße, and from Bergmannstraße to Jannowitzbrücke (and RBB has more here) – is that this is because the cycle paths are badly designed. Most accidents occur at junctions between cycle paths and other traffic, and lines of sight at these locations in Berlin are often extremely bad, making accidents almost inevitable. A secondary danger is pedestrians and parked cars blocking or straying onto the cycle lanes, something that is rather common as the line between lane and pavement is often very unclear.
This is a quote the research about segregation (or not) of cycle paths in London:
Cyclists have differing and potentially conflicting needs from cycling infrastructure. Some cyclists who are often more confident and might be cycling to work prefer to use cycle lanes on the carriageway. Cycle lanes can give a more direct route. Other cyclists wanting to avoid conflict with motorists prefer off-road provision i.e. shared use paths and cycle tracks.
In other words, if you’re a manic and fast cyclist you will be doing it anyway. But if you’re a marginal cyclist, someone who might choose to cycle or not, not being mixed in with the rest of the road users actually matters. That’s why I am rather non-plussed about the debate about whether cyclists have an obligation to use cycle paths or not – it doesn’t matter much to trying to get extra people to cycle. I am also rather unconvinced that a 30km/h speed limit on Berlin’s roads is the best way forward – this is very poorly enforced in Berlin as it is, and I would prefer to engineer safe solutions, rather than relying on the policing of speed limits to achieve the same ends. Being hit by a truck at 30km/h is not much fun as a cyclist either.
So here’s a new way forward for Berlin. Switch the strategy for the city to repairing and improving the off-street cycle lanes that exist already. Widen them, and redesign the junctions that currently prevent clear lines of sight. With bright paint or curbstones better separate the cycle lanes from the rest of the pavement (that would even be cheap to do!) In the medium term adopt the Copenhagen cycle lane design manual, where lanes are height-separated from the road and from the pavement, are made from smooth asphalt and are 3m wide to allow overtaking. More space for bikes in S- and U-Bahn trains, and transport of bikes in taxis, and more cycle parking and communal air pumps would also be welcome. So that combination would be Berlin’s best bet to increase the numbers of cyclists, and make sure they both feel safe and are safe. The city’s current obsession with only the latter will not help get more people cycling.