Almost 100 years after the Autobahn was conceived during the 1920s Weimar Republic in Germany, the country’s Federal Transport Department is proposing a positive change in the law to facilitate federal funding contributions for their fledgling network of “Radschnellwege” – which are like Autobahns for bikes.
It doesn’t make sense to call them an “Autobahn” as that literally means “car track” and we are talking bikes here. But “Bike Superhighways” have a connotation of urban cross-city routes, and the Radschnellwege are similar to the controlled access motorways in that they link residential with employment areas and town centres and also link different towns to each other. The Dutch refer to these routes as “Fietssnelweg” (“Fiets” means bike, and the whole word is therefore “bike fast route”).
Perhaps we should adopt the Swiss name “Velobahn”?
The German Bike Club ADFC describes their key feature as the possibility of maintaining a reasonably constant speed with relatively low energy levels by running in fairly straight lines or large radius curves and having few junctions thanks to over and underpasses, a low rolling resistance surface and large enough width for bikes to pass.
The metropolitan region of Hannover, Braunschweig (why do we call it Brunswick?), Göttingen and Wolfsburg is home to the beginnings of a network, as is the Ruhr area, where the first 5km of RS1 is open, with a further 96km in the pipeline. The total cost of the 101 km stretch is put at €180 million and will save 55,000 car journeys per day, making significant differences to congestion, pollution, health and wellbeing.
Understandably, the ADFC has welcomed their Federal Government’s move, as this could see some €25-30 million of federal funding become available, whereas up till now it has been up to the individual states and local authorities to fund these investments.
ADFC Director Ludger Koopman commented “We have been calling for federal financial support for these Bike Superhighways for a long time. The announcement is a welcome first step into sensible financial support for this type of infrastructure. We welcome in particular that the national government is taking its role as co-financier and driver of this new – for Germany – type of bike infrastructure seriously and is creating the legal framework to permit it to do this. Adding this type of bike lane to the Federal Transport Infrastructure Plan is a further important signal that will encourage the States and local authorities to be ambitious and start such projects. The next step will be for the Federal Government to put this commitment on a sound footing with a longer term and significantly higher level of investment, as this first €25-30 million is only a start.”
Back here in the UK, the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group called for an investment of £20 per capita per year for cycling and walking infrastructure. The current level is just £1.38 outside of London and is set to fall to £0.72 from 2020, yet the budget per person per year for roads and motorways equates to £86 – or £15 billion per year.