Bremen’s politicians are extremely proud of the new design of Humboldtstraße as a Cycle Street. It is hailed by our representatives and their cycling advisers as a great solution for a range of problems. However, the new design didn’t arise because all the experts thought Humboldtstraße to be the ideal space for a Cycle Street. Rather, the idea was developed because Hansewasser, Bremen’s water company, planned to upgrade the sewer system under the road.
Plans for changes to the road layout were hatched in late 2011, to use the fact that the road was being completely dug up by the water company. The cost-saving idea was to piggyback on to Hansewasser’s already-paid digging. But time was short, and the planning process had to be done in a hurry. New Concept, get the public in and explain: Cycle paths have to go, the cyclists’ space is handed over to pedestrians and parked cars. The bicycle is sent on to the road.
At the local consultation meeting in February 2012, which we attended, people were not amused. Women especially criticised the new plan (which was supported by the ADFC – the German CTC). They didn’t want to ride between cars, they opposed the idea of being a sort of living tool to calm down motorised transport. They feared for the safety of their children and elderly cyclists.
But despite these local objections, Cycle Street “Humboldtstraße” went live in 2014, the local authority and their advisers claiming that it would prove to be safer for cyclists. In essence, these disagreements between residents and administration reflected the subjective v objective safety debate, popular amongst German cycling advocates at the time. The transport department stressed safety, but only objective safety, but agreed to an evaluation after 2 years.
Figures released in an interview in 2013 showed that, at that time, typically just under 5,000 motorised vehicles used Humboldtsraße each day, and an almost identical number of cyclists, although the figure varied from one end of the street to the other. Do we have more cyclists there today? Or maybe less cars? Were there any incidents of accidents?
Over 2 years later, it seems an evaluation has not yet taken place. We asked the local council (Beirat Östliche Vorstadt) speaker, Steffen Eilers, a Green councillor. His answer was that an evaluation never happened, but “subjectively” he sees Humboldtstraße as a success. The Senator’s workers gave us similar answers.
Only the local administration reacted differently: “You are right, the council wanted an evaluation and even two transport counters in this road. We never heard from the ASV, the administration for road building. But we shall ask them what is going on.”
We are looking forward to that answer.
The Humboldtstraße experience raises a lot of questions:
- Why is thru-traffic allowed?
- Why do the Bremen guidelines for Cycle Streets (Leitlinien) allow up to 5,000 cars per day in these streets?
- Why are there no traffic counters in Humboldtstraße?
- Why is there such chaos about priority rules? Sometimes the street has priority but then there are areas that are designed like shared space producing priority chaos?
- But above all: Why is there no control of motorised traffic as to speed, behaviour, illegal parking etc.? And why is there no evaluation after all these discussions with concerned citizens?
It is interesting to note that on page 148 of Bremen’s new brochure, Humboldtstraße is featured. Yet its emphasis as a Cycle Street is not on improvements for cyclists – but for pedestrians.