Tag Archives: Berlin

A Dane’s view of cycling in Berlin

Dieser Artikel wurde auch auf Deutsch veröffentlicht, hier.

This article has also been published in German, here.

Here is a guest post written by a Danish friend of ours who came to live in Berlin for five months this year. He’s now returned to Denmark, but before he left I asked his thoughts on cycling in Berlin, and transcribed his response.

I’ve edited our chat into logical sections, and changed some words for clarity – ‘pavement’ into ‘footway’, for example. The photo captions are also mine.

On the design of Berlin’s cycleways

One of the first experiences I had with the cycling infrastructure in Berlin was when I found myself walking on a cycleway without realising. The difference between the footway and the cycleway is so subtle, they’re at the same level and almost the same colour.

It’s only when someone passes you closely or rings their bell that you realise it’s a cycleway. When my parents visited I had to constantly watch out for them, tell them when they were walking on the cycleway. It’s so difficult to tell. You see tourists every day who are confused about it, they don’t see it.

The widths of the cycleways in Berlin make absolutely no sense. Some are only wide enough for one person, and even the wider ones are still not wide enough to overtake another cyclist comfortably, so people end up using the footway to overtake. It impacts on people walking, of course, as people are cycling more on the footway.

People walking and cycling closely on a cycleway and footway in Berlin, where a pavement café doesn't help matters.

Cramped footway and level cycleway – yet space for five lanes for motor vehicles, plus a wide central reservation.

So the width, they just get that wrong. You have to give 2 metres at least, like in Copenhagen, where some places you can cycle 4 abreast and there’s still room to overtake, although it varies throughout the city.

When you can’t cycle beside one another you can’t be social, so cycling becomes a solo endeavour. Many times I’ve wanted to say something to the people I’m with, but have to shout it from behind. Imagine travelling in a car in which you can’t speak to any of the other occupants.

Every time a cycleway or footway is too narrow, it kills the conversation that’s going on, as people have to go single file. Until I cycled in Berlin, I didn’t realise the importance of being able to ride socially in parallel, as opposed to serial mode.

People ride bikes on a very wide and smooth cycleway in Copenhagen

A cycleway in Copenhagen. Yes, it’s true: this entire smooth, wide surface is just for cycling (and related modes).

On the quality and maintenance of Berlin’s cycleways

I’ve come up with a theory that you can’t ride a bike for more than a few metres in Berlin without encountering a bump of some sort. Some cycleways are just constant bumps. My bike is now rattling due to parts coming loose on the uneven surfaces.

I really don’t understand why tiles were chosen to surface the Berlin cycleways. They’re really annoyingly uneven. It all adds up, in terms of friction and resistance, compared to smooth asphalt they take much more energy to ride on. And I can’t imagine they’re much easier to maintain. You’re basically cycling on waves – waves made of hard tile edges.

A cycleway in Berlin, where the surface tiles are coming loose, causing discomfort and danger. One tile is so uneven that the entire side of it can be seen.

People in cars get smooth asphalt to ride on, while people on bikes get loose tiles amongst many other ever-changing surface types.

On encounters with people driving motor vehicles

In my time here, I’ve come to realise that I don’t enjoy cycling in Berlin, especially after my near-death experience with a bus, followed by being cut up by someone driving an SUV.

It was a lucky thing that I was so awake and alert, and it was only because I’m so agile that I could jump off the road onto the footway when the bus almost hit me. And it was only because I was cycling slowly that there was no collision with the SUV – had I being going as fast as I often do, I’d have smashed into it.

You can’t really count on the drivers to stop here when they should. A Danish friend of mine who also lives in Berlin says that there is this culture of drivers not being aware of bikes. I would certainly approach junctions more carefully here, and be ready to stop, because I’d be the one to lose out in a collision.

A traffic-signalled junction in Berlin, where turning cars must give way to pedestrians who have a green light, but the driver has blocked the cycle route due to poor design.

The driver of the silver car has turned into, and is blocking, the cycle route. The junctions are designed in such a way that this frequently happens.

On the concept of vehicular cycling

I told that same Danish friend about Forester and Franklin and the idea of fighting for the right to the road, and he laughed out loud about it, just as I had when I first heard of it. It’s totally backwards.

