Riding in Berlin

Cycle Chic Berlin Alte Schonhauser Allee
Photo by Anne Katrine Harders

I’m going to have trouble properly describing riding in Berlin. Berlin is extremely cool and Berlin bike riders are numerous and of every description. I rode from my hotel on the edge of Kreutzbeg as far south as Freie Universitie Berlin in Dahlem in the southwest and up to Prenzlauer Berg in the northeast: a big chunk of this territory I rode with Hal Loewen. We went fast and tried to learn from the locals. We also learned that motor traffic, while it’s heavy and runs at close quarters, is not threatening. Motorists seem accustomed to operating with bicycles among them and they always leave enough room and yield to bikes when crossing bike lanes.

They have lots of separated bikelanes here but it’s a bit of a trick. Berlin was built with many boulevards with wide sidewalks. To a great extent the bikelanes are simply a 1 metre portion of this sidewalk. This puts bikes into a conflict with pedestrians while leaving cars unimpeded. Well, sometimes it does. Where there are no wide sidewalks available they will certainly paint bike lanes on roads and re-stripe the traffic lanes to accomodate them. In many places, the painted bike lanes turn into separated bikelanes at intersections and there are many cyclist-specific traffic lights. At any rate, it all works to some degree or other. It’s nowhere near as completely thought-out as Copenhagen and our friend Rasmus reminded us regularly that Berlin hadn’t really figured it out yet.

They do, however, have a nifty bike-route finder.

What can we learn from this in Vancouver? I’m not sure I know enough history about the development of riding in Berlin. I don’t know if they, essentially started from a clean slate after the wall came down, for example. However, a dense route network is certainly part of the solution. Berlin, while being extensively built up, is not a compact city and not necessarily a dense city but their cycle route network is quite densely laid out, which means that you don’t usually have to go far from any given location to get onto a route. This is a lesson to offer Vancouver. Another lesson might be that we also have a few grand bouevards. Why, for example, is there no separate bike lane on Pacific Blvd? That street ROW must be 100 ft. wide.

We have a lot of work to do but it’s good to see a large city like Berlin with cycling development and features that we can work towards. One of the problems of constantly using Copenhagen as the ideal cycling city is that it’s development is so far ahead of ours, it’s not easy to always see what steps we should take next. With Berlin, the differences are easier to bridge: with more cycling routes to densify the network and with more separated bikelanes wherever we have right-of-way width, we can start to close the gap.

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