After Corona (2): When will Bremen get Protected Bike Lanes?
Shortly before the outbreak of the pandemic, several protected bike lanes were announced in Bremen. In the meantime, we in Germany are in the middle of the second wave of infection – with a kind of “lockdown light”. Already during the first wave, cycle lanes were quickly and easily set up on multi-lane roads in many cities around the world and also in many German cities. These cities have thus responded to the changed conditions and the changing needs of their citizens during the pandemic.
In contrast, Bremen has so far not responded to the pandemic with a single pop-up cycle path.
Now, measured by the frequency of use of this mode of transport, Bremen is often referred to as a “bicycle city”. However, this is not a foregone conclusion. In addition, the weakening of public transport due to the pandemic is currently making bicycle traffic the driving force behind the turnaround. It would therefore be a pity if Bremen were to lose its connection due to a lack of adequate cycling infrastructure. Bremen has already achieved a lot with the model bicycle district in the Neustadt and the establishment of several cycle streets. However, despite these efforts, a comprehensive network of cycle routes does not yet exist. Protected cycle lanes on the major trunk roads are needed for this purpose.
On the other hand, this year the press also reported that the conversion of car lanes into cycle paths may not be legally permissible – at least not without comprehensive planning and public participation. So is Bremen’s wait-and-see approach a wise strategy?
In this blog post, the following questions will therefore be addressed:
1 Why do we need protected bike lanes?
2. Are there legal impediments – and if so, which ones?
3 What can we expect from the Bremen state government?
1 Why do we need protected bike lanes at all?
It was already clear at the beginning of April that the pandemic would put our transport policy and urban planning into a kind of inner conflict:
- The need to keep a distance is reducing public space, especially for foot and cycle traffic, which is unprotected from epidemics;
- public transport is being avoided; many people are changing to bicycles or cars or are walking;
- the overall volume of traffic decreases because of home office or contact restrictions; therefore, relatively large amounts of space are freed up on the roadways – at least at times of high infection rates.
This creates problems for environmental connectivity, i.e. walking, cycling and public transport, but also opportunities for a redistribution of traffic areas and public space.
With the establishment of residents’ parking zones and parking space management, Bremen is currently beginning to address these problems of the redistribution of public space in residential areas. This too is not so much a reaction to the pandemic as a result of long-planned concepts and participation procedures. These measures are very welcome, as they will help to make walking in residential areas attractive again.
But redistribution should not only concern stationary traffic, but also large, multi-lane roads. Here, spatial redistribution must be in favour of cycle traffic. Only if this redistribution takes place and public transport and car sharing are strengthened we can prevent many people from switching back to private cars for lack of attractive alternatives.
In view of this, many cities have taken logical and plausible measures, providing more space for walking and cycling, and maintaining or even increasing public transport capacity despite lower occupancy rates. While many cities around the world spontaneously opened their lanes for pedestrians and cyclists, Germany had a number of pop-up cycle paths starting in Berlin only after some delay.
The principle of pop-up cycle paths is very simple: on multi-lane roads, one lane is converted for cycle traffic. The traffic area is marked with a continuous yellow stripe and provided with bicycle symbols on the road and corresponding traffic signs. In many cases, for example in Berlin, pop-up cycle paths are also “protected bike lanes”. These are cycle lanes at road level, separated from the motor vehicle lanes by elements such as bollards, flower pots, kerbstones or beacons. This prevents both vehicles driving over and parking on the cycle paths.
After a long period of controversy as to whether cyclists are safest on separate cycle lanes on the hard shoulder or integrated into the carriageway (in so-called mixed traffic), protected bike lanes are now considered the “gold standard” in traffic planning. This is because cyclists are best protected both on the route through the bollards and at junctions due to their extensive integration into the traffic and their visibility (see our contribution by Beatrix Wupperman). In addition, the distribution problem, which has so far mainly existed between pedestrian and bicycle traffic, is shifted to the roadway in favour of pedestrian traffic, which gets more space too. This is in response to the realisation that in German city centres there is far more space available for motor vehicle traffic than would be justified by its share in total traffic movements.
The first German pop-up cycle path of the pandemic period was established at the end of March 2020 at „Hallesches Ufer“ in Berlin. Numerous other cycle paths of this kind followed, first in Berlin, then in other German cities such as Leipzig, Hamburg, Düsseldorf, Stuttgart, Munich, Erlangen and Nuremberg. Still other cities such as Osnabrück already had previously protected bike lanes.
The pop-up cycle paths in the Berlin district of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg were initially explicitly established as a corona measure: to enable cyclists (and occasionally pedestrians on narrow hard shoulders) to maintain hygienic distances and to cope with the increased volume of cycle traffic or to offer a climate-friendly alternative for people who no longer want to use public transport.
