Accessibility (Part 3): Participation in Traffic

Introduction

The city of Bremen is facing a major challenge. It is obliged to design traffic space in an inclusive way, enabling equal participation of all road users and modes of transport. This follows from the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), which has been incorporated into federal and Bremen laws (see part 1).

The concern for mobility for all has been neglected over the last hundred years since mass motorisation after the First World War until the 21st century. For a long time, the measure of all things in transport and urban planning was the automobile, not the human being with all his or her physical and mental possibilities.

The concept of accessibility and equal participation with different means of transport is also fundamental for an ecological transport transition. They provide important arguments for transport and urban planning that opens up the exclusive focus from motorised individual transport to other, more diverse forms of mobility. The requirements for accessibility show that valuable public space must be used more sparingly. Simple technical solutions are not enough. Simply changing the type of drive in motorised individual transport does not solve the increasing shortage of space in inner cities and the problem of blocked cycle paths and footpaths. A people-oriented change in transport for liveable cities with a better quality of life needs better, more flexible and space-saving alternatives to the automobile.

On the other hand, goals such as climate protection and the avoidance of noise and exhaust fumes in cities sometimes conflict with accessibility and participation. Some people with mobility impairments depend on their own car for their mobility. However, it is precisely these people who could benefit from the mobility transition if it were possible to reduce the overall number and size of motor vehicles and thus create space for more special parking spaces and privileged access for people with mobility impairments.

The two articles already published (Parts 1 and 2) were dedicated to one of the most pressing problems of accessibility in Bremen: pavements blocked by motor vehicles, especially in residential areas.  The legal situation was explained with reference to two aspects:

* Establishment of non-accessible parking spaces in street planning (see part 1); 

* lack of enforcement of non-designated parking on pavements by parking enforcement (see Part 2). 

The following article will focus on accessibility and equal participation in all vehicular traffic, i.e. bicycle traffic, motor vehicle traffic and public transport.

Cycling and special bikes

Cycling is not often associated with people who have a disability. However, there are now a variety of special cycles on the market that are precisely adapted to these needs. For example, there are the so-called hand bikes, which are powered by hand cranks.

The possibilities of special cycles are now extended by the option of electromobile support. So what is the legal definition of a special cycle?

What is considered a cycle under German road traffic law is defined in § 63a StVZO. This also includes, for example, the hand bikes mentioned above. Muscle-powered vehicles with more than two wheels are also considered cycles under road traffic law. There are now also various models of tandems and rickshaws for people with disabilities. These are often tricycles, so they are wider than conventional bicycles.

Since the introduction of the so-called pedelecs, there are also cycles (or hand-cycles) with an electric motor or electric pedal assistance. There are technical requirements for this, e.g. the pedal assistance may only be effective up to a speed of 25 km/h and push assistance, i.e. even without additional pedalling, is permitted up to 6 km/h.

Cycles are distinguished from wheelchair types, which typically travel more slowly, i.e. at walking speed. So-called push and push-rim wheelchairs are classified as “special means of transport” (similar to prams or pedal scooters) in accordance with § 24 para. 1 StVO, so that they are included with pedestrian traffic and treated according to its rules. It is somewhat more complicated with e-wheelchairs: According to § 16 para. 2 StVZO, wheelchairs with auxiliary drive, which can drive up to 6 km/h due to their construction, are not vehicles. Therefore, it also applies to them that they should drive on the pavements.

However, there are also possibilities to flexibly extend push rim wheelchairs with a pre-tension hand bike or e-pretension hand bike to a cycle in the sense of the StVO. This means that cycle paths must also be made usable for wheelchair users.

Requirements for barrier-free cycle paths

In general, the increase in hand bikes and other special cycles, including cargo bikes, makes it necessary to make cycle paths in Bremen barrier-free. This results from the Bremen Guideline on the Barrier-Free Design of Structural Transport Facilities of 2020 (section 5.7).

Currently, according to the administrative regulations of the StVO, constructed cycle paths should have a width of at least 1.50 m and preferably 2.00 m (VwV-StVO to § 2, marginal no. 18).  For cycle lanes, the regular width is even less, at 1.85 m (marginal no. 19). Similarly, the Recommendation for Cycling Facilities (ERA) of the Road and Traffic Research Association refers to the Bremen Guideline on Accessibility in Traffic. The recommendation stipulates a minimum width of 1.60 m for low traffic volumes and an optimal width of at least 2.00 m (ERA 2021, Table 5, p. 16). In the case of a bi-directional cycle track existing only on one side of the road, a minimum width of 2.50 m and a standard width of 3.00 m is envisaged.

