Germany has plans for a 60 mile long dedicated bicycle highway similar to its famous autobahn for motorized vehicles. When complete, the route will connect 10 western cities including Duisburg, Bochum, and Hamm, and four universities. Martin Toennes of regional development group RVR says almost two million people live within 1.2 miles of the bicycle highway and will be able to use sections of it for their daily commutes. With the rise in popularity of electric bicycles to help with undulating terrain, RVR says the bike way, which utilizes mostly abandoned railroad tracks in the Ruhr Valley, could replace up to 50,000 motor vehicles during daily commuting hours.
Bicycle highways are an idea that began in the Netherlands and Denmark. London has declared it will build one to help fight congestion. It is catching on in other German cities, too. Frankfurt is planning a 18-mile path south to Darmstadt. Munich has proposed a 9 mile long route into its northern suburbs. Nuremberg and Berlin are conducting feasibility studies for bicycle highways of their own.
At present, bike paths in German cities are narrow and may merge suddenly into a bus lane or come to an abrupt dead end. The new bike routes are more than 12 feet wide, have overtaking lanes, and usually cross roads via overpasses and underpasses in order to avoid conflicts between bicycles and motor vehicles at busy intersections. They are well lit and kept clear of snow in the winter, according to Agence France-Presse.
Completion of the entire proposed 100 kilometer bike route will require cooperation among many political entities. Traditionally, the federal and state governments are responsible for building roadways, leaving cities to build facilities for bicycles on their own. Half the cost of the first 5 kilometer section in the Ruhr region was paid for by the European Union, with another 30% provided by the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, and the remainder coming from RVR. To compete the project at a time when government funding is facing significant constraints, the use of advertising along the right of way is under consideration.
Dedicated bicycle routes are nothing new. In 1897, a wealthy Los Angeles native by the name of Horace Dobbins proposed a bicycle toll road from Pasadena to downtown. The fare was set at 10 cents one way and 15 cents round trip. Before the advent of the automobile, 6% of all Angelinos relied on bicycles for transportation. Dobbins used his connections to push the plan through the California legislature and construction began but was never completed. Instead, the automobile arrived on the scene, sending bicycle usage into a steep decline. Today, the Arroyo Seco parkway runs where the bike path was supposed to go.
Almost 120 years later, the battle between automobiles and bicycles is being played out once again, as cities around the world struggle to cope with the onslaught of motorized vehicles that clog downtown areas and create unhealthy atmospheric conditions overhead. Has the era of the automobile reached its high water mark and starting to subside? Don’t bet your spoke wrench on it.
Photo Credits: Agence France-Presse, Motherboard