For some time now – from near and afar – I’ve been rubbernecking the ongoing saga of Parkallee – and the council’s to-ing and fro-ing, politicians and officers alike. What to do? What’s going on? At one point there is a cycleway, then there isn’t, now you see it, now you don’t, then no-one quite knows what’s really happening. The thing for me is this: where is the decision-making clarity? Where is the solid foundation to traffic – and in particular cycle – policy?
Bremen is a fab cycle city
Over the last two years I have spent a considerable amount of time in Bremen. So much so that I believe I am qualified to comment on the goings-on on Parkallee. I am baffled how little the council values Bremen’s prime assets. Bremen is a fab cycle city! The impression that I have gained however, when talking to activists and decision makers alike, was quite the opposite. Somehow we can only whisper it – everyone, young and old, cycles in Bremen. Why the shyness?
Bremen overvalues the car
I have asked myself this question again and again over the last few months. My conclusion is that it has something to do with the bike’s relative status in Bremen’s transport system. For one thing, what is common and everyday can easily get overlooked. For another, the car is overvalued (and undeservedly so). Or at least Car is King is what everyone seemingly holds on to. Chinese whispers. This has now become a firmly believed truism that has developed a life of its own. Yet the reality of many Bremer citizens looks different, if I may venture my opinion.
Bremen is on autopilot
Then there is confidence. It seems to me that, in an age when cities globally are stepping up to the new challenges of the 21st century, the council has no major transformational objectives for Bremen’s future. The city is on autopilot. With no vision. Even the transport plan is so crammed full of stuff, that it is impossible to see a clear line. Where are we heading? Answers on a postcard please. What’s Bremen’s direction for the future?
Bremen must extend its network of cycleways
What is to be done? In my opinion, there is another road that Bremen must travel, and as soon as possible. The first step would be that Bremen understands the gold mine it actually sits on. Cycling makes you slim, smart and also a bit rich. On a personal level cycling is enriching, reduces traffic congestion, and shows personal commitment as a citizen in shaping a better cityscape. This effect alone must be strengthened and supported more. So it is important, indeed essential, that Bremen stops dismantling cycleways, and starts again to construct new ones. This requires a design catalogue.
Bremen would benefit from a design catalogue
The U.S. is miles ahead on this. The design rules have recently been clarified. Width of cycleways, level of protection from motorised traffic, you name it. In the U.S. a group of future-oriented planners and engineers got together to publish a design catalogue, called NACTO. Now it’s in heavy use in that country. Cities especially adopted the NACTO rules, providing clarity on cycleway design. If this kind of thing is possible in Car Country No.1 why not in Bremen, a Cycle City? It is worth adding that London has had a similar design catalogue for the last couple of years. There it is called London Cycling Design Standards. The German equivalent is probably too weak and toothless, leaving gaping holes in the design practice. Engineering has to step up – Fortschritt durch Innovation!
Bremen’s to-ing and fro-ing is tiring
What Bremen needs most of all is clarity. Setting clear directions is vital for the city’s future. On Parkallee we need clarity and confidence in its design and planning. A crucial element of design is that the user immediately and intuitively knows how to use the space. The to-ing and fro-ing was quite unnecessary, and tiring too. Yes, it is good practice to trial new designs first, but these trials also benefit from clarity. What is on trial? What purpose has Parkallee for cycle traffic and other modes? Which modes need (design) support in the urban space? If the creation of a definitive design catalogue, like NACTO or London Standards, could be made a campaigning goal by the Bremen ADFC, everyone would be helped in the future.