How Berlin wants to become more bike-friendly
Oh, Berlin. The city that never sleeps, the melting pot, the teeming place of startup hipsters and fifth generation Berlin natives, the city you love to lose yourself in - but actually do so when cycling through it. Tarmac hell, urban jungle, construction site stronghold and full of noise and pollution: unfortunately, that's Berlin, too. Much to the displeasure of its cycling population.
In the biennial survey of the German Bicycle Club (ADFC) on the cycling climate of German cities, the capital's score just barely passes as "okay": On a scale of 1 to 6, Berlin lands on a 4.1. Difficult for a city that likes to present itself as the urban flagship of Europe so much. In this blogpost, we'll explore what is currently lacking in the field of cycling mobility and what clever ideas the Berliners have for revamping their cycling infrastructure.
1. Stress with cars, garbage and bike thieves.
Since 2004, the city of Berlin has borne the title "cycling-friendly" awarded by the ADFC. So far, so good. Cycling has increased by more than 25% in recent years and Berlin is the only federal state in which car density has decreased compared to 2022. So Berliners do a lot of cycling, it's not that. It's just that it's exhausting them.
According to the ADFC, 88% of Berlin cyclists feel so unsafe in traffic that they would only let their children cycle alone with a guilty conscience. Confrontations with car drivers are the norm; far too seldom is consideration shown for the weaker road users, and instead people stick to honking and speeding. Bicycle lanes are blocked by delivery vehicles and parked SUVs whose drivers "just have to pick up something or someone real quick", and far too often the garbage swept from the sidewalks piles up a few meters to the left in the bicycle lane. And since, if you ask Berlin cyclists, these are much too narrow anyway, if present in the first place, there is not much remaining space for actual bicycles.
And so Berliners rate the feeling of safety in road traffic with only a 4.7, and the existing problems of impulsive pedestrians, inconsiderate drivers, loose dogs and adventurous detours near construction sites are joined by those of bicycle thefts. Last year, more than 27,000 bikes worth over 25 million euros were stolen in the capital. Sounds like a lot, and it is, cause the bottom line is that nearly 7,000 bicycles disappear in Berlin every two weeks.
It is therefore no wonder that more and more rental bikes are increasingly being used. And this works relatively well in a city where not much seems to work yet in terms of bicycle technology.
2. Rather get a rental bike...
With (semi-)municipal providers like NextBike or Call a bike, but also thanks to private rental companies like DonkeyRepublic, Berlin is more than well equipped with rental stations or individually distributed bikes. The rental process is simple, fast and inexpensive and works via smartphone and thus the rental bike system enables an uncomplicated Berlin cycling mobility, in which there is a suitable bike for every commute at any time. The cyclists themselves agree that this is really worthwhile: they gave the Berlin bikesharing system a score of 2.5.
And even those who have a little more to transport will get their money's worth. Berlin is one of the few European metropolis where you can rent cargo bikes on a large scale from a wide variety of providers. You can do this via smartphone with Avocargo, whose electric cargo bikes are distributed throughout Berlin, and with fLotte Berlin, a voluntary project of the ADFC Berlin, you can rent cargo bikes of all categories completely free of charge at stations in various neighborhoods.
So there's no shortage of bicycles or ways to get one in Berlin. But the right infrastructure is missing. Berlin needs bike lanes, which you don't have to be brave for. But unlike in cities like Copenhagen or Paris they have not yet been declared a top priority of urban politics yet.
3. Or simply more bike lanes?
It's not like there are not enough initiatives, Berliners have been fighting for them for years. On the platform fixmybike one can find an overview of current projects and their progress, and residents can even vote which bicycle-friendly measures they need in the city and where. This not only simplifies communication between decision-makers and Berliners themselves and makes the needs of the cycling population crystal clear, but also functions well as a watchdog for the efforts - or lack of efforts - of Berlin's politicians.
Their most ambitious project is Gartenfeld, a completely new neighborhood in Berlin Spandau. It is to be built from scratch and designed with cyclists and pedestrians in mind, with parking spaces and bicycle bridges and just about everything that goes with the dream of a modern city.
But there are also the somewhat more feasible projects whose realization is within reach or has only recently taken place: There are the 185 parking spaces on Karl-Marx-Allee that are to give way to green spaces and a bike lane, there are the new protected bike lanes on Hasenheide, Holzmarktstraße, Sonnenallee and Steglitzer Damm, and Schönhauser Allee is also getting a new bike lane with 700 protective elements, along with wider sidewalks and more delivery zones. 41 metro and suburban train stations will be equipped with new bicycle parking facilities, and the Berlin-wide standardized access system for secure bicycle parking ParkYourBike even celebrated its inauguration in front of Schöneberg City Hall. Reinickendorf will be graced with 12 new kilometers of bike lanes, and the bicycle expressway from Hönow to Spandau is also scheduled to be completed by 2030. Hopefully, at least.
4. The Berlin government still doesn't really want to.
At the moment, even the planned bike paths are failing: At the behest of Berlin's mobility senator, they are to be "reviewed and optimized" once again, even though some of them have been designed, budgeted, approved and ready for years. No one really seems to know what exactly is to be optimized there, to be reviewed though, is parking lots and existing traffic lanes might be threatened by the planned tracks. More than 13,000 demonstrators in the streets of Berlin agree that this is not exactly in the spirit of a healthy change in traffic policy...
After all, 16 major projects have now been approved, which sounds good at first, but joy over this is put into perspective when considering that all of these were already planned and promised in the Berlin Mobility Act anyway. The problem for the last three projects that are still waiting for approval is also that the millions in funding for their realization will expire by the end of 2023. If no approval is granted by the Berlin city government by then, these projects will completely fall through the cracks, and with them an urgently needed step towards a truly bicycle-friendly city.
5. Berlin on bikes - So how is this still going to work?
The willingness of Berliners is there, this city wants to cycle. It just wants it to be possible in a safe and uncomplicated way. It wants a well-developed network of cycling paths that makes people want to cyclestrengthens their health and promotes peaceful coexistence among all road users.
The 342 projects that are currently underway or have already been implemented for Berlin's bicycle infrastructure show that this is certainly possible. So something is moving, what is missing is the perceived urgency of these projects. What is missing is a bit more courage and will to tackle of the Berlin government. When that comes, so will a fully copenhagenized Berlin.
No matter what city you live in, the first step to a bike-friendly city is your bike itself: You can find it here on buycycle.com. Among the over 15,000 road bikes, Gravel and mountain bikes there is definitely one that suits you. And if your current bike is looking for a new home, you can sell it quickly, safely and easily on buycycle. If you have any questions about the bicycle-friendliness of our beloved Berlin, our team is always there for you and for everything else around the topic of bicycles, you best stay a little longer on our blog. Until then, we wish you, as always: Happy browsing, happy cycling.