In order to be able to overtake safely on cycle paths or to pass each other safely on two-way cycle paths, twice the width of the special bikes available on the market plus a safety distance should be estimated. Typically, hand bikes are between 80 and 90 cm wide. However, according to § 32 para. 9 no. 1 StVZO, single-track bicycles may be up to 1.00 m wide in corresponding application, multi-track special cycles (i.e. three or four-wheeled cycles, e.g. rickshaws) even 2.00 m wide.

Accessibility follows, as already presented in another article, as a legal requirement from the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. In Bremen, it was transposed into state law in § 8 para. 5 of the Bremen Equal Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities Act (BremBGG) and in § 10 para. 1 sentence 2, 2nd half sentence of the Bremen State Roads Act (BremLStrG) for the areas of construction and transport. Public roads, squares and paths must therefore be designed to be barrier-free in accordance with the relevant legal provisions.

Therefore, care must be taken to plan cycle paths wider than before. Only then can the increased number of special bikes with electric assistance as well as cargo bikes and electric scooters be taken into account. The question is, however, which new width should be used as a basis for cycle paths.

According to the Berlin Mobility Act, cycle paths should have a sufficient width for the safe overtaking of cycles. Traffic planners recommend 1.00 m as the traffic space for individual cyclists, which is made up of the vehicle width of 60 cm and 20 cm on each side for swaying movements for balancing. In addition, there is a safety space of 25 cm each to other cyclists and to the carriageway or pavement (Schimmelpfennig / Hoffmeister /Schulte, VRR 2021, 215-219, 216). Therefore, according to a calculation by the ADFC Berlin, a bicycle lane for safe overtaking would have to be 2.50 m wide. This is significantly wider than the ERA dimensions used so far in Bremen.

This calculation should then also be sufficient for most special cycles, which are often designed as tricycles or quad cycles and therefore do not need any room to swing out of balance. However, they are often much wider overall than conventional bicycles and need similar safety margins when overtaking.

The more generous dimensions would have to be taken into account accordingly in the construction of new cycling infrastructure as a whole, i.e. also for shared pavements and cycle paths, cycle lanes and protective lanes. Even when renovating the existing infrastructure, simple cycle lanes should no longer be planned with the currently valid minimum width of 1.50 m, but with at least 2.50 m – with corresponding surcharges for two-directional cycle lanes or busy routes. This increased space requirement for cycling must not be at the expense of the pedestrian infrastructure, which is already far too limited in Bremen. On the contrary, the areas that have so far been generously dimensioned for stationary traffic or motor vehicle lanes must be converted.

Bollards and barriers

Special attention should be paid to bollards or barriers, so-called circulation barriers, which are installed in pedestrian and cycling infrastructure. On the one hand, to prevent pedestrians and cyclists from entering or passing too quickly on lanes that run at right angles to the cycle track. Secondly, more recently as so-called modal filters, which are used in traffic calming measures to block through traffic from motor vehicles.

In many cases, these bollards themselves become obstacles to accessibility. Therefore, where they are absolutely necessary, care should be taken that the bollards are not set too narrowly, so that at least 1.00 to 1.50 m of space is left for wheelchairs and hand bikes to pass through.

Participation in motor vehicle traffic

A change in transport towards sustainable mobility must also take into account the rights of mobility-impaired drivers to participate. For participation in motor vehicle traffic, it is crucial that sufficient special parking spaces are provided. In addition, access roads to pedestrian zones should be kept free to allow access for people with disabilities. This is because people with limited mobility should not have to travel long and arduous distances from their vehicle to their destination. There are already relatively well-established regulations for this, such as the blue EU parking permit. Therefore, the often heard argument that car-free city centres are not possible because of the mobility needs of disabled people is in many cases a pretext. On the contrary, it is rather the lack of availability of parking spaces close to home or to the destination that causes problems for mobility-impaired drivers.

People with an exceptional walking disability (aG), but also other disabilities such as amelia, phocomelia or blindness, can apply for the blue EU parking permit, from the Bremen Office for Roads and Traffic (ASV) in accordance with § 46 Para. 1 No. 11 StVO. The prerequisite for the recognition of an exceptional walking disability is that they can only move outside their motor vehicle with the help of others or only with great effort.

Among other things, this card entitles the holder to:

  • use special parking spaces marked with a wheelchair user symbol, 
  • to park for up to three hours in restricted no-parking zones (so-called “Parkverbot”, VZ 286) or in residents’ parking zones, 
  • to exceed permitted parking times, 
  • to use pedestrian zones with exceptions for loading and unloading, 
  • to park in traffic-calmed zones outside the designated parking areas. 