2. Why now? Is it legally compliant in the short term? Or are there legal impediments?
However, the justification as a spontaneous corona measure according to the conventional understanding of German traffic law offered an open flank to complaining motorists: in response to an urgent application by a Berlin AfD (Alternative für Deutschland, a far right” (in parts extremely right wing) party) member of parliament, the Berlin Administrative Court initially ruled that the cycle paths were probably illegal. They would therefore have to be dismantled for the time being. However, the court in no way held that the conversion of car lanes into cycle lanes was not legally permissible. On the contrary, the Berlin Senate Administration should have justified its establishment merely on the basis of concrete dangers in road traffic.
This was relatively easy to prove using the accident statistics for Berlin. The Senate Administration was therefore successful with an appeal to the Higher Administrative Court of Berlin-Brandenburg: the pop-up cycle paths can remain for the time being. For the time being, as they were planned to be temporary anyway and the decision was only made in a preliminary summary procedure. Otherwise it would have been possible to make them permanent with the same justification.
According to the logic of Berlin’s administrative courts, protected bike lanes have nothing to do with the infection figures of the pandemic. Therefore, the only thing that matters is the justification of these cycle lanes as a reaction to concrete safety deficits on site. However, this is a view that is already controversial from a legal point of view and does not do justice to the transport policy motives of “protected bike lanes”.
After all, according to the German Road Traffic Act (German Vehicle Code), “traffic regulations do not necessarily require reasons of traffic safety. Rather, traffic regulation can also justify traffic control (such as prohibiting cars to establish a bike lane). According to the case law of the Federal Administrative Court, this also includes the ease of bicycle traffic. In other words, if many cyclists would otherwise feel unsafe and uncomfortable on narrow cycle paths in poor condition, it may also be necessary to convert a car lane. This is another justifiable reason to create more cycle lanes is that there are fewer motor vehicles on the road anyway as a direct result of the pandemic.
This also means, however, that the pandemic is an opportunity to establish protected bike lanes at least temporarily. This would then as an exception be possible on roads where the installation would otherwise not occur due to capacity limits for motor traffic. However, it should also be legally possible to permanently rededicate many of the pop-up cycle lanes provisionally established during the pandemic to cycle traffic. This already happens in Berlin, where the urban district of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg just decided to keep the bike lanes.https://www.tagesspiegel.de/berlin/bezirke/nicht-nur-zu-corona-zeiten-pop-up-radweg-soll-dauerhaft-bleiben/26638160.html
3. Why not here so far – in Bremen?
If the conversion of car lanes does not present any major legal obstacles, the question arises why there are still no protected bike lanes in the cycle city of Bremen. There are some locations that have already been identified as suitable – and, as already mentioned, at the request of the governmental factions (SPD, Greens, Left Party), even a decision of the city council in February 2020. According to this, the Friedrich-Ebert-Straße and Martini-Straße are the most suitable locations. A protected bike lane is also planned on the Wall, where a premium cycle route is to be established.
In the meantime, there is also a proposal by the CDU in the Transport Committee of the Bremen Mitte Advisory Council to establish a protected bike lane on a short section of the Rembertiring. A gap in this cycle route could be closed by removing some car parking spaces. The four-lane Parkallee is also being considered as suitable in principle, where many cyclists share a relatively narrow path along the park in oncoming traffic – at least theoretically.
Bremen wants to act with Hanseatic dignity
In other words: a lot is in the planning stage and well under way! However, in contrast to Berlin, Bremen has chosen the path of Hanseatic dignity in this case: instead of building up provisional arrangements, which continue to be regarded as legally insecure by the Senator for Climate Protection, Environment, Mobility and Urban Planning, the intention in Bremen is to put one’s money where one’s mouth is. Premium cycle routes are to be created which also include protected bike lanes. The planning is probably furthest along the protected bike lane on the Wall.
In itself, this careful and rather thoughtful planning makes perfect sense. After all, Bremen has created Germany’s first bicycle zone in the Neustadt in this way! A further bicycle quarter is to be built at Ellener Hof. Perhaps the infrastructure created on the basis of Bremen’s transport development planning will survive many pandemic rushes in other cities.
Nevertheless, it would also be important to take advantage of the current upswing in bicycle traffic, both nationwide and globally. In February 2020, the Senator promised a report on the status of the planning of protected cycle lanes, which – after repeated postponements – will be presented in the Deputation at the beginning of December (update: according to information given from the Senators office on November, 27th the report will be presented in January or February 2021). There are justifiably high expectations that protected bike lanes will now also be created. After all, it would be quite possible to install some of the protected bike lanes at particularly suitable locations even before the entire planning process is completed.
In order to meet the changing needs during pandemic times and to seize the current opportunity for change, we are calling for the construction of protected bike lanes to begin in early 2021. Only by further expanding the cycling infrastructure, which also appeals to cautious potential cyclists, can Bremen and Bremerhaven successfully master the challenges of the traffic transition, even in view of the limited use of public transport.