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The necessity of safe and comfortable concepts

Many cities and municipalities have been struggling for years with a growing volume of traffic. Promoting bicycle traffic is a possibility to reduce road congestion – combined with structural changes. In order for urban cycling to become safe and a true alternative to motorized private transport, the cycling infrastructure has to be adapted to its special needs.

Table of contents

Traffic development in urban areas

The number of registered motor vehicles per household has grown steadily in recent years and decades. In 2010, 527 out of 1,000 inhabitants had a car; in 2019, the number had already risen to 692 – according to the data from the German Federal Motor Transport Authority. For a long time, the infrastructure in most German cities has been geared mainly towards motor vehicles. In addition to the expansion and new construction of roads, this also includes the creation of parking zones – mostly in public areas.

A car is a comfortable solution for private transport and offers maximum flexibility. Public transport, on the other hand, is often considered less attractive. Rigid timetables, compulsory stops, and poor connection options but also safety and comfort issues are some of the criteria which are often mentioned. As a result, less frequented connections have been systematically deleted in some cities.

In German urban development, cycling infrastructure has only recently begun to be taken into account to a greater extend. The existing routes are in most cases only partially developed.

Critical points in urban traffic

However, the transport infrastructure in many cities and municipalities is now reaching its limits. The cause of the various problems in daily city traffic is above all the ever scarcer space combined with the growing number of vehicles of all kinds.

Also these days, there are more and more cyclists on the roads. For many reasons, promoting cycling is considered one of the possible solutions for a sustainable mobility in urban areas. In addition to the lesser space requirement – for driving as well as for parking – its environmental friendliness is an important argument. Where motor vehicles are stuck in congested streets, a bike can still get you quickly to your destination. Especially on short distances, the driving time is almost the same compared to motorized traffic.

While many like to use their bikes in summer when the weather is nice, things look very different when the weather is bad. Rain, or even snow and ice in winter, not only reduces the comfort; the risk of road accidents increases notably on slippery roads. Also, a simple bike is suited only to a limited extent for the transport of shopping bags or large pieces of luggage. Cargo bikes, which can be seen increasingly in larger cities these days, can fill this gap.

But these vehicles require significantly more space than regular bikes – the same goes for trailer bikes. Concepts that focus on expanding urban delivery traffic with according bicycles have to take this aspect into account. In Berlin, within the framework of the KoMoDo project, delivery traffic with cargo bikes is currently being tested, in cooperation with the five largest parcel services. After a positive interim assessment, the project had initially been extended until the end of 2019.

Requirements for a functioning cycling infrastructure

Cyclists, however, have different demands on the infrastructure. They are often stuck between heavy traffic on one side and crowded sidewalks or parking strips on the other side. In cities with a low share of cyclists in the global traffic, they often have to stand their ground vigorously. However, this is not just about the structural requirements for safe and rapid progress, but also about acceptance as an equal road user.

Security as a key criterion

On the roads themselves, cyclists are the weakest link among road users – except for pedestrians. Bikers are confronted with faster, larger, and stronger vehicles, and they do not have a metal casing or a crumple zone that would protect them from injuries in a road accident.

If cycling is to be encouraged, safety has to be a very important issue. According to surveys like the “Fahrrad-Monitor” (2011) or the „Fahrradklimatest” (2018), many cyclists do not feel very safe in traffic – a fact often related to the lack of cycling infrastructures. Possible solutions are at times discussed in a very controversial manner. Distinct bicycle traffic facilities – conceivably separated from motorized traffic lanes – are often not feasible due to the lack of space. If car lanes are to be rededicated for this purpose, their respective occupancy rate must be taken into account.

Measures primarily aimed at increasing the driving comfort can also promote cycling. They ensure a generally bike-friendlier climate.

Overview of the various bikeways

The term “bikeway” summarizes the different traffic zones mainly intended for bicycle traffic.

Radverkehr

The narrower variant, the so-called advisory bike lane, is particularly controversial. These lanes are indicating a “special” bike traffic zone, but – unlike “real” bike lanes – their usage is not mandatory for cyclists; also, their width is limited. They offer cyclists significantly less space and therefore less protection against passing vehicles. Furthermore, advisory bike lanes are often close to parking strips, hence, within the markings, cyclists drive below the required lateral distance from parked vehicles.

