Munich bicycle riders seek freedom from confined spaces

In 2009, Munich’s City Council set the target of increasing the share of bicycle traffic from 14% to 17% of all trips by 2015 and embarked on a creative marketing campaign called Bicycle Capital Munich to help make it a reality. Today, the City faces an awkward dilemma. The latest numbers show that they have reached the 17% goal four years ahead of schedule. Now, they must decide whether to continue actively promoting cycling, set a higher target, or simply be content with their success.

However, the problem has spread beyond a mere quandary about the need for “promotion” to a quite serious safety situation. The cycling boom has been accompanied by rising concerns about inadequate cycling facilities. Many who work for the city will admit the swelling number of people on bikes has caught them a bit off guard. And, the existing infrastructure, commonly 4 to 5 foot cycle tracks built two to three decades ago, is no longer adequate to serve the growing demand, and conflicts with pedestrians are on the rise.

Coming from a city that has experienced its own cycling boom – from 2% to 8% commute share in 12 years – the issues of bicycle volumes exceeding capacity on the most popular routes is all too familiar.  Now, the bicycling community in Munich is fighting for the right to use busy streets alongside motorists. The hottest issue among bicycle advocates in Munich appears to be the fight to eliminate rules obligating people on bikes to use narrow cycle tracks. The sign sporting the blue circle with bike symbol means riders must use the designated cycle track, which in the case of a narrow cycle track is increasingly viewed as more of a restriction rather than being granted permission.

The most fascinating aspect of Munich’s dilemma, for me, is the fact that the bicycle community is demanding wide bike lanes rather than cycle tracks. On two popular bicycle routes, i.e., Seidlstrasse and Rosenheimerstrasse, the cycle tracks have been decommissioned and replaced with wide bike lanes (2 meters) on the roadway.   On Seidlstrasse, the only signs of the old roadway configuration are faint lines where the old travel lanes were once marked. The asphalt that once delineated the abandoned cycle track has been removed and replaced with the standard pavers used for Munich sidewalks. The width of the new bike lanes seems to offer ample space for riding side-by-side comfortably despite the steady flow of traffic. There are still some who prefer to have a separated cycle track, I learned from local experts. But most recognize widening the cycle track would require a complete, and costly, rebuild of the street. For now, it seems wide bike lanes are considered a big improvement and they allow the City to more immediately address the most hazardous conditions.

At the moment, the conversion of Rosenheimerstrasse is a work in progress. The asphalt of the old cycle track remains, but the signs clearly instruct riders that they are now prohibited to ride there. At the southern end of the street, a sign (white with red circle and bicycle symbol) has been erected forbidding people on bike from entering the cycle track. I still saw several people using the old cycle track, but most seemed content to follow direction and enter the roadway.  This cycle track will soon be removed and the entire space will be given over to the sidewalk – which actually represents a bit of “mobility justice”.

You see, back in the 70s and 80s, Munich officials came to the realization that increasing automobile traffic was a threat to the City’s quality of life. As a result, they decided to build cycle tracks on nearly every major street in town. However, when they went to install the bicycle facility the travel lane was generally not touched, and the space was instead carved out of the sidewalk. The tight conditions for people both on bicycles and on foot have set the stage for the tensions that now exist. Only, today, the position of those advocating for bicycling and walking is much stronger. The question still remains, is it strong enough to push for the removal of a travel lane or on-street parking where ever it is necessary.

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About Denver Igarta

This blog was established to document my search for streets that my 5-year old can play near without my constant supervision. Where kids can live active lives and learn independence. My quest began when I was selected as an Urban and Regional Policy Fellow by the German Marshall Fund, for info: gmfus.org/cdp/fellowships. I am a multi-modal transportation planner for the City of Portland (OR), America's sustainable transportation capital. SHORT BIO/PROJECT DESCRIPTION Denver Igarta (October-November 2011), Urban Planner, City of Portland Bureau of Transportation Project: Livable Streets Where People Live: Fostering People-Friendly Streets by De-emphasizing Automobile Traffic in Residential Areas Cities: Munich, Rotterdam, Copenhagen, Malmö Denver Igarta is an urban planner with the Transportation Bureau of the City of Portland. He works on a broad range of transportation policy, street design initiatives and pedestrian, bicycle and freight planning efforts. He recently served as one of the principal authors of Portland's new bicycle plan. He is currently staffing two “active transportation” projects: a rails-with-trails project along the Banfield Freeway and a local street system plan for one of the state's most diverse neighborhoods. He performed his graduate studies at the University of Dortmund, Germany and the University of the Philippines and holds a Master of Science in Regional Development Planning. Portland is struggling to reverse generations of auto-oriented development patterns and make neighborhood streets more “livable” (people-friendly) by restoring their multimodal and placemaking functions. Mr. Igarta's research will evaluate how cities in Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Sweden have enacted policies to restore the multiple functions of public streets through traffic management, green infrastructure and giving priority to sustainable travel modes. He will meet with local practitioners, policymakers and civic leaders involved in transportation planning, traffic safety and neighborhood livability projects, street design, and implementation of multi-modal traffic policies. The ultimate aim of the study is to compile a set of best practices and policies implemented in European cities that have broadened the role of residential streets beyond automobile mobility. Additional focus will be given to understanding how acceptable policy tradeoffs are determined within city agencies and the level of public support for measures that restrict car movements, such as reduced speed zones, bicycle streets, shared spaces, residents-only streets and residential parking restrictions.
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3 Responses to Munich bicycle riders seek freedom from confined spaces

  1. Roger Geller says:

    Build for the masses?

    It’d be interesting to hear about their successful marketing campaign. Malmo also conducted a marketing campaign promoting alternatives to driving (that was the “ridiculous car trip” campaign, or something like that). I wonder how successful they’ve been?

  2. I’m skeptical of the switch from cycletrack to bike lane. The picture where the person is being diverted to the bike lane, it appears the bike lane is not much wider than the cycle track and the cycle track seems it could be made wider by converting some of the grass to asphalt.

    I suppose we see the downside to implementing substandard cycletracks– people don’t want to use them. Let that be a warning to Portland and other cities looking to increase the cycling rates.

  3. Pingback: 10 Melhores Cidades Para Pedalar. - CaliCultural

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