Dieser Artikel wurde auch auf Deutsch veröffentlicht.
This article has also been published on my German blog.
Apparently the area of Berlin in which I live had a cycling modal share of 17% in 2008 and it is now above 20%.
By comparison, Rotterdam has a cycling share somewhere around 26%, reportedly the lowest modal share of any city in the Netherlands, and yet this part of Berlin doesn’t feel anywhere near it in terms of cycling rate.
It’s difficult to compare different transport statistics, as different cities and countries use different methods. I’ve heard that Berlin measures cycling numbers on one day in the height of summer, and I can believe that. There’s no way that Berlin’s cycling rate is anywhere near Rotterdam’s, even in the centre.
I’m sure you could find some streets or bridges in Berlin where people travelling by bike make up a huge proportion of rush hour traffic, as you can in London, but that’s not what modal share is. The modal share is averaged out over the entire year and includes all journeys – it’s not just a measure of bike commuters on one popular street in the middle of summer.
Commuting share for cycling is usually approximately double the actual modal share. This is probably because people commute alone along routes which they’re very familiar with, and they have learned to cope with the unpleasant parts. There’s also a feeling of ‘safety in numbers’ which comes from a lot of other people travelling by bike at the same time. Making journeys at other times to unknown areas with less confident or adventurous cyclists isn’t the same thing.
The weather also has an effect on cycling rates, especially when infrastructure is poor. In the summer when the weather is bright and the roads are dry, you can just jump on your bike and go. In the winter the roads may be wet and slippy, and in the dark it’s harder to see and be seen, and you might wear a hood which will restrict your vision. These extra factors tip the balance from cycling being an okay option to it feeling dangerous and uninviting.
But where the infrastructure is good, the factors above have less importance. For example, when the cycle routes are surfaced in smooth asphalt, slipping in the rain isn’t a worry. On good cycle infrastructure you don’t need to constantly look behind you, so a hood isn’t an impedance.
Winter cycling in Berlin
I filmed the video clip below on Tuesday the 3rd of February at 5pm, on one of the main north-bound cycle routes out of the city centre. This is somewhere that even in winter you would expect to see a great number of people on bikes.
Schönhauser Allee is quite an interesting street when it comes to modal share, because it’s a main artery which has five streams of transport on it.
- It has a raised U-Bahn (metro) line running along the centre of the street.
- It has tram lines, one in each direction.
- It allows motor vehicles and parking, in both directions.
- It has a protected cycleway, one on each side of the road.
- It has wide footways, in both directions.
So you can watch this video and estimate the modal share for yourself. You can see the U-Bahn trains running in the top-left corner. You can see the trams. You can count all the motor vehicles, and you can count the tiny number of people on bikes.
That’s right. There’s hardly anyone on bikes, at all. On one of the main roads, at rush hour, in what is apparently the 12th best city for cycling in the world.
Compare this with cycling levels – and the conditions which enable them, despite the major roadworks at the time – in this video of Utrecht by Mark Wagenbuur:
It was filmed in April, so the weather would have been a little warmer, but even so it’s clear that the levels of cycling in Utrecht are on an entirely different scale, not just a few percentage points away.
Even in the summer, I doubt the genuine modal share for cycling in Berlin rises much above 15% overall – which is shockingly low for a mostly flat city where almost everyone is within a 30 minute bike ride into the centre.
Anyway, now it’s summer and Berlin is a much nicer place to cycle, I can go out and not be the only person on a bike, surrounded by cars. It can be very pleasant, on the right routes. But let’s not mistake that for modal share.
8 responses to “Berlin’s cycling rate versus reality”
“the factors above have less importance…”
…and importantly, if you do happen to fall off (perhaps because a puddle is concealing a pothole or something) you’re less likely to go under a bus doing 40mph. That’s one of the big factors for me. 🙂
For that same reason, I strongly dislike going downhill by bicycle in my city. People (who never cycle) are always surprised by that answer but it’s because I feel much less in control of the situation, especially in the event that anything would ever happen. It also doesn’t help that they like to put manholes right smack in the middle of the bike lane and these, like long stretches of the gutters here, are often not flush with the paved road, further reducing the usable width of the narrow 3-foot bike lane.
When I was visiting Berlin, I thought the same when comparing cycling there and in Rotterdam. But public transport (U- & S-bahn, bus, tram) in Berlin is awful, so when it is cold/rainy etc. I can imagine you take that as an alternative. The same in Rotterdam, public transport is great by Dutch standards, so maybe that is one of the reasons why it has a low modal share of cycling (by Dutch standards, because the cycle network is extensive and state of the art).
That idea of counting cyclists on a sunny day and extrapolating wildly. It’s brilliant. Produces terrific impressive figures for marketing a “cycling city”. Now where did I hear that before ?
I’m afraid a culture change is needed, before a city can call itself cycling or cycle-friendly city: bike lanes sometimes just dissolve, cars are always parked on bike lanes and the police just accepts that (or so it seems), the traffic light for cars that go to the right has mostly the same frequency as the traffic light for cyclists, (more than) half of the streets has no bike lane, yet double car lanes and/or cars parked at both sides of the road and/or 2 pavewalks at least 5m wide, etc. etc.
As a Dutch person, I do not share the idea that Berlin is anywhere near bike-friendly, and to me it’s not a biking city at all. Manipulating the statistics is not a solution: wide bike lanes, own traffic lights and a change of traffic-culture is needed to make Berlin safe to drive a bike around.
Good infrastructure is not enough in winter. We have some here but it’s not gritted or cleared of snow so you need to be either brave enough to use the roads or have spiked tyres. Everyday mass cycling needs maintenance too.
You’re quite right, when it’s snowy or icy extra maintenance is required. I didn’t want to get into that, so was concentrating on the most common winter weather here, as shown in the video, when it’s only cold and wet. That alone is enough to put most Berliners off cycling, it seems. Snow and ice are another thing altogether!
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