Another problem: bike paths and lanes are often blocked by other road users and misused as parking opportunity. Also construction sites, garbage cans, and trash frequently make the paths impassable and sometimes force cyclists to spontaneously change to other traffic zones. These changes in particular increase the risk of road accidents.

Although the massive expansion of a special bike infrastructure entails a safe and faster progress, it generally takes some time before the switch from car to bike becomes noticeable in the overall traffic. A good and consistent infrastructure fosters the “perceived safety” and can encourage more people to get on a bike. Here, it is important to carefully consider which remodeling measures will have the best effect.

Typical danger zones

Different traffic situations, often depending on the infrastructure and the respective structural conditions, pose an increased risk for cyclists:

  • Turning situations
    When they turn at an intersection, cyclists have an increased interaction with other road users. Even when there are bikeways at their disposal, crossing other traffic lanes entails a higher risk of road accidents.
    A critical situation happens, for example, for cyclists riding on the right when vehicles turn right at an intersection. Some drivers do not realize that cyclists driving straight ahead have the right of way. Furthermore, they often miss to take a quick glance over the shoulder. Especially for truck drivers the blind spot poses a problem, since this zone remains unseeable. Again and again, this leads to major road accidents. Despite technical systems like turning assistants, ultrasonic sensors, cameras, and extra mirrors, the blind spot continues to be a great danger, since these technical aids are so far not mandatory.
  • Dooring zones
    Dooring zones refer to the space next to parking lanes for vehicles. When a vehicle door is opened, it protrudes into the adjacent traffic lane. Many a time, this lane happens to be a bikeway, but without any additional safety distance. Collisions with suddenly opened doors are also considered a major accident risk.
    When a vehicle driver opens the door with their right hand, the one that is further away (“Dutch Reach”), their upper body is forced to turn to the left – the look over the shoulder happens automatically. This can help prevent dooring accidents. The relocation of the bikeway further to the middle of the road – similar to the American “Shared Bike Lane” model – is also a possible option.
  • Shared areas – walkways and bike paths
    Shared-use lanes or pedestrian zones that are open to cyclists are also hotly discussed. Although the cyclist is now no longer the weakest link in the chain, collisions are nonetheless dangerous for both parties involved. Most of the time, it is hard to assess in which direction another person will turn the next moment and if they are suddenly going to pop up in front of the bike.
    Here, it is imperative to adapt one’s own speed to the volume of traffic and the number of people.
  • Changing from bikeways to general traffic areas
    Basically, every transition from a bikeway to the general traffic entails an increased risk of road accidents.
    Bike lanes often suggest to motorists that bikers have their “own” traffic area. Hence, some car drivers are not very sympathetic when they leave these areas. As weaker road users, cyclists often find it difficult to get into the flowing traffic and to hold their ground.
    Cyclists often have to fully reorient themselves at intersections and junctions to continue “their” way. Suddenly ending bike lanes, parked cars, construction sites or missing connections at intersections – the more a bicycle network is interrupted, or when there are no visual clues (e.g. lanes with highlighted markings), the greater is the risk of misconduct.
  • Changing lanes
    Changing lanes also poses a hazard, since the previous (bike) path is left and a change to the general traffic is taking place. For the motorized traffic this usually entails reducing its own speed so that the generally slower cyclist can get into the lane. Hand signals and a look over the shoulder are mandatory for cyclists to indicate a change of direction and to get a quick picture of ​​the traffic situation.
    A car changing lanes can also pose a risk if the driver forgets to look over their shoulder. If a cyclist happens to be just behind the vehicle, a collision can occur.
  • Refuge islands
    Refuge islands are often located in the middle of the road to make it easier for pedestrians or cyclists to cross a wider or multi-lane street. At times, they are only very small constructions – which is notably the case for the mobile variants. They are not wide enough to provide room for a whole bike length; there is no safety distance to the traffic lane and a tire is sticking out of the refuge island. In a dense city traffic or when vehicles are speeding by, this situation is posing a safety risk.