He’s probably the kind of guy who – if he’d grown up in Berlin – would be a radical cyclist, fighting for that right. But it’s only good for the fast ones who can keep up with traffic. Children and old people can’t ride like that.

I guess it’s because of ignorance – you’d only fight for your right to the road when you’ve only known crap cycleways. I would probably be fighting for that right if I’d grown up here. And only if I was thinking about myself, of course.

Thinking about my grandmother, it makes no sense. She’s 81, lives in Denmark, and she cycles pretty much every day. Where she lives there’s a segregated cycleway a couple of metres away from the road.

I can only rarely remember having seen people in DK who have chosen the road over the cycleways. It could be that they were just tourists, or maybe I’m inventing that memory now I’m being asked about it.

I don’t think I’m unique, every Danish person would realise how ridiculous VC is. It’s not a thing in Denmark. It just couldn’t be.

On growing up cycling in Denmark

Where I grew up in Odense I had my own wide cycleway, it wasn’t even beside a road. That’s how I got to school – on my own road, only for cycling.

I grew up in an urban area, there’s a network of cycleways away from roads, all the way from home to school and everywhere else. We lived in two different parts of the city, and they both were connected to a safe cycling network.

I would say that Odense feels safer than Copenhagen. It’s a lot less crowded, and you’re not even near the road for the most part. I don’t think I valued it, I never thought it was unusual.

I could do things that I wouldn’t have been allowed to do otherwise, as my mum could trust me to cycle alone without worrying. As a child, while I was cycling home from school on these cycleways – cycle roads, really – I would play games in my head, it was so safe you didn’t have to concentrate hard and be hyper-alert.

It was entirely stress-free. Actually, that’s an understatement.

A wide asphalt cycleway flows away the camera. Grass can be seen either side, with houses beyond it. There are street lights and side-paths connecting the houses.

What stress-free cycling looks like in the suburbs of Odense, in Denmark. Unravelled cycleway through the very centre of a housing estate, with no cars anywhere nearby.

On the politics of cycling

Speaking of cyclists, I think it’s one of those self-reinforcing things. The number of cyclists relates to the quality of the infrastructure. Perhaps Berlin does better than the cycleways indicate, because so many people cycle on the wide footways, which is accepted here. You wouldn’t see kids cycling, for example, if they couldn’t ride on the footways.

I had never thought much about cycling before moving to Berlin, it was just something I had always done and taken for granted. I’m not sure if I’d have thought about it so much if I hadn’t happened to moved in with the author of this blog.

I’d have probably just not cycled much here and not really thought about the reasons why. I don’t cycle in Berlin anywhere near as much as I did in Denmark. It just feels unsafe here.

There’s a big difference in the feeling of safety, you have to be very alert when you ride around here, compared to Copenhagen. The difference is the cycleways, which in Copenhagen are protected from cars, and clearly separate to the footway – so you don’t find cars on them or people walking on them.

In Berlin, parking is prioritised over walking and cycling, it makes no sense. Just a few parking spaces are allowed to ruin the walking and cycling conditions for thousands of people. Even trees are prioritised over safe cycling!

A cycleway in Berlin suddenly narrows to around 0.5 metres wide because of a few trees. The wide multi-lane carriageway is undisturbed.

Notice how the carriageway remains unaffected by the line of trees.

In conclusion

Cycling around Berlin resembles the pod-racing scene from Star Wars.

A cycleway narrows as it wiggles sharply around a pole which is installed in its way. There are further barriers on the right too.

Go right… No, go left! Ah, just ride on the footway instead…

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More ‘pretend infrastructure’ – Gudvanger Straße, Berlin

Dieser Artikel wurde auch auf Deutsch veröffentlicht.
This article has also been published on my German blog.

There’s a sign which is used on some streets around here, which looks like this:

Share nicely, everybody! (From Wikipedia)

I assumed this means something like “home zone” and it turns out that’s pretty much right.

It marks the start of a “verkehrsberuhigter Bereich” which translates as “traffic-calmed area”. It means:

  • Pedestrians may use full width of the street.
  • Children are allowed to play anywhere.
  • Vehicles must travel at walking pace.
  • Drivers must not hinder or endanger pedestrians. They must wait when necessary.
  • Pedestrians must not unnecessarily hinder drivers.

There are also some parking and loading restrictions, but the headline is: this should be a place for people who aren’t using a vehicle.

