29 December 2015

An Autobahn For Bicycles In The Ruhr

Whenever I've ridden the Five Boro Bike Tour, the best parts were (for me, anyway), the sections on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and the lower deck of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.  That ride is the only occasion on which cycling is allowed on those roadways.  The views of New York Harbor, the Statue of Liberty, Manhattan skyline and Brooklyn's brownstone neighborhoods are most enjoyable.  But what makes it exhilarating is taking over, if only for a couple of hours, roadways on which motorized vehicles with four or more wheels hold a monopoly the rest of the time.

I am sure that along the way, someone probably thought, "Hmm...Wouldn't it be great to have a highway like this only for cyclists?"

Turns out, for about the past decade or so, municipalities and other jurisdictions in Europe have been working on the idea.  Short bicycle highways of 5 to 20 kilometers have been built in the Netherlands and Denmark (where else?) and the city of London is looking at the idea of building one. 

Fans hail the smooth new velo routes as the answer to urban traffic jams and air pollution, and a way to safely get nine-to-five
The new Ruhr Valley bicycle "autobahn".

Now Germany has opened its first stretch of its first bicycle "autobahn".  Five kilometers long, it will eventually be part of a planned 100-kilometer bikeway that will connect the cities of Duisberg, Hamm and Bochum--and four universities--in the Ruhr Valley.

In the meantime, Frankfurt--Germany's banking center--is planning a 30-kilometer route south to Darmstadt.  Munich is working on a 15-kilometer thoroughfare to its northern suburbs and Nuremberg is launching a feasibility study for a path that will connect to four other cities in the eastern part of the country.  Earlier this month, Berlin's city administration gave the green-light to conducting a feasibility study for a bike highway connecting the city center with the leafy suburb of Zehlendorf.

One way in which the newly-opened Ruhr roadway could serve as a model for future projects is that it's built along a disused railway, something found in abundance in declining industrial areas like the Ruhr.  On the other hand, the Berlin project points to an obstacle that too often bedevils such plans:  Who will pay for it?

The German capital is, almost paradoxically, the poorest of the country's major cities. So there is objection to the project, and others like it, especially among conservatives.  One problem is that, as in many other countries, the federal (or national) government builds and maintains motor-, rail- and water-ways, while cycling and pedestrian facilities are the responsibility of local governments.  If those localities are heavily endebted, as Berlin is, other funding schemes must be proposed.  The conservative CDU party has suggested placing billboards along the way:  something almost no cyclist, and very few other citizens, support.

Similar roadblocks detour or stop bicycle lane construction here in the US, and the same sorts of people (conservatives, mainly) oppose--or, at least, don't want to pay for--it.

If such obstacles can be overcome, it may one day be possible to ride from New York to San Francisco without stopping for a traffic light--without a speed limit, of course!


  1. While a NY-to-LA bike highway may be very ambitious, i would be happy with a SF-to-LA bike-only highway.

  2. Anon--I agree with you. I certainly wouldn't mind seeing a bike highway from NYC to Boston and/or Washington.

    Happy New Year!