Bikes

Bicycle paths and lanes – a universal solution?

In municipalities short of money, the high investment costs are speaking against the implementation of their own bikeways. The safest option – a structurally separate lane – involves extensive reconstruction measures.
But less expensive alternatives are also able to reinforce cycling and improve the general safety for cyclists. This includes, for example, highlighting the bikeway with a continuous color marking. Opposed to a simple visual separation by a broken white line, this variant is more perceptible – also for other road users. This not only reinforces the perception of an autonomous bikeway, but the orientation along the lane is improved for the cyclists themselves.

Pros and cons of the expansion of bikeway infrastructures

PROS

An autonomous and structurally separate bikeway offers a high degree of safety and protection, especially for insecure cyclists.

Individual solutions or a partial separation ensure greater safety and riding comfort for cyclists.

Cyclists take up much less space in traffic. A well-developed cycling infrastructure can reduce the global volume of traffic.

Especially on short distances up to three kilometers there is not only great potential but also the need to shift motorized private transport to other alternatives.

Municipalities struggling with high levels of particulate pollution can counteract this problem with a higher proportion of bicycle traffic.

A good cycling infrastructure creates a bike-friendly climate and thus promotes the switch from car to bike.

CONS

The particularly safe variant of a structurally separate bikeway is very expensive.

A bikeway is not always the best individual solution. Sometimes, other concepts are better suited.

Formerly privileged road users may have to give some ground – for example, when car lanes disappear in favor of bikeways.

In cities with a pronounced hilly landscape, a noticeable increase of conventional bicycle traffic is not to be expected, even with a good bikeway network. In this case, expanding the public transport may be more reasonable.

It takes some time to determine whether the bikeways are actually used to a relevant extent.

The lack of space often rules out the creation of separate bikeway facilities.

Bikeways may require additional maintenance (leaves, shards).

Bikeways are often considered as the ultimate and universal solution for reinforcing inner-city bicycle traffic. But they are just one of the possible options. The multiple danger zones, the structural requirements, and the individual points of criticism on bikeways are arguments for thinking about alternatives.

Reality shows that each city and a number of traffic situations have to be examined individually. The list of ways to improve the cycling infrastructure is long. Individual solutions may be necessary.

Innovative solutions under the microscope

Some cities or metropolises already have a significant bicycle traffic share in their global traffic. It is where we can find innovative approaches and positive examples of further structural measures. There are suitable solutions for every cycling infrastructure challenge, and some cities are already trying them out:

  • Bicycle highways
    Similar to motorways, these bikeways provide an attractive connection of out-of-town areas to the city. As a non-stop, two-lane structure they facilitate safe and fast driving. They are suited for heavier frequented routes between important junctions and are often intended to shift the motorized commuting traffic towards the use of bicycles.

    To date, such express routes can mainly be found in the Netherlands, in Belgium, and in Denmark. Few routes are currently completed in Germany, but many are in the planning stage. A successful project is the “Radschnellweg Ruhr RS1”. Its first sections have already been inaugurated. After its completion, the RS1 will be about 100 kilometers long and will connect numerous cities between Duisburg and Hamm.