But like the last post about Berlin’s pretend infrastructure, this sign is used on motor vehicle through-routes, and as such is entirely useless.

I’ve seen these all over Berlin. I’ve never seen children playing in them, nor have I seen people walking along them. They’ve all been rat-runs.

Here’s the nearest one to where I live. On one side there’s a park, and on the other there’s a school:

Gudvanger Strasse in Berlin. Where the traffic-calmed area is, the road narrows and is raised up.

The authorities clearly saw there was a problem here, as the current situation is an improvement over how it was in 2008. There are lots of bike stands, and the road has been narrowed which must discourage some drivers from using it, as they’ll have to wait for any oncoming traffic to clear, but it’s clearly not good enough:



The traffic calming treatment is so weak I can’t understand it. Why isn’t this section of the road closed entirely, and permanently? There’s no need for it to be a through-route at all, as the roads either side of it are also two-way through routes.

Even the local children can see the problem, as they’ve written messages such as “walking speed”, “playing allowed” and “3 – 7 km/h” on the road, in chalk:

The local kids can see what the engineers can’t.

I find this really sad.

The children are telling us that there’s a problem here, they recognise that there’s a traffic problem – but the city isn’t listening, so the kids are trying their best to solve it the only way they know how.

Then their chalk pleas are worn away by car tyres.

Luckily, some of the local people are listening, and have set up a weekly “play street” event every Tuesday from the 26th of May. Let’s hope it leads to permanent change.

(Update: Sadly, one local resident didn’t like the one-day-a-week play street. They took the project to court, and the judge agreed. Berlin’s streets are just for the burning of oil, it seems. Read a Google-translated article about it here.)

Perhaps they were inspired by what the children of Amsterdam did in 1972?


“You can keep asking, but if the city doesn’t act you have to do things yourself.”

 

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Visual Priority

I wrote this post about how the visible physical appearance of a junction should emphasise the legal priority that exists (unlike in the UK where design often contradicts priority). But while clear visual priority is an essential part of junction design, it’s merely a way of emphasising the legal layout. It is not enough to create a safe junction on its own, as David Hembrow explains here.

I’d like to discuss something which is often done wrong: priority.

I’m not talking about the legal sense, but the visual sense. We need to change the way we think about minor junctions.

You see, you can have all the laws and paint you want, but if a junction looks like the cars have priority, then drivers will take advantage.

Here’s an example, on Cable Street in London:

A junction on the Cable Street cycleway in London. The cycleway has priority, but everything suggests otherwise: the kerb and yellow lines cut across the cycleway, creating confusion.

This is really poor. (Photo: Google Maps)

Let’s ignore the many, many failings of this poor-quality cycleway (we’d be here all day) and concentrate on how the junction is arranged.

The cycleway has priority here, but so many things suggest otherwise. The kerb-line, for example, curves around and across the cycleway. The yellow lines do the same, creating vagueness in priority.

Note how there’s no kerb running along the edge of the cycleway as it crosses the junction, either – the carriageway is constant, while the cycleway is interrupted. This is a confusing mess.

Considering that many, many more people will walk across this junction than drive across it, it’s crazy that the footway isn’t also continuous.

These conflicting signals are often designed in by whoever draws up these plans. Perhaps the belief is that people will follow the rules like robots, ignoring things like kerb lines and parking restriction markings. But people don’t work like that, and this junction is unclear and dangerous as a result.

Further along the same road, a different junction is much better. Yes, it is still flawed, but the priority is much clearer:

A different junction on Cable Street, this time the cycleway is unbroken by kerbs or painted lines, and priority is clear.

Note the unbroken surface of the cycleway. (Photo: Google Maps)

Note how the surface of the cycleway is unbroken by kerbs or painted lines. (This junction would be much better with a continuous footway too.)

Here’s a poor example from Berlin:

A junction in Berlin where bikes have priority, but there's only two broken white lines on the tarmac to suggest so.

Technically, bikes have priority here, but I really wouldn’t trust that paint. The cycleway simply ceases to exist across the junction. (See it on Google Maps)

People cycling along this road have priority at this junction, but does it really look like they do? The asphalt surface of the carriageway is unbroken, the sweeping kerb (designed for fast turns by car) cuts across the cycleway, and the footway and cycleway both drop down to carriageway level.

