Berlin is not the place for committed cyclists. That’s according to two rankings and it confirms the experience of DW’s Klaus Esterluss who pedals around the city every day.Cycling is part of my daily routine. I ride to the office every day, I do my grocery shopping by bike and I even carry larger loads on two wheels – as long as it’s not dangerous, of course. Riding a bike every day does not necessarily mean that I travel many kilometers every day. The distance from my home to the office, for example, is less than six kilometers. I think pedalling for 12 kilometers a day is not excessive. Berliners a notorious for staying close to their hood whenever possible.
The reason why I bike is obvious in my opinion. I want to stay active. Otherwise I would spend most of the day sitting at a desk. for the same reason, I take the stairs or simply walk a lot.
Saving the world but not on your own
I believe that all of us should be cyclists. And, obviously, I’m not alone in Berlin with that conviction. The city’s Senate Department for Environment, Transport and Climate Protection has installed 17 digital meters all around the city to measure how many people cycle where. The numbers seem to be quite high, according to an interactive online-map. The busiest place for cyclists is a bridge between the neighborhoods of Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg, the so called Oberbaumbrücke. By the end of May 998,970 people had passed the meter, that’s almost 250,000 people on bikes each month who share the bridge with numerous cars, busses and trucks.
If I can, I try to avoid rush hour traffic. But that’s almost impossible in Berlin. When I have to ride on one of the major thoroughfares, I imagine knocking on every car’s window to ask the drivers why they deal with the hassle of being stuck in traffic every day. Because that’s the reality, the same heavy traffic at the same time every day. And most of them drive alone, carpooling does not seem to be an option. I believe that being stuck in a tin box like this can be frustrating and results in aggressive behavior.
It’s the only explanation I can come up with. Since I’m in the saddle every day, I experience squealing tires and dangerously close passing maneuvers by drivers on a regular basis. Sometimes I even have to slam on the breaks to avoid crashing. Last year, 17 cyclists died in Berlin in accidents that involved cars or trucks. According to figures published by the General German Bicycle Club (ADFC) the reason is often that people run red lights or, in general, that Berlin is not designed to be a cycling-city. It simply lacks the infrastructure.
It’s important to say that “black sheep” can be found among both drivers and cyclists. People who not obey rules are everywhere. I try not to be one of them. As a father, I feel that I have a responsibility to do whatever is necessary to avoid accidents.
It’s up to the city now
I believe life as a cyclist would become much easier if cars and bikes co-existed in a more harmonious way. Berlin lacks cycling lanes that are big and visible enough to avoid any confusion. We need traffic lights that are timed not only for cars but for cyclists and pedestrians as well. Every day, I experience traffic light cycles that leave cyclists only a few seconds to cross wide roads. Sometimes it’s impossible to make it across in time, especially for older people or kids.
If we have a look at the Copenhagenize Index, an analysis named after the Danish capital that always tops the ranking and other competitions that try to identify the most cycle-friendly cities in the world. TheCopenhagenize Index is also compiled in Copenhagen, which probably makes it a little bit biased. But fact is, Berlin has to improve. The German capital ranked 12th in the latest edition of the index. But a few years back, it was in 5th place.
Why? According to the index’ organizers, Berlin is still resting on its reputation of being “poor but sexy.” People deal with the not-so-perfect-but-okay conditions in the city. As a result, few improvements are made. According to the index, Berlin is investing in infrastructure for cars instead of bikes. And doing it the other way around would even be cheaper! The German ADFC also publishes a ranking of 39 German cities in terms of their bike-friendliness. Berlin is in fourth place – from the bottom.
Personally, I would like to see a lot more space for cyclists, I would even like to kick cars out of the city center. Berlin has to give drivers a reason to swap their cars for bikes or public transport. My impression is that there are few towns in the world where you need a car less than you do in Berlin. The public transportation system, can get you wherever you want to go in a fair amount of time. And if you can spend half a day stuck in traffic, then you can probably take either a bike or a tram and get to your destination even faster. And the best part is: you will improve your health tremendously.