These people are not criminals

Footway cycling is such a hot topic in the UK – completely out of proportion to the danger it poses – whereas here in Berlin it seems pretty much accepted.

Maybe it’s because the demographics of who cycles are so different here – a footway cyclist in Berlin is more likely to be an old woman with shopping than the UK’s stereotype “yob in a hoodie.”

It doesn’t help that nobody under the age of 8 is legally permitted to cycle on the road, however quiet that road may be. How the German lawmakers expect parents to cycle with their young children, I don’t know.

Also, like the UK, the authorities sometimes put up a sign permitting cycling on a footway, for no discernible reason. This, like the under-8 rule, accustoms people to cycling on the footway.

I expect the main reason for this rule is that those responsible for designing Germany’s streets don’t have to consider the needs of children. And it shows.

The main roads in Berlin are fast and hostile, while many of the quieter residential streets are surfaced in horrible bumpy cobble stones with huge tyre-swallowing gaps between them. (And this isn’t just historical – these stones are renewed.) And very few streets are filtered, meaning two-way through-traffic uses the back streets as a short cut.

So every time you see someone cycling on the footway, instead of cursing the person on the bike, contact your local representative asking why there is nowhere safe to cycle.

Nobody cycles on the footway because it’s faster, or smoother, or more convenient. It’s not, it’s usually slow and inconvenient and fiddly. People only cycle on the footway when the conditions on the road are too unpleasant.

To stop footway cycling, we have to create the right conditions away from it.

The people in these photos aren’t criminals. They’ve been let down by a criminally negligent government that has failed to provide somewhere safe and attractive to cycle.

A grandmother, mother and child cycle on a footpath in Berlin

Three generations using the footway to avoid cycling on a rough cobbled surface with rat-run drivers.

A father and son cycle on the footway, as the city of Berlin gives them no other safe option.

This road has seven lanes dedicated to motor traffic – four lanes for car parking, two travel lanes for cars, and an access lane for the central car parking. For bikes, there are only badly-designed painted cycle lanes.

A bird's eye view of a street in Berlin, where a late middle-aged couple cycle on the footway, while a lorry uses the carriageway.

The choice for the middle-aged couple in this photograph was to take their chances with a rat-running lorry, or use the footway.

Two children cycle on a footway in Berlin.

Due to Germany’s laws on footway cycling, this may be the only place these children are allowed to cycle.

A woman with a tag-along trailer rides on an extremely wide footway in Berlin. Despite the acres of space available, the road only has white painted lines.

Is this woman and child endangering anyone here? Should she be using the dangerous painted lanes on the road instead? Don’t let anyone tell you Berlin doesn’t have enough space for Dutch-quality infrastructure.

A family cycle on a wide path in Berlin. The road alongside has parked cars and tram tracks.

The alternative to cycling on this wide footway for these families, would be to ride single-file between the tram tracks and parked cars. No wonder they chose to avoid that.


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6 responses to “These people are not criminals

  1. johdi

    Re the fifth photo, here (in the Netherlands) I see sometimes the opposite. The cycle lanes are often better (very smooth) than the pavement to run, so people running are taking the cycle lane. Because of the width in most cases no big problem.

  2. cyberkiller1

    I would love nothing more than to be able to legally ride on the sidewalk. Yet in my country (Poland) it’s illegal and police have started some kind of a crusade against bike riders in the past few years, hunting people on the sidewalks to give them hefty fines (around 10% the amount of a typical monthly wage) instead of chasing proper criminals. Oh, and cycling infrastructure is mostly nonexistant here (they build nearly only recreational cycle paths outside of towns), usually it’s either the illegal sidewalk or a 4 lane high speed street that goes through the city. Many people choose to take chances with getting fined rather than ran over.

  3. Bill

    Tolerance or encouragement of pavement cycling is very dependent on local conditions. In my area of suburban East London we do have the stereotypical hoodies riding at speed on the pavement and it is intimidating for my elderly neighbours (who include my Mum!).
    These youngsters are also aspirant motorists. Their behaviour in a motor car will probably mirror their cycling, so w can expect impatience and a lack of respect for anyone moving slower than they are.
    Motorists kill or seriously injure far more people than pavement cyclists, but that does not make the lesser wrong socially acceptable.

    • Tim

      “Motorists kill or seriously injure far more people than pavement cyclists, but that does not make the lesser wrong socially acceptable.”

      Part of the problem here is that pavement cyclists can be parents with young kids and vulnerable elderly people at one end of the spectrum, or reckless antisocial speed-mongers (like the “hoodies” cliche) at the other, but there’s also everything in-between. If there was decent dedicated safe easy-to-use cycling infrastructure then everyone would use that except those who are deliberately antisocial, and the law wouldn’t have to provide the fudge of providing guidance saying police have to use discretion and it’s okay to ride on pavements sometimes.

      This post is bang-on. Pavement cycling is tackled with too much stick and not enough carrot.

      • I think that’s a good point – that footway cycling isn’t done by one distinct group of people. 99% of footway cycling would disappear if the conditions on the road were improved (by filtering or cycleways), as most people are only using the footway out of desperation.

        Once that’s done, if there are still hoodies on bikes intimidating people then there’s a yob problem, not a cycling problem.

  4. mikey bikey

    You’ve hit the nail on the head re the UK . The “cycling on the pavement is strictly verboten – unless we plonk a sign there saying the opposite” seems legally contradictory and puts the authorities rationality into question. But who are we to doubt our betters in this democratic paradise! 🙂
    Boris is back for another 5 years , so buckle up for a bumpy ride, 😀
    Cheers, Mikey

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