There’s no inconvenience at all for people in cars. There’s nothing but two fading, broken white lines to suggest to drivers that they should give way. Can those lines even be seen in wet weather? What about when it’s dark?

This isn’t sustainable safety. It’s paying lip service to cycling and walking, and it’s the reason so many cycle campaigners believe cycleways to be dangerous at junctions.

They’re right – badly-designed infrastructure can be dangerous – but that’s not an inherent flaw with cycleways, it’s simply bad design. Well-designed cycleways are proven to be safe.

The junction above could – and should – look like this:

A cycleway and footway continue, unbroken, with clear priority across a minor junction

This is clear. There’s no mistaking who has priority here. (See it on Google Maps)

This is real cycle infrastructure, and real walking infrastructure – genuine, proven to be safe, tried-and-tested design, quite unlike the type of tokenistic rubbish we’re used to getting.

Here, the whole area doesn’t look like a road, it looks like footway, with a cycleway running through it. It’s clear that this isn’t the domain of motor vehicles. Nobody is “on the road” when cycling or walking through here – quite the opposite, it’s motor vehicles that are guests “on the path”.

The whole junction area is raised up to footway level (rather than people on bikes and on foot having to drop down to carriageway level) and motor vehicles must mount a ramp to enter the junction.

This ramp, plus sharp corners, slows cars right down. It also provides better visibility between drivers and those whose path the drivers are crossing – nobody needs to look back over their shoulder. It works in all weather, 24 hours a day.

At the risk of pushing the point too much, here’s another example:

A junction in Berlin where the cycleway has priority. The cycleway continues across the junction with priority, but it is still broken by a sweeping kerb line and change in surface.

Better, but still not right.

This is better than some of the other examples, but still flawed. The kerb line cuts across the cycleway, so the surface is broken. The surface of the cycleway is different as it crosses the junction. The corner radius is too large. The footway should also have priority across the side-road.

Here’s what it looks like from a driver’s point of view:

The junction shown previously, but from the view of a driver exiting the side road.

Not as clear as it could be.

It’s better than the paint-only examples, but the kerb still guides your eye around the corner. It’s good that the surface is different across the junction, but it still looks like the road has priority.

It could be much clearer, like this:

The view of a minor road junction, from the minor road. The footpath and cyclepath both sever the minor road's connection to the main road, and therefore it's clear that vehicles leaving the minor road do not have priority.

Much clearer.

To a driver leaving the minor road, it’s clear that they do not have priority here, that the road is severed by the footway and cycleway. People driving have to drive up a ramp and over the cycleway and footway in order to pass through this area the main road.

Anyway, I hope I’ve made the point. Failure to make priority clear and obvious is a design flaw which I see all the time, both in Berlin and back in the UK. To create truly inviting conditions for walking and cycling, highways designers must change the way they think about how junctions should look, and make a positive decision to make walking and cycling a clear visual priority.

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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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Pretend infrastructure

Dieser Artikel wurde auch auf Deutsch veröffentlicht.
This article has also been published on my German blog.

Bicycle streets! Don’t you just love them? Put up a few signs, a bit of paint, and voilà – instant Groningen.

Except it doesn’t work like that at all, though not everyone has figured that out yet.

For a bicycle street to work, it needs to have very, very low levels of motor traffic. It needs to form no useful through route for motor vehicles. Bikes needs to greatly outnumber cars and vans.

In Berlin, the highly-paid experts responsible for the roads think that signs and paint are enough to create a great cycle network. Just put up signs to tell drivers that a road is a bicycle street – or a home zone, or no entry – and they’ll behave differently, right? They’ll stop using that street as a rat-run, no?

Here’s Choriner Straße in Prenzlauer Berg:

Funny, the signs and paint don’t seem to be working.

Does it look like bicycles dominate there? Does that look suitable for young children? (And don’t be fooled by the low speeds, drivers are going slow because a double-parked car has narrowed the carriageway just off-camera to the left.)

This is pretend infrastructure – something which makes it look like the authorities are considering cycling, while they’re actually doing nothing. Other modes of transport don’t have this (with the possible exception of walking). There’s no airports without runways, or motorways with grazing sheep designed-in.

It’s not just Berlin that does this. When I lived in London, Lambeth Council painted bike symbols on Hercules Road to try and pretend it wasn’t an awful rat-run. That particular street is soon to be part of London’s forthcoming network patchwork of Quietways, so the green blobs of paint which taxis speed over will instead be purple blobs of paint which taxis speed over – more pretend infrastructure.