  • Traffic lights synchronized with bicycles
    Traffic light systems are still largely synchronized with the average speed of the motorized traffic. For cyclists, continuous driving is mostly not possible. In particular at large intersections or roundabouts, where traffic lights for bikers are synchronized with pedestrian traffic, even short distances become a real trial of patience.
    On some route sections, it can be reasonable to shift the green wave in favor of the cyclists. In some countries, experimental traffic models also allow to turn right at a red light. Similar to the green arrow sign for motor vehicles, cyclist can keep on driving at a red light as long as they observe the right of way. Since 2019, a corresponding pilot project is taking place in nine selected German cities.
    Another option, however still in development, are intelligent traffic lights, which are regulating the green phases in favor of the motorized respectively the bicycle traffic, in each case according to the traffic volume.
    Warning systems for dangerous turning situations
    As an alternative to upgrading trucks with turning assistants, another concept to prevent blind spot accidents in the future has been inaugurated in Garbsen/Lower Saxony in 2018. “Bike Flash” is a warning system that is installed precisely at critical intersections. A thermal sensor detects cyclists in the zone in question. Yellow light displays on a mast clearly indicate their presence.
  • Innovative surfaces for bikeways
    In the dark, especially the boundaries of a bikeway are not always easy to see. Instead of expensive additional lighting and its operation, a fluorescent ground covering can also provide enough brightness. Its special composition collects daylight and emits the absorbed energy at night in a bluish color tone.
    First routes can so far be found in Lidzbark Warmiński/Poland, about 70 kilometers southeast of the Gdansk Bay, in Eindhoven (Van Gogh-Roosegaarde bicycle path) and in Cambridge (pedestrian “Starpath”). Their advantage: the costs for energy amount to zero and expensive technical maintenance is not required.
  • “Bicycle lift” for routes with a steep incline
    This innovative solution is rather focused on the comfort. As a unique project to this day, a special lift has been installed in Trondheim/Norway on the roadside on a slope. The system is based on the cable car principle – cyclists put their right foot on a block that is conveyed upwards by the cable pulley. Thus, the average gradient of 18 percent can be mastered without much effort.
    For cities with a generally hilly profile, the costs for such installations are a major obstacle. This rises the question whether a steadily growing proportion of e-bikes won’t make such concepts superfluous in the future anyway.
  • Handrails on traffic lights
    A small but nice detail are helpful handrails or footrests to make it easier to stop at a traffic light or intersection. They ensure that cyclists can stay comfortably in the saddle while waiting.
    Such facilities can so far be found in Copenhagen. This idea is not suited for every intersection, but in some places these innovative helpers can contribute to a bike-friendlier city.
  • Public service stations
    Especially for cities where (cycling) tourism plays an important role, the expansion of strategically located service points is a sensible investment. Repair kit vending machines or stations for checking and filling up air pressure can be installed in compact units. If need be, this could be implemented in cooperation with commercial dealers or restaurants.

Bike paths are not enough – Further necessary measures

In the city traffic, cyclists have several advantages: unlike car drivers they can park their vehicle for a short stop in front of a shop. The tiresome search for a parking spot is no longer necessary, the distances are short. However, with a larger number of bicycles, traffic can also get crowded, especially in heavily frequented places. Hence, further infrastructural expansions are still necessary for a functioning bicycle traffic.

Dry and safe storage options

At important traffic hubs or locations with an important infrastructure, there is not only a need for car parking lots, but also for adequate bike parking facilities. Lampposts, posts, railings and even house walls are rapidly occupied which creates a chaotic overall picture. Insufficient storage space is also a handling challenge. All of this keeps people from cycling.

Fahrrad Infrastruktur

Simple support systems and bike racks should at least provide the ability to attach a bike securely. A roof provides additional protection against rain. In public spaces, on the roadside, special zones with appropriate markings on the ground can be installed as parking areas or fixed supports. Lockable parking boxes or guarded parking facilities offer even more comfort and security.
The ADFC (Allgemeiner Deutscher Fahrrad-Club e.V) has developed its own catalog of requirements for bicycle parking systems with regard to safety and usability. Models that meet the requirements are recommended by the ADFC and have been awarded a corresponding certificate.

To promote and support electromobility also for ​​two-wheelers, e-bike charging points can be set up at central locations. However, the various technical systems pose a challenge here.
Simple 230 volt sockets (AC charging with external charger) should at least be protected from the weather and provide a way to secure the bike with a lock. This is not the case for every solution.
In the case of the so-called energy-bus standard or the bike-energy system (DC charging), the battery is charged via a special secured connection.

If the battery is removed from the bike for charging, lockable boxes with a corresponding electrical connection provide adequate protection and security. Additional lockers on the loading and storage facilities can also be used to store helmets or panniers.

Municipalities have to find out about the various options. If necessary, the system providers can take on the expansion of the infrastructure.

Sources:
Motor Vehicle Statistics of the German Federal Motor Transport Authority

Infrastructure and Traffic Development

Dangerzone

Innovative Solutions

Storage and E-Mobility

Images

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