How Germany Creates Bicycle Friendly Cities

By Greg Whitburn

Living in the gorgeous little German town of Luneburg has been a mind blowing experience for me.

And it’s not just the nature, the beautiful cobbled streets, or the church where Johann Sebastian Bach used to sing.

In this quaint little town, it’s also extremely evident that German municipalities have their eye firmly focused on creating towns that are sustainable and that encourage people to bike everywhere.

It almost seems that there are more bicycles than cars in this town, which is something that I’m sure all modern day town planners aspire to.

Bike paths are away from cars, and clearly marked by red paint or cobble stones. Luneburg, Germany

So, how do they make a city that encourages residents to bike instead of drive the car?

Here I’m going to focus mainly on the town where I’m living, Luneburg, and Hamburg, but you’ll also find similar initiatives in Münster, Berlin, Freiburg… pretty much all German towns are doing better than many places in the world.

If you’re designing a city, or you want to research how to make a bike-friendly city, or you just want to experience a really beautiful German town, visit Luneburg.

This is what I’ve noticed.

1. Most streets have bike paths off the road.

Generally, 50% or more of the footpath is marked as a bike path, designated with red paint and signs. You’re not sharing the road with cars, so you’re not constantly worried about being hit by a car.

This alone is a huge step.

I can’t even count the number of times that I was hit or nearly-hit when I used to bike to work in my home town of Christchurch, New Zealand (particularly on Fridays – people don’t seem to look on Fridays).

Having a space away from cars to safely ride is enormously valuable.

2. Trains have dedicated bicycle carriages, and it’s easy

You can take your bike anywhere, so you’re radius of bike-travel isn’t limited by your athletic ability and stamina on the day.

If you want to visit Hamburg, Hannover, or any of the many beautiful towns along the train line, with your bike, you simply select the bicycle option on the ticket machine for a few euros extra. Then there’s a dedicated carriage just for bikes. So simple.

3. An ENORMOUS bike parking shed at the train station

The Parkhaus is a free, covered, safe bike parking space with room for 2100 bikes.

Many people commute between Luneburg and Hamburg on a daily basis, and at the end of the day they can simply leave their bike at the station and jump on the train – encouraging the use of public transport and of bikes.

This is just one more way of addressing barriers to embracing the bike, and seems to be working. In a town of just 70,000 people, I’m constantly amazed at how many bikes are parked up in the parkhaus.

Christchurch, New Zealand is an interesting comparison, where proposals for trains between satellite towns and Christchurch CBD have recently been proposed.

One issue that’s been raised is how to get from the train station to your final destination. Adopting a model similar to this could be a good solution: a few buses looping around the cbd, some good bike lanes, and safe bike storage option. Kein problem!

4. Promote biking as a hobby.

In the town of Luneburg they’ve made bicycling a really obvious option for enjoying your weekends and moving from town to town.

Similar to the Cycle trail in New Zealand, in Luneburg there are many many bike trails linking the towns and criss-crossing through nature.

There’s no better style of afternoon break than to jump on my second hand bike, and pedal for an hour along the river to the nearest little down, Bardowick.

5. A cheap, well equipped bicycle repair shop at the university.

I love this bike shop. It’s a cheap and good way to take care of your bike. At the university they have a bike mechanic garage, packed with every tool you’d need (they even have a machine for debuckling your wheels).

Students work there, and you pay for any parts you need (just 6 euro for bike lights that work on a dynamo), plus pay a donation for the time and use of tools.

You fix your own bike if you can, or if you need help, the students will help.

Everything about this idea is awesome. Your money goes to students, you get your hands dirty and learn how to fix your bike, and it’s cheap!

6. Promote biking by putting rental stations everywhere.

There are bike rental stations available in many many locations. Bikes are unlocked using an app on your phone, and you can ride free for the first 30 minutes if you’re on certain memberships, ideal for commuting.

The company operates in many cities and towns across Germany, and has multiple rental stations in each town, where you can get comfy, quality, and well cared for bikes.

So, for anyone who wants to bike but doesn’t want to take care of the bike, renting an easy and affordable option. Barcelona and Madrid have similarly good bike rental systems – subsidised by pasting ads on the bikes.

There you have it. I’m constantly in awe recently at the many examples of good planning and design in this country, but the way that German town planners encourage bicycling is one of my favourites.

If you’ve experienced similar examples of good policy and planning, share in the comments, I’d love to hear it!

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