A nasty pinch-point on the rat run that is Hercules Road

A nasty pinch-point on the rat run that is Hercules Road



Here’s another bit of pretend infra, a moment’s walk away from the first video, at the junction with Oderberger Straße (look at it on a map and you’ll see it’s clearly a rat-run to cut the corner of Eberswalder Straße and Schönhauser Allee – no traffic lights, either).

This junction is signposted “no vehicles, except bikes and emergency vehicles” yet there’s nothing at all to stop anyone driving through here. So what happens?

More pretend infra. There’s even a “no through route” sign at the end of the street, but the local drivers all know this is nonsense!

The most profitable form of pretend infrastructure at the moment is shared space. If you’ve strolled along London’s famous Exhibition Road recently, you’ll be aware of the magnitude of bullshit at work here.

Lots has been written about the failure of Exhibition Road and other examples of shared space so I won’t go into detail here, but unfortunately the on-trend placemaking street architects’ marketing teams are still busy selling snake-oil, as can be seen here on Hackney’s lovely new Leonard Circus, where white van drivers share safely with anyone lucky enough not to be in the way:

Would you want your loved ones wandering around there when he speeds through this pretend infrastructure again, or would you prefer some tried-and-tested, proven-to-work sustainable safety?

 

(If you have any examples of pretend infrastructure, please leave a comment!)

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Cycleway design in Berlin and beyond

I often see people refer to studies of German cycleways where the conclusion is that they’re dangerous, then claiming that these studies are evidence that all cycleways are therefore dangerous.

Actually, I say ‘studies’ but it’s usually just a link to this, an English summary of one study from 30 years ago, written by one of Forester’s army of tedious greybeards. (Or they’ll provide a link to other studies of poor-quality infrastructure in countries with low cycling rates. One ‘academic’ claimed to have cycled in 21 countries, yet didn’t visit either the Netherlands or Denmark, before claiming cycleways are a bad concept!)

There is this false notion of “northern European countries” or “continental Europe” being some homogenous mass, all of them covered with identical cycling infrastructure, which therefore means that a German study critical of German cycle infrastructure is therefore critical of the very concept of cycle infrastructure.

But the truth is that there’s huge variation between these countries. The Netherlands leads by a country mile, Denmark a distant second, and everywhere else is a runner-up. The UK didn’t even enter the race.

To use the phrase “northern European countries” with regards to good cycle infrastructure is to beat around the bush: you mean the Netherlands. Say “the Netherlands”. Sure, it’s not all perfect, but that’s where the best stuff is, by far, and in great quantities.

German engineering at its worst

So these people who quote studies of German cycling infrastructure are missing one major point: German cycleways are crap. So the studies merely prove that crap cycleways are crap. It’s certainly no smoking gun.

Quoting a study of German cycleways from today would be bad enough, but in the 1980s they were even worse, judging by some of the older stuff here in Berlin. To use that study to argue against good quality cycling infrastructure is like quoting the Hindenburg disaster to argue that travelling on an aeroplane is deadly.

No modern cycling infrastructure advocate should be asking for what we have here in Berlin, or holding it up as a shining example.

I don’t claim to have visited every German town and city, but I’ve been to a few. Some places are better than others, but in none of them has there been anything worth writing about. Even the most average Dutch town has far better infrastructure by comparison.

As I now spend my days in Berlin, let’s look at some Berlin cycleways, shall we?

First of all, it’s important to remember that cycling infrastructure in Berlin is unreliable. There’s no network, just disjointed paths which you can never be sure aren’t about to suddenly end without warning. And often where there is a cycleway, it’s narrow, rutted or covered with foliage. So the bits I’m covering here are the parts where reasonable cycleways actually exist, and not the majority of roads where there’s nothing (painted lanes don’t count).

Junctions with traffic lights

The biggest problem with Berlin’s cycleways is the major junctions. For some crazy reason, instead of keeping bicycles and motor vehicles separate at this most dangerous point, the standard design actually brings bikes towards motor vehicles!

A protected cycleway in Berlin which suddenly becomes unprotected at a junction

Rather than continue in a straight line to the junction so that bikes and turning cars meet at right-angles, the cycleway suddenly swerves left into the blind spot of turning vans. (See for yourself here.)

