Cycle Streets in Bremen: Purpose and Reality
Fahrradstraßen – Cycle Streets – are seen, alongside cycle lanes, cycle tracks, protective strips and more, as a tool to promote cycling. The basic concept – according to Germany’s road traffic regulations – is a road without motor traffic:
“Vehicle traffic other than bicycle traffic may only be authorized exceptionally by issuing the appropriate additional signs (e.g. residential traffic).” (Road traffic regulations, StVO) and the guidelines for the construction of urban roads (RASt) define this as follows: “Vehicle traffic other than bicycle traffic (e.g. residential traffic) is permitted only on Cycle Streets as far as this is indicated by additional signs.”
How is this interpreted in the bicycle city of Bremen? Cycle Streets were invented in Bremen in 1978 by Klaus Hinte, then leader of the Transport Administration. That was very progressive at its time. Since 24.2.2014 there are even “Bremen Guidelines for the design of Cycle Streets“, summarized as follows:
At 30 km/h, motorists have to adapt their speed to cycle traffic; cyclists may ride side by side. The minimum widths of the roadways are based on the number of daily cars, but more than 5,000 cars per day are not allowed. For the most part, a Cycle Street should have priority at junctions. Before the traffic lights (LSA) bicycle protection strips and prefabricated installation areas like advanced stop lines should be set up.
So what is the purpose of Bremen’s Cycle Streets?
The goal of Cycle Streets in Bremen is officially virtually nothing, even the Bremen guidelines give only vague statements such as: “Cycle Streets are to be set up according to the concept of action VEP Bremen 2025 in the main road network and in roads with important connection functions and high bicycle traffic in the secondary road network.” The Traffic Development Plan (VEP) 2025 also defines the objectives of Cycle Streets with similar words on page 143: “Cycle Streets are used systematically to create important connections or to upgrade the main routes in the bicycle network“.
In a brand new brochure of the Bremen Senate there’s an interesting and enlightening sentence about the aims of Cycle Streets on page 139: “Cycle Streets not only offer advantages for cyclists. As part of a road oriented way of leading cyclists they help to calm down motorist traffic, and they give more space and safety to pedestrians.” A few lines further down we read that the guidelines (s.a.) should turn a Cycle Street into a better cycle path.
But do the Bremen Cycle Streets really make cycling more attractive for everyone, do they get more people onto bikes?
A Tour around Bremen’s Cycle Streets
In August 2016 a Bremenize team (Richard Grassick, Wolfgang Koehler-Naumann, Dieter Mazur and Beatrix Wupperman) checked 5 different Cycle Streets and assessed how they look, feel and work. Here’s what we found.
- Motorised traffic is allowed in all of Bremen’s Cycle Streets. There are no restrictions, not even “local residents only”. Some Cycle Streets are thoroughfares with regional traffic, for example Humboldtstraße and Parkallee.
- The behavior of drivers varies with the design of the road. Major collisions, as far as we know, have so far not occurred. But we ourselves experienced two very dangerous situations within two minutes on Humboldtstraße, both involving motorists overtaking us. In a third incident, our cameraman was almost hit by a lorry.
- The design of Cycle Streets in Bremen says little to drivers about the rules of behaviour. There is a standardized sign (sign 244.1) at the beginning with the additional sign underneath: “Auto Frei“, there is a bicycle pictogram on the road now and then, but otherwise the design is like any other street. Motorists often do not recognize that cyclists have privileges; they are annoyed by cyclists who ride side-by-side, honking, pushing and overtaking impatiently.
At the southern entrance to Parkallee, the Cycle Street sign is barely visible. As motorists exit the railway tunnel there, they generally continue at the same speed, and the behaviour described above follows.
- An evaluation of the effect of Cycle Streets on bicycle traffic has so far not been carried out. Neither is it known whether cycle traffic has increased or whether car traffic has decreased. The Advisory Council of the Östliche Vorstadt requested precisely this when approving the conversion of Humboldtstraße to a Cycle Street (with the dismantling of its cycle paths). See: http://www.ortsamtmitte.bremen.de/sixcms/media.php/13/Protokoll%20%D6stliche%20Vorstadt%2013.3..pdf (Page 3, last paragraph)
- In Scharnhorststraße, a candidate for a future Cycle Street, we found that, as the cycle path is increasingly used for car parking, the street’s trees are being endangered, as the cars are now parked on their roots. Also in Humboldtstraße today there are far fewer trees than before. The modifications were obviously not used to plant more trees, and restore the old Allee character.
- Two points on top of all this made us think especially in the light of our post about Scharnhorststraße: In the Bremen Guidelines, Cycle Streets should have priority at junctions, and they allow up to 5000 cars per day. We have our doubts. 5000 cars per day means, given there are around 18 hours of intense traffic in 24, a motorised vehicle every 12 seconds. And priority combined with straightened streets can quickly lead to cars driving faster than 30 km/h.
The nonchalance with which Bremen’s Cycle Streets are managed by the local administration in Bremen surprises us. The motto seems to be: Go forth, bold cyclists, and hope for the good will of motorists.
Cycle Streets help hidden political agendas
There is an uncomfortable impression that some Cycle Streets are created for more hidden political objectives. They are often set up rapidly in order to save the renovation costs of aging cycle paths, to preserve or create parking spaces, or to legitimate creeping abuse by re-purposeing cycle paths as car parking spaces (e.g. Scharnhorststraße and Lothringer Straße).
In Parkallee – a four-lane thoroughfare with parking spaces between trees and rather narrow cycle tracks on the pavements – the local advisory council had actually intended to convert a full lane of the road in each direction (parking cars outside the parking bays) to a bicycle lane. The CDU (Conservative Party), however, feared for parking and asked instead for a Cycle Street.
On the other hand, there are signs that the ADFC – who tended to support those types of Cycle Streets in Bremen – are changing their view, preferring cycle lanes to a Cycle Street in Parkallee (Read more in pedal 3/2016, p. 11):
“In der Parkallee führen die in der zweiten Reihe neu eingerichteten Parkplätze zu Konflikten. Wie in der H.-H.-Meier-Allee wäre hier eine durchgehende Fahrradspur auf beiden Seiten die richtige Lösung.“
For the history of the Parkallee discussion see our post.
What is the difference between a Cycle Street in Bremen and any other road?
- Sure, we can cycle side by side, but that seems to be about it.
- Whether or not motorists stick to the invisible rules of Cycle Streets seems to be irrelevant. Their behavior is not checked anyway.
- There are almost no structural measures to mitigate the pace of motorized traffic. And again there seem to be no speed controls.
- Bremen does not even want to spend money on colouring the road surface.
- Through traffic, i.e. traffic without any special concern in the street, is not prohibited.
- A cost-benefit analysis or at least an evaluation of the effect of the road design on the bicycle share appears not to be something that interests the responsible authority.
- The Green Senator for Traffic also fails to identify any quantifiable targets i.e. in the direction of Climate Change and/or sustainable and livable cities.
Pride in Bremen’s cycling history – and the wish to make it continue – cannot be doubted. However, the combined effects of austerity and the unresolved contradictions between the desires of different traffic types, point to lowest-cost and lowest-common-denominator compromises. Cycle Streets meet these criteria perfectly, as they require little more than signage and pictograms. And they have the added advantage of greenwash in the name.