How Germany Builds Bicycle Friendly Cities

bike friendly city of luneburg
By Greg Whitburn

Living in the quaint city of Luneburg has been a mind blowing experience... partly because they've made it such a bicycle friendly city.

Let's look at how they actively encourage biking.

I'll focus mainly on Luneburg, but you can find similar initiatives in other German towns. If you’re researching how make a city safe for bikes, visit Luneburg.

Here's what I’ve noticed.

1. Most streets have bike paths off the road.

bike friendly city of luneburg
Bike paths are separated from cars, and clearly marked by red paint. Luneburg, Germany.

Generally, 50% 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 in danger of being hit by a car.

This alone is a huge step.

When I used to bike to work in my home town of Christchurch, New Zealand, biking was dangerous.

I was hit 3 times, and had numerous other close calls.

Having a division between cars and bikes makes a huge difference.

2. Trains have dedicated bicycle carriages

Taking a bike on the train means you you can travel by bike where ever you go.

To visit Hamburg, Hannover, or any of the beautiful towns along the train line, you simply pay a few euros extra for a bike ticket. Then there’s a dedicated carriage just for bikes. So simple.

3. Bike parking 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 each day. So in the morning, they can bike to the train station, park up, and jump on the train. This encourages biking and the use of public transport.

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. Cheap, well equipped bicycle repair shops.

I love the bike shop at the university. It’s a cheap and good way to take care of your bike. 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 installing bicycle 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.

Final word, how to encourage cycling

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!

First published June 27, 2017
Last updated July 20, 2022

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