That’s right – the intentional design here leads people on bikes into the blind spot of motor vehicles that might be turning. That the cycleway might have been hidden by parked vehicles until just before the junction doesn’t help.

And then, to top it off, the separation ends, usually just before the junction proper. So suddenly you’re cycling on the road, right alongside motor vehicles which may be turning across your path.

The signal phases aren’t separated either, so turning motor vehicles and bikes going straight on get a green light at the same time. This isn’t necessarily a huge issue as drivers here are used to giving way to people walking and cycling when turning on green, but as the bike lane is now right up alongside the turning cars, as soon as the front car begins to turn, the cycle lane is blocked.

This bizarrely crap design also means that the “free right turn” which is taken for granted in the Netherlands doesn’t exist here. This adds much time and effort into a journey by bike, as well as danger.

It isn’t at all like the true protected intersection [1] [2] or simultaneous green junction that bike infrastructure advocates want.

People of all ages and abilities using a simultaneous green junction by bike

Simultaneous Green junction in the Netherlands. Bikes get a green light to go in all directions at once, while all motor vehicles are held at red lights. Complete safety, as well as convenience and speed. (Photo: David Hembrow)

Unsignalled junctions

Unsignalled junctions aren’t much better. There’s little consistency for a start, every cycleway is treated differently at side-roads. (The only consistent aspect is that it’s nearly always rubbish.)

For example, here on Frankfurter Allee, rather than the cycleway continuing in a straight line or bending away from the main road at a junction, it bends towards the turning cars instead, guaranteeing poor visibility angles and reducing reaction time.

Furthermore, the cycleway drops down to carriageway level, and is marked out only in paint. In essence, it becomes a painted cycle lane, offering no protection at all.

A cycleway on Frankfurter Allee in Berlin, where bikes are suddenly diverted into the blind-spot of turning drivers for no reason at all.

The few dozen people driving into this car park have priority over the thousands of people riding and walking along here. Take a look for yourself here.

Another example, here on Schönhauser Allee, is better than above. But there’s still much wrong with it. The corner radius for turning cars is too large (it should be tight to slow down turning cars). The cycleway drops down to meet the road, there’s a visible kerb which confuses visual priority, and a bumpy change of surface on the cycleway from tiles to paint.

A cycleway crosses a minor side-road in Berlin, but the quality of implementation is poor

I know this probably looks like a dream to all my UK and US readers, but please know that this isn’t good enough.

Contrast those with the usual design for these roads in the Netherlands, where the cycleway continues at a raised level, and so does the footway – it’s the driving infrastructure which is disjointed, not walking and cycling.

The view of a Dutch-style continuous-path minor junction from the view of a bike rider. The cyclepath and footpath both continue across the junction, and the minor road is disconnected from the main road. Cars have to mount the pavement and cross both paths to get between the two roads.

There’s little doubt who has right of way from this point of view. The white squares make riders aware that there’s a potential hazard at that section, and bollards prevent cars from leaving their allotted area.

Here, turning motor vehicles must turn at a sharp angle and mount a sloped kerb, which ensures slow speeds, and cars cross the cycleway at 90º, giving good visibility. This also gives people on bikes to know that a car is turning long before any collision may occur, unlike the common German design where the bike path is right alongside the turning car, so there’s no time to react if the driver hasn’t seen you.

Better cycleways are the answer, not Vehicular Cycling

Anyway, I won’t go in to more detail about why Germany’s cycleways are poor. (And yes, I’ve been to Bremen, I wasn’t impressed there either.)

That many German cycle campaigns are anti-cycleway should tell you all you need to know: German cycleways are poor quality. But many of these campaigners, unfortunately, are campaigning for Germany to become more like the UK: i.e. painted lanes and battling for road-space with motor vehicles, and the 2% journey share that comes with it.

The way to achieve more and safer cycling – as found in a tiny, low country just to the West – is to improve the quality and design of cycleways, not to get rid of them altogether.

Anyway, I’ve gone off on a tangent here. The main point is this:

Quoting studies of poor-quality, outdated designs doesn’t disprove the very concept of separate cycleways, but instead reinforces the need for using the best designs.

Anyone who quotes studies of German cycleways as proof that all cycle infrastructure is a bad idea, is either uninformed or abusing the truth in order to mislead.

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