Seeing Red

Bremen’s tortuous route to something resembling a Cycling City took another step forward this month with the re-surfacing of the oft-plagued cycle street Parkallee.

Regular readers of our blog will know that this semi-main artery for through traffic – it is one of the less-busy branches off the 30,000-vehicles-per-day Stern roundabout – has already been the subject of various traffic management experiments. In every case, proposals have involved the removal of existing cycleways on either side of the road, and their replacement with some form of on-road cycling. Each proposal has been dogged by conflicting demands. In an area with relatively high car ownership, local residents have been routinely double parking their vehicles on this dual carriageway street. Cyclists have been looking for more space than the ageing cycleways offer, not least as the street will be a key stretch of Bremen’s first Premium Cycle Route

The initial “solution” was to create a classic Cycle Street Bremen style, putting cyclists on the road with motor traffic, putting up a few signs, and reducing the speed limit to 30kph. But within months, complaints of dangerous “near misses” and actual collisions between cyclists and motorists were going public. Increasingly, cyclists were reverting to the old cycleways.


Parkallee, southern entrance before the red paint, Foto: Beatrix Wupperman

We should not forget, that cyclists did not approve of being thrown on the road a few years ago. It’s worth reminding ourselves of the recent history of cycling policy in Bremen. In fact, the removal of cycle tracks, and their replacement with on-road cycling, is a common theme running through contemporary traffic policy in Bremen. A marketing campaign in 2014 tried to encourage cyclists to use the road rather than cycleways, the argument being that on-road cycling was objectively safer. Cycle Streets themselves have in recent years tended to be developed at the expense of often ageing cycleways, that are too narrow or too bumpy. But taking them away has led to the situation that a good number of cyclists still ride on the pavement i.e. the space of their former cycling infrastructure. This now is followed, consequently, by complaints of pedestrians about “unreasonable” cyclists e.g. in Humboldtstrasse.”

Now the local council has agreed a proposal that takes the paradigm of on-road cycling in a Cycle City to its logical conclusion. A bright-red surfaced cycleway has been built on the road, wide enough to accommodate Premium Route levels of cycle traffic. But the catch is that motorised traffic will also – still – be free to use the “cycleway” as if it was a normal street.


New design – hope for happiness? Foto: Beatrix Wupperman

Anecdotal evidence from interviews in our video suggest that the move has been – largely – welcomed by cyclists. But others are wary of inviting motorists to use what looks in every other aspect like a cycleway. Will the psychology lead to lower speeds and more patient driving, or will it just take a few weeks for motorists to get used to the new environment and revert back to trying to overtake those pesky slow cyclists?


Let’s continue with illegal parking! Foto: Beatrix Wupperman

And there is also the matter of maintenance. Surfaces designed for cycling will not last nearly as long when heavy motorised traffic is also regularly using this street. Will the maintenance budget be up to maintaining the bright red colour?

In many ways, this attempt at solving a cycling city’s traffic problems without disturbing the demands of motorists is the logical end point. Through access for motorised traffic has been maintained. Parking space has been retained, and indeed increased. Pedestrians have wider pavements. But if collisions continue now, there really will only be one way forward – limit or indeed abolish the right of motorised vehicles to use the street at all.


The Parkallee opinion poll Foto: Beatrix Wupperman

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