When living in London, we heard a lot of praise of the German cycling infrastructure by British cyclists: A wide network of bike paths which means you barely need to venture onto the road. Thoughtful drivers which are used to watch out for cyclists when turning and overtaking. Wasn’t Germany one of the few perfect countries for cycling?
But in reality it is anything but. The cycle paths in towns and cities are often not purpose build and are only separated parts of the existing pedestrian paths. You have to watch out for pedestrians as well as for cars crossing your path at junctions. Often there are parking spaces to one side of the cycling paths which means you have to look out for passengers opening doors. Sometimes tall hedges make it difficult for a car turning to see you on the bike path. Many cycling paths are in a deplorable state with holes and other obstacles such as tree roots. Often the lanes are just way too narrow which makes overtaking slower riders almost impossible.
Another problem recently caused my husband to come off his bike and break his kneecap in pieces: bollards which look rather innocent and elegant because they are grey and unflashy. They are usually installed in spaces which are prone to illegal parking. They are embedded in concrete and usually made from strong materials such as steel or concrete.
You probably pass dozens of them on a daily basis in Germany but usually you do not pay any attention to them. That changed in my case two months ago when my husband hit a bollard which was ran over by a lorry and was leaning into the cycle path. The lorry driver did not mark this place with a reflective triangle or anything like this. The grey bollard was lying on the grey surface of the cycling paths. The bollard was also in the shade of a traffic light and therefore easy to overlook.
The irony here is that my husband usually prefers to cycle on the road and often ignores the cycling paths because of all those downsides I mentioned earlier. That day when he had the accident he rode on the cycling path because it looked like being in a good shape and because I kept telling him all the time it’s more secure to use a cycling path. Well, what shall I say now? I will not repeat my advise but join in the chorus of all those cyclist demanding improvements in Frankfurt.
The cycling infrastructure is German cities such as Frankfurt is by far not as modern and not as intelligent as in Amsterdam or Copenhagen, Utrecht or Eindhoven. There is plenty of research which shows the social, the economic, environmental and the health benefits of urban cycling. Studies from Copenhagen tell us that every kilometer made on a bike enjoys a net profit of 16 cents whereas every kilometer driven in a car causes a net loss of 10 cents to society.
German cities like Oldenburg seem to get in. Frankfurt doesn’t or is stuck somewhere in between, seeming to have the will to invest, but not really knowing where and how exactly.
There has recently been a campaign in Frankfurt to improve cycling conditions, it’s called Radentscheid. People campaigning for this want more and more secure cycling paths, they want more places for bike parking and they want the city to develop a cycling friendly policy. There is a long way to achieve this. In a first step you need approximately 15 000 people living in Frankfurt signing a petition for a referendum in which everybody can vote on the plan how to improve the cycling conditions in Frankfurt. The deadline for signing the petition ended recently, and about 34 000 people signed the petition. But it’s such a shame that cyclists need to fight for such basics in a city which likes to call itself modern but still has an attitude to traffic planning like in the 50ies or 60ies. Frankfurt is a city catering for “the individual transportation of people through highways, many parking spaces, ample opportunities to park your car”.
The consequence is described here: “the current dominance of car favoring infrastructure in Frankfurt gives the daily feedback to current traffic users that only the car is in the right place whereas cyclists and pedestrians have to constantly discuss and argue for their space in the city”.