First bike highway in Germany opens

Germany has just opened the first 5km stretch of a bicycle highway that is set to span over 100km.
Germany has just opened the first 5km stretch of a bicycle highway that is set to span over 100km. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

BERLIN • It is every cyclist's dream: No red lights, no trucks, just a clear, smooth lane to zoom down with the wind in your face. Welcome to Germany's first bicycle Autobahn.

Fans hail the smooth new velo routes as the answer to urban traffic jams and air pollution.

Germany has just opened the first 5km stretch of a bicycle highway that is set to span over 100km. It will connect 10 western cities including Duisburg, Bochum and Hamm, and four universities, running along disused railroad tracks in the Ruhr industrial region.

Almost two million people live within two kilometres of the route and will be able to use sections for their daily commutes, said Mr Martin Toennes of regional development group RVR.

Aided by booming demand for electric bikes, the new track should take 50,000 cars off the roads every day, an RVR study predicts.

The idea, pioneered in the Netherlands and Denmark, is gaining traction elsewhere in Germany, too. In Berlin, city administrators this month began a feasibility study on connecting the city centre with the south-western suburb.

The new velo routes are an upgrade from the ageing single- lane bike paths common in many German cities. They are lit, around 4m wide, have overtaking lanes and cross roads via overpasses and underpasses.

Like most infrastructure projects, the bicycle Autobahn is facing headwinds, such as financing. For the Ruhr region's 5km track, the cost was shared, with the European Union funding half, North Rhine-Westphalia state 30 per cent and the RVR investing 20 per cent.

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

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

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

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 30, 2015, with the headline 'First bike highway in Germany opens'. Print Edition | Subscribe