Cycle Streets are an important issue in Bremen. Over the coming weeks we’ll be publishing a short series of posts on the theme. The first comes from Gudrun Eickelberg, a Green politician and artist.
In recent years, Bremen’s status as a Cycling City has been officially articulated by setting up a number of so-called Fahrradstraßen – Cycle Streets. For example, Bremen’s Transport Development Plan 2025 states that “Cycle Streets (…) are to be established in the main cycle network and in roads with an important connection function and high cycling traffic”.
Bremen’s Guidelines for Roads and Traffic specify conditions for Cycle Streets. In principle, the speed limit is 30km/h, and drivers have to adapt to the speed of the cyclists. With approximately the same amount of cycle and motor vehicle traffic and two-way traffic, a minimum width of the roadway of 4.50 m should be provided. Parking bans are also considered, and oblique parking spaces are only “conditionally” compatible with a cycle street. A road width of at least 5.00 m is necessary for this. Cyclists have priority in a cycle street and may ride next to each other. Speed bumps should be removed, and there should be no light signaling systems and pedestrian crossings. In 2015, these guidelines were applied to check the suitability of the “An der Gete” street as a potential Cycle Street. The street failed to meet these Cycle Street conditions.
In addition to these local standards, there are also a number of demands and recommendations which are important for the setting up of Cycle Streets, since Cycle Streets are meant to increase the attractiveness of cycling and create advantages over motor vehicle traffic.
Cycle Streets should offer cyclists more legal protection, and make riding faster and safer. But is this actually the case in Bremen? The regulation of Cycle Streets is also a concern for the German Insurance Association (GDV). Their accident investigators have proposed further conditions in addition to those already laid down by laws and regulations:
- Whilst Cycle Streets primarily serve cycle traffic, at most only residents should also be allowed to enter here with other vehicles.
- Through traffic should be prohibited.
- Entry and transit restrictions must be strictly monitored.
- In order to ensure that the Cycle Street fulfills its role as an infrastructure element with a priority for cyclists, it should have right of way at junctions.
- Education and marketing work on the importance of the Cycle Street concept and signage is necessary.
Position of the ADFC
The German Cyclists Association (ADFC) sees numerous reasons for setting up Cycle Streets, but also points to certain conditions that are needed if they are to increase the attractiveness and safety of cycling.
- One particular concern is the planning and monitoring of parked cars. Parked vehicles often restrict the roadway space and affect the comfort and safety of cyclists during parking manoeuvres. A Cycle Street becomes more attractive the fewer car parking spaces are on offer.
- Cycle Streets must also be clearly understandable for visitors from outside the local area. In addition to the usual traffic signs, large cycling pictograms should be regularly marked on the road surface.
- Where side roads cross or join the Cycle Street, the entrance should be made as tight as possible so as to slow motorised vehicles. Old cycle paths should be removed.
- Marketing should be used both as a means of advertising cycling, and to explain and promote Cycle Streets to the wider public. Information materials should be distributed to local residents, goods deliverers, and wider users of the street. Posters or information boards at the beginning or end of a Cycle Street are useful here.
Cycle Streets in Bremen – the Schwachhausen Experience
Turning to Cycle Streets in the Schwachhausen area, it appears that local design and implementation fall short of the original meaning or purpose of a Cycle Street. They do little to raise the status of the cyclist in the traffic hierarchy, nor do they increase the wider acceptance of cycling.
Due to the lack of marketing before and during the establishment of a Cycle Street, users are not sufficiently informed about the rights and obligations of the respective traffic types. Cyclists feel unsafe, hassled, are honked at and impeded. This is often caused by the fact that motorists are not, or only insufficiently, informed about the rules of a Cycle Street. The first few weeks after setting up a Cycle Street should also be accompanied by police supervision to enforce these rules. This is not done in Bremen. Even in the case of gross violations of the provisions of the Road Traffic Ordinance (OVO), often no action is taken.
Discussions have led to the setting up of a Cycle Street in one section of the Parkallee. Actually, the road there is four-lane and therefore wide enough, but residents have become accustomed to illegally parking on one of these lanes (there is ample legal parking space along the roadside). The local CDU had worked to make this possible – and the latest version of a Cycle Street has now been introduced. The dismantling of the perfectly good cycle paths has been agreed. Planners have for long been aware of the reality on this street – but double parking will continue. As a result, the roadway is narrowed. Cars overtake within centimeters of cyclists. Due to the frightening safety situation on the roadway, many cyclists simply use the old cycle path. As a result, cyclists joining the Stern roundabout from Parkallee enter from two directions – from the road and from the cycle path. This creates an unclear situation for drivers, compounded by the fact that the Traffic Department had previously blocked the old cycle path with a barrier. The barrier has now been removed. The conflict situation in the Parkallee continues. A dismantling of the old cycle path is now promised.
Benquestraße is one of the oldest Cycle Streets in Bremen, though it only consists of the section between Hartwigstraße and Parkallee. What first comes to mind in Benquestraße is the complete absence of pictograms. Just as striking is the narrow road width of around 3.50m. It is parked on both sides, partly obliquely, which narrows the road still further. Benquestraße is a one-way through-road. There is considerable car traffic. Cars overtake cyclists with millimetres to spare. In addition, vehicle doors protrude into the roadway when opening. The result is that cyclists either dismount or swerve onto the pavement. In fact many cyclists choose to ride on the footpath. Benquestraße can be described as a worst case Cycle Street.
Buchenstraße has cars parked on both sides of an already narrow street, with insufficient road markings to make its status as a Cycle Street clear. A connection is planned through the conversion of Scharnhorststraße to a Cycle Street, but unless the many speed bumps are removed, and the substantial cross-traffic reduced, it will again be contrary to guidelines. Without major structural changes it will not happen, – unless creating dangerous situations for cycling are part of the plan.
Wachmannstraße is at first sight a successful Cycle Street. Sufficient road width and good road markings are a plus. It is widely accepted by cyclists, with no sign of any using the pavement. But there are a few points that counter this good impression. There are relatively many crossings from side streets and there is a light-controlled pedestrian crossing. It seems to work well in the Wachmannstraße, but one downer are the traffic lights at the Wachmannstr./Schwachhauser Ring / H.-H.-Meier-Allee junction, which leads cyclists into dangerous sitations. Conflict situations are the order of the day.
Other Cycle Streets in Schwachhausen are the Straßburger Straße, Lothringer Straße, Elsasserstraße and Manteuffelstraße. These streets all allow motorised traffic, with parking on both sides of the street also limiting road space, resulting in potential conflicts between cyclists and motorists.
Conclusion: No Safety Gains for Cyclists
There is a strong impression in Bremen that Cycle Streets, as currently configured, are established only where their short distances do not hinder the flow of car traffic. Developing cycling positively requires space for cycling infrastructure. To do this, it is not enough to offer cyclists space only where car traffic is not significantly disturbed. Limited road space in a city like Bremen needs to be redistributed from car to cycle. This is the only way that current inequalities in access to public space can be righted. In all Bremen’s Cycle Streets, where through traffic is always permitted, road conditions are more often than not unfavorable or contrary to regulations. Increased safety for cyclists, as the stated purpose of a Cycle Street, is often not the result, and sometimes even reversed. The acceptance of cyclists on the road by motorists, and the advance of cycling as a means of transport, is generally not achieved. Even cyclists are unhappy and feel uncomfortable. Conflicts between motorists and cyclists persist long after such Cycle Streets have been set up.