In addition, holders of the card can also apply to have a specially marked personal parking space (§ 45 StVO) reserved in the immediate vicinity of the entitled person’s home or place of work in the public traffic area. Overall, care should be taken to provide sufficient special parking spaces.

It can be seen from these options that the reduction and restriction of legal parking possibilities for the vehicles of non-disabled people offers many more possibilities for people with disabilities. Overall, it should become easier for them to find nearby parking facilities. It is therefore incorrect to say that restrictions on motor vehicle traffic are in principle detrimental to people with disabilities.

Barrier-free environmental transport

Holders of a disabled person’s card with a degree of disability of 50% or more (severely disabled persons) can use local public transport free of charge in accordance with § 228 SGB IX upon presentation of their card. However, this is only a real help if there are no barriers to the potential use.

It is true that from 01.01.2022 special legal requirements will apply to the accessibility of public transport everywhere in Germany. However, this does not de facto eliminate all problems. There are still stops in Bremen and the surrounding area that are not barrier-free. In addition, it makes sense to look at the environmental network as a whole. After all, mobility with public transport also includes the stops and the routes to them and to the respective destinations. Public transport therefore always includes access points, as mobility must be thought of comprehensively from door to door. There is still a lot to be done here in Bremen, especially with regard to footpaths and bus stops.

As long as accessibility is not guaranteed, at least information about barrier-free mobility should be made accessible as clearly and comprehensively as possible.

Legal obligation for barrier-free local transport planning

On 01.01.2022, all local public transport in Germany is to be made barrier-free. This ranges from overcoming the steep station stairs with a lift, widening a passageway that is too narrow, acoustic and visual stop announcements, to marking a door opening mechanism that is clearly visible but difficult to “grasp” with Braille. The fact that complete accessibility is the goal has even been legally anchored in the Passenger Transportation Act (PBefG) since 2013. Section 8 (3) sentence 3 PBefG states:

The local transport plan must take into account the concerns of people with reduced mobility or sensory impairments with the aim of achieving complete accessibility for the use of local public transport by 1 January 2022.

The fact that this target is formulated in a somewhat tortuous manner is not untypical for corresponding participation or benefit claims. A close reading shows that the obligation formulated in the sentence first of all affects the creators of the local transport plan. In the following sentences there are also some restrictions. For example, according to § 8 para. 3 sentence 4 PBefG, it is possible to deviate from the deadline. However, exceptions must be specifically named and justified in the local transport plan.

In addition, the planning process requires that existing entrepreneurs be involved at an early stage. Disability representatives or advisory boards, associations of passengers with reduced mobility or sensory impairments and passenger associations must also be consulted. The respective interests must be taken into account in the planning process in an appropriate and non-discriminatory manner.

Through this pressure to justify and the strong inclusion of voices in favour of accessibility, considerable progress has been made in recent years. Admittedly, there are still stops and stations where accessibility is not guaranteed, in Bremen for example the stations Neustadt, Sebaldsbrück and Hemelingen, and in the surrounding area the stations Heidkrug and Dreye. Local (BSAG) buses are also a problem.

“Route:Able” as a model – information on accessibility in Bremen

As long as public transport and the rest of the transport infrastructure is not yet completely barrier-free, there should be more offers to find out about routes that can already be used without problems. Although the VBN (Bremen’s public transport network) already provides information on accessibility (see https://www.vbn.de/mobilitaet/barrierefreiheit), this is not the case. Up to now, users of public transport or roads and paths have had to search for information in different places without being able to use a comprehensive route planner, as is currently being developed for Baden-Württemberg (Route:Able).

Conclusion

Overall, accessibility in transport is an important cross-cutting issue, but its importance is only gradually being recognised in Bremen’s transport policy and administration. The greatest deficits in Bremen are probably in the area of pedestrian traffic. This is because many older people and people with disabilities are dependent on walking aids or wheelchairs. Neither the narrow and mostly illegally parked footpaths nor the many roadways in Bremen with roughly paved or damaged road surfaces meet the requirements for barrier-free access.  However, the same is true in the area of cycling infrastructure, which is increasingly used for special cycles with or without an e-assist motor. Here, too, many existing paths are far too narrow and often additionally damaged. 

As far as participation in motor vehicle traffic is concerned, it is only superficially opposed to the goals of a transport transition. Rather, a reduction and limitation of legal car parking spaces would improve the possibilities for drivers with a blue EU parking permit. The prerequisite is that enough special parking spaces are available. As far as public transport is concerned, it is foreseeable that the goal of complete accessibility set for 01.01.2022 cannot be met. This makes it all the more important to provide Bremen with a route planner that takes into account the different needs of all road users.

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