Wednesday, 20 March 2013

As London announces its own massive investment in cycling, Berlin takes things even further and aims for 20% of all journeys by bike by 2025. Oh, and a riposte to Eric Pickles MP who thinks "cyclists" wear "rubber knickers".

Cycling in Berlin. Look, no helmets, no hi-viz.
When Boris Johnson was announcing his plans earlier this month for London to become a truly cycling city, another major announcement almost escaped my notice.

That announcement was the publication by the local government in Berlin of its new Bicycle Strategy. 

In Berlin, 13% of all local journeys are already made by bike (1.5million trips daily). The government wants that number to increase to 20% by 2025. In London only 2% of journeys are made by bike and Boris Johnson is aiming for a 5% target by 2020. It is extremely likely that we'll get to 5%, provided his plans for cycle highways with proper segregation and local Quietways.

The city is planning to have a 830km bike network in place by 2020 to include 12 radial routes and eight routes running into and out of the centre. London, by contrast, will have 12 super highways (running into the centre) and it's fairly unclear what we'll end up seeing in terms of radial routes.

Low tech but highly functional. New Berlin bike tracks
Probably the most astonishing feature of the Berlin plan is the "Pedelec Corridor" out into the suburbs (note these suburbs are outside Berlin, which means joined up thinking with the neighbouring government). The plan is to build a fast bike route, specifically designed to attract long-distance cycling on electric-bikes. It's simply astonishing to hear just how advanced this sort of thinking is in Germany. There are already over a million e-bikes in Germany and there is serious money being spent to encourage people to swap from car to e-bike. Berlin's transport minister told journalists that "many commuters will be able to reach their workplaces in Berlin better by e-bike than by car." He thinks this will mean cheaper journeys to work and less need for expensive car parking spaces in town. The Pedelec Corridor will be up and running by 2015 - before London even gets its first serious long-distance bike track in 2016.

The support for e-bikes comes all the way from Federal government. The policy is a) to encourage more older and less mobile people to use e-bikes and to encourage more people to travel longer distances by bike so that they become less reliant on cars.

Smiley TNT Post man delivering 'freight'
in inner London. You see these bikes all over
central London now, replacing former white vans.
The policy even talks about a new freight strategy. Some 13% of all London traffic is white van traffic, a good deal of it is "freight". I have never heard anyone in London discuss seriously the potential for freight to switch from white vans to bike. This, despite the fact that companies like TNT Post are already doing exactly that, with their fleet of orange bikes having replaced battered orange vans all over central London. Hop over to Berlin, though, and the city strategy is to encourage "last mile" deliveries to switch from van delivery to bike delivery. This sort of thinking is sadly still absent in London and the rest of the UK.

It's also interesting to see the Berlin authorities have a very different view of what their cycling revolution is about. Over 25% of car trips in Berlin are what the authorities call "free time" or "leisure" trips and the majority of those trips are relatively short. The next biggest trip generator is car trips to the shops. Berlin thinks the biggest potential wins for cycling are to get people out of their cars and on to bikes for leisure trips and for trips to the shops. So, it wants to build "bicycle-friendly shopping streets" with easy routes to town centres, good bike parking and bike servicing facilities, as well as bike trailers you can pick up in the shops to take your shopping home. Just compare that with the 1970s thinking displayed by Britain's Mary Portas and Local Government minister Eric Pickles who want to encourage more car trips to town centres - the very thing that will further kill off town centres.

Not everything in Berlin is rosy. The government realises it has a long way to go on cyclist safety on the roads. It also recognises that it hasn't hit its previous spending targets and needs to improve its investment plan. But the dialogue in Berlin is a whole different league to London. It's inclusive, it's about all sorts of people, all sorts of ages doing all sorts of things, just doing more of it on a bike and less in a car. Impressive stuff.

You can download the entire document (in German I'm afraid) or review some of the plans on the Berlin transport website.

Oh, and this is a bit sneaky.

But let's have a quick compare and contrast:

Can you spot the similarities and the glaring difference between these two:

Germany's Environment Minister Altmaier leaving his office on his bike
Picture courtesy

Britain's Local Government Minister, Eric Pickles, the man who thinks "Not all of us can pedal up and down in rubber knickers you know". Picture courtesy BBC

Looks to me, Eric Pickles, like Herr Altmaier doesn't wear "rubber knickers". I suggest you change your vocabulary and your prejudices.


  1. Actually the Royal Mail has been taking bikes away from posties in the UK and then pairing the posties up to share a van for their rounds as it's supposedly more efficient according to their management.

  2. Still see posties on their red Pashleys around my way, in a fairly low-density area with quite undulating landscape. I gather they didn't want to give them up.

  3. I like it. We don't want Boris to be resting on his laurels so it's always good to be able to point out his brilliant new schemes are actually pretty tame compared with other capitals.

    Apologies for sounding like a pedant, but surely radial routes do run "into and out of the city"? Unless you're comparing with cross-city routes, which run from one side to the other via the centre (ie two radial routes joined in the middle). Otherwise there are circular routes and suburban routes (or inter-suburb routes).

    1. I will outdo you on pedantry and demand that the other type of route is referred to as 'orbital'.

  4. Study tour of cycling infrastructure in Oldenburg and Bremen

  5. It's farcical that this man, Eric Pickles, was even allowed to stand as an MP by the Conservatives.

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