The wind blowing through your hair. Germans whizzing by as they politely pass on the left. Asphalt beneath your pedaled feet. This might seem like just another day on the German motorway, but the experience is a new step in German transportation as the country opens its first bicycle Autobahn or Radschnellweg.
Biking has long been a preferred means of transportation in German cities and an ideal leisure activity, but the country's new bike highway seeks to connect 10 western cities and eventually take 50,000 cars off the street. The route is currently only three-miles (4.8 kilometers), but there are hopes to expand it to at least 60 miles (96.5 km) and eventually even further.
Commuters are currently able to cycle between towns in the Ruhr industrial region like Duisburg, Bochum, and Hamm as well as four universities. Almost two million people call this area home and riders wanting to avoid urban traffic jams and air pollution or just wanting to experience a little of Germany's great outdoors are enjoying Germany's First Bike Autobahn since it opened in December 2015.
The new lanes make use of old railroad tracks that had fallen into disuse. Just like on the famed four-wheel Autobahn, there are no red lights and little use for speed limits. An improvement on Germany's already generous bike lanes, here bikers don't need to compete with cars for drive space and the new paths are largely flat and smooth. Lanes average 13 feet wide with generous merging lanes and sophisticated overpasses and underpasses. Bikers riding at night will appreciate the ample lighting and snow and ice are cleared in winter. While many bikers stick with traditional bikes, more and more commuters are using electric bikes.
Plans for the Future of Germany's Bike Autobahn
Frankfurt, a city of commuters, is planning on joining in the bicycle Autobahn game with a proposed 18.6 mile (30-kilometer) path south to Darmstadt.
Challenges Facing Germany's Bike Autobahn
Despite the enthusiasm surrounding the project, it is facing some serious challenges. Though there are big plans to make this Bike Autobahn a national network, it relies on local infrastructure. Unlike motor-, rail-, and waterways which are maintained by the federal government, it is up to local authorities to build and maintain cycling routes.
This initial track was built by the Ruhr region with the costs shared between the European Union, RVR (regional development group) and state of North Rhine-Westphalia. To continue with the plans, they will need an additional 180 million euros. While there is support from political parties like the Social Democrats and Greens party, it will be difficult to organize both the funding and organization, especially in the face of opposition from the conservative CDU party.
The German Bicycle Club (ADFC) is pushing to change national funding, arguing that since 10 percent of the country's transportation is done by bicycle, 10 percent of the federal transport budget should be dedicated to the project.
Biking in Germany
Most biking laws are common sense and as many people ride bikes, there is generally a high tolerance for bikers. Tips to keep in mind:
- Bicycles are legal traffic: They must be on the street with traffic riding in the direction of traffic. however, children up to age 8 must be on the sidewalk.
- Helmets are not required.
- You are required to give a hand signal for all turns. Point left with their left arm to turn left and point right with their right arm to turn right. Signal a stop by extending an arm and the forearm pointing down.
- Pedestrians always have the right of way.
- Yield to all traffic.
- There is no right turn on red.
- It is illegal to drink and drive or cycle.
- It is illegal to use a cell phone while riding a bicycle except when using a hands-free capability.