Germany opens first stretch of bicycle highways

3rd Jan 2016 | NEWS

Study estimates this track should take 50,000 cars off the roads everyday.

AFP reports that Germany has just opened the first 5km stretch of a traffic-free bicycle highway that is set to span to over 100km that will be running largely along relinquished railroad tracks and will be connected to 10 western cities in the Ruhr region.

Cities to be connected include Duisburg, Bochum and Hamm and four universities. Martin Toennes of regional development group RVR stated that almost two million people living within the 2km of the route and will be able to use sections for their commute. A study by the group calculates the track should take 50,000 cars off the roads every day.

This new bicycle routes are a luxury upgrade from the aging single-lane bike paths common in German cities where tree roots can create irregular speed bumps.

This new bicycle routes are around 4 meters (13 feet) wide, have overtaking lanes and will usually cross roads via overpasses and underpasses. This paths are also very well lit and will be cleared of snow during winters.

Just like any infrastructure projects, this bicycle highways is also facing headwinds, especially when it comes to funding and financing. In Germany, this situation is complicated because while the federal government generally builds and maintains motor-, rail- and waterways, cycling infrastructure is the responsibility of their local authorities. For the Ruhr region’s initial five-kilometer rapid track, the cost was shared which the European Union funding half, North Rhine-Westphalia state funds 30 percent and the RVR investing 20 percent.

Toennes said talks are ongoing to rustle up 180 million euros for the entire 100-kilometre route, with the state government, run by centre-left Social Democrats and the Greens party, planning legislation to take the burden off municipalities.

“Without (state) support, the project would have no chance,” said Toennes, pointing to the financial difficulties many local governments would face in paying for maintenance, lighting and snow clearance.

In Berlin, a heavily indebted city-state, the conservative CDU party has proposed a private financing model based in part on advertising along the route.

“The bike highways are new in Germany,” said Birgit Kastrup, in charge of the Munich project. “We must find a new concept for funding them.”

The German Bicycle Club ADFC argues that, since about 10 percent of trips in the country are now done by bicycle, cycling infrastructure should get at least 10 percent of federal transport funding.

“Building highways in cities is a life-threatening recipe from the 1960s,” said its manager Burkhard Stork. “No one wants more